Of playing with Gerrard at Liverpool in prison

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Picture of the Liverpool U18 team in 2014
Dahrius Waldron (front row, third left) featured in Liverpool’s Under-18s squad photo in 2014 alongside Harry Wilson (middle row, sixth left), now at Fulham, and Ryan Kent (front row , left), who is now at Rangers

In March 2015, Liverpool’s teenage defender Dahrius Waldron came on as a substitute in a behind-closed-doors match at the club’s Melwood training ground.

A young Reds side were playing Shrewsbury Town in a game organized to train captain Steven Gerrard as he neared his return from injury.

“I went in and passed the ball to Gerrard,” Waldron tells BBC Sport. “He passed it back and I passed it forward. It was one of those moments where you think, ‘I’ll never forget that.'”

Three years later, Waldron was serving a 10-month jail sentence after a brawl outside a Manchester nightclub, his hopes of making it to Liverpool a distant memory.

Now playing for seventh-tier Stalybridge Celtic, who host Lancaster City in the first qualifying round of the FA Cup on Saturday, Waldron opens up about being spotted by the Reds at 12, let go at 18, arrested at 20 and how he is rebuilding his life after prison.

“From training with the likes of Philippe Coutinho to ending up in prison shortly after, the contrast was huge,” he says.

Dahrius Waldron in action for Stalybridge Celtic
Waldron came through Liverpool’s academy system before going to prison but is back enjoying his football at non-league Stalybridge Celtic.

“I’m Dahrius and I play for Liverpool”

Raised in the Moss Side and Hulme areas of Manchester, Waldron didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a footballer.

He only started playing in a team at the age of 10. At the age of 12, he was spotted by Liverpool while at Fletcher Moss Rangers, the junior club that features former Manchester United players and England striker Marcus Rashford.

Waldron would spend the next four years commuting 30 miles after school to Liverpool’s academy in Kirkby to train with players such as Ryan Kent, who has since become a close friend and plays for Rangers, and Harry Wilson, now at Fulham.

“It felt great to be able to say, ‘I’m Dahrius and I play for Liverpool,'” he says.

Aged 16 and with 11 GCSEs to his name, he moved with family to Prescot to cut down on his travels.

After his 18th birthday, he was asked to make up the numbers for large-scale training games at Melwood and would share a pitch with Brazil internationals Coutinho and Lucas Leiva.

But Waldron’s time at Liverpool was coming to an end.

With Raheem Sterling, who was two years his senior, well established in Brendan Rodgers’ first team, and Trent Alexander-Arnold, two years his junior and already destined for great things, the competition was fierce.

Tough decisions had to be made and Waldron was one of those released at the end of the 2014-15 season. A failed scholarship to the United States followed and before long he was dragging the ninth and 10th levels of English football.

Waldron struggled to find purpose and bounced from one non-league club to another – playing for Maine Road, Northwich Victoria, 1874 Northwich and Stockport Town, among others, in a short space of time.

Then, one night in September 2017, his life changed outside a club in Manchester.

Dahrius Waldron in a Stalybridge Celtic shirt
Waldron joined Stalybridge Celtic, who play in the Northern Premier League Premier Division, in July after spending last season at Ramsbottom United

“My cell stank of urine”

Waldron had not been in trouble with the police before. Growing up, he didn’t have a father figure, but his mother Karen and three older sisters taught him the difference between right and wrong.

“My mother is strict with manners,” he says. “She’s very strong about it. I once won an award at school for best mannered student. That’s down to my mom.”

But five years ago he was involved in a fight outside a nightclub while celebrating a friend’s birthday.

Waldron was found guilty of violent disorder and served a total of 10 months in prison, first at HMP Forest Bank in Salford, before completing the remainder of his sentence at HMP Risley, near Warrington.

“I had gone from playing at one of the biggest clubs in the world to prison,” he recalls. “At Risley, I was given a cell that reeked of urine and the walls were stained with human excrement.”

Liverpool had not forgotten their former player. While at Risley, he was visited by Phil Roscoe, then the club’s head of education and welfare.

“I will never forget his words,” says Waldron. “He told me, ‘Don’t let anyone use that to define you in the future.’ He said he knew the real me.”

Kent, who Waldron visited when Liverpool loaned him to Freiburg in 2017, also kept in touch.

Waldron was released on July 9, 2019.

“My mum and my sisters were waiting for me outside Risley,” she says.

“I wasn’t interested in celebrating. I wanted to go home, take a bath, get a haircut. I wanted to hug my nieces and nephews, simple pleasures in life.”

Stalybridge Celtic defender Dahrius Waldron
Waldron has a son who will be two in February

Settling down and becoming a parent

Three years later, the memories of being locked up remain.

Waldron keeps in touch with Jake, his cellmate at Forest Bank.

“We used to watch Football Focus on TV together,” he says. “It was the highlight of our week.”

He has also maintained a close connection with the Tallant family of Prescot, who treated him as “one of their own” when he lived with them for two years.

“They helped teach me how to drive and even invited me on a family vacation to Portugal,” says Waldron, who has his initials tattooed on his right wrist.

“I went to see them after I got out of prison to explain what had happened. I felt I owed them an explanation. I didn’t feel like they could change their opinion of me. They will always be a part of my life.”

Since leaving Risley, Waldron has met a partner, become a father and worked his way up from waiter to assistant manager at a Manchester restaurant.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he adds. “I was recently awarded colleague of the year in the restaurant, which was chosen by my colleagues.

“Both my partner and I are fine and our son will be two in February.

“Growing up, my mom did the best she could for me and my sisters. I want to do the best for my son.”

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