“A SERIES of failures may culminate in the best possible result.”

Gisele Richter was on to something here.

While the English archaeologist and art historian could hardly have been referring to current Portland United boss Kyle Critchell, her words can still be applied perfectly to his career.

Injuries, illness, bad decisions, chasing money and falling out of love with playing all affected Critchell until one day he discovered his enlightenment of coaching.

How did he arrive at the crystallisation of his footballing career, though?

READ MORE: Tim Sills on Torquay United, Weymouth and management

Well, we must dig through all the toughest moments in Critchell’s pathway, a journey that began in the youth ranks of Weymouth before he was picked up by a Premier League club.

“I began at Weymouth Reserves, that was my first step into adult football when they were in the Wessex Combination League,” he explains to Echosport.

Dorset Echo: Kyle Critchell won 25.7% of his games at Weymouth in a turbulent spell for the TerrasKyle Critchell won 25.7% of his games at Weymouth in a turbulent spell for the Terras (Image: DORSET ECHO)

“I played under Dave Kiteley and we went on to win that league, it was quite a special team.

“I’m playing with people like Paul Gadsby and some experienced lads who helped me get noticed by Southampton.

“At 15 I went on trial for six weeks and that was my first step into professional football. I signed on a two-year scholarship.”

Imagine that for a moment. A teenager, plucked from the Wessex Combination League and about to mix it with team-mates such as Gareth Bale. The stuff of dreams.

Even though he won two youth Premier League titles and reached the FA Youth Cup final, he found it difficult to adjust.

“The first year was extremely challenging,” he admitted. “Coming from non-League football and not having the background and support that other players had, I found it really difficult.

“I was very close to quitting and coming home, but my dad gave me some stern words and encouraged me to carry on.

“Somehow, in the second year, I started to flourish and do really well. I started to make quite a lot of appearances for the reserve team.

“By the end of the second year I was training with the first team.

“The following season, when Southampton were relegated to the Championship, I made my first-team debut in pre-season against Bournemouth and I was on the bench a few times in pre-season.

“Unfortunately, I went into a training session after a game when I didn’t need to but I wanted to show them I was willing to put in more effort to stay at that level.

“That’s when my first injury crisis occurred. I snapped my cruciate ligament and my LCL (lateral collateral ligament) at the same time.

“I was unfortunately then out for 11 months. I was just making real inroads to being part of the first team regularly and doing really well.

“That really started a phase in football where I started to become quite resentful towards it.”

And it was in this period that Critchell began to make poor choices.

“Being so young and having a bit of money wasn’t always a good thing,” he confessed.

“During that period of injury I made some bad decisions with regards to my own health and doing things unprofessionally.

“Thankfully, towards the end of that I recovered the following season and that’s when I went on loan to Torquay. That was my first move into the Football League.

“Torquay were in League Two at the time. I think I played 12 to 14 games for them in central midfield under Ian Atkins. It was an amazing experience.

“I think I showed at the time that I could play at that level.

“Being honest, I didn’t always choose to do the right things in the way I conducted myself, I’m quite open and honest with that.”

But what were Critchell’s bad choices and how did he arrive at them? In part, he raises poor player welfare standards as a cause.

He said: “Welfare back then wasn’t as it is in the current day.

“When you’re living in digs or you’re living with people you get influenced and that’s kind of what happened.

“After my spell out with my ACL and LCL, I started to drink and that became a culture.

“It was a culture at that time in football. That’s something that stayed with me throughout my whole career, if I’m going to be honest.

“Probably an indicator of why sometimes I did well was because I stayed away from it.

“At Torquay, I probably didn’t take it as serious as I should’ve done. I played well, did well but got recalled by Southampton.

“I ended up making a move around January time (2007) to Chesterfield on a free transfer, which was an amazing move for me in League One.

“It was fantastic and I started off like I did at Torquay, really well.

“Unfortunately, I had a groin strain that kept me out for the rest of the season. Chesterfield released me and that’s when I went back to Weymouth on a two-year contract when Jason Tindall was manager and Mel Bush was chairman.

“That was the start of me starting to love the game again. I started to take things quite seriously, having to take that drop back down.

“Moving back home was really important. I have a disabled sister and at the time my family was quite dysfunctional, so I wanted to be at home to support her.

“That decision was quite easy for me to make. During that season (2007-08), I made the most appearances that I did throughout my whole career at that point, with very few injuries.

“That was the catalyst then for me to sign for Wrexham. I think they paid about £10,000 the following season.”

Critchell’s move to Wales continued a rich association with the country his mother hailed from, even though he was born in Dorset.

He played at Wales Under-17 stage through to Under-21 level, also appearing for the Welsh semi-pro side.

Critchell even took to the field under Liverpool legend Ian Rush for Wales Under-18s.

On his move to Wrexham, he added: “I was ecstatic. I had experience for playing for Wales Under-21s, I played at under-17s, under-19s and Wrexham being a really big Welsh club, I was delighted with the move.

“I had a few other options but that’s the one I felt was best for me. They’d just been relegated from League Two into the Conference, the same league I was in with Weymouth, but offering a much better package.

“I decided to move there and I was suspended for the first three games because I got sent off in my last game for Weymouth against Altrincham.

“I got into the side after my suspension and played the next four or five, got man-of-the-match, I was playing right midfield and really enjoying my football.

“Then, lightning strikes again and I fracture my ankle. I was out for four months.

“Brian Little then got sacked and Dean Saunders came in. For whatever reason, the relationship just didn’t work.”

Critchell considered himself “lucky” to then earn a move to York.

“I played some really good football there,” he said.

“Again, I didn’t necessarily have the support of family there. I was living in a B&B.

“I know people perceive football as (players) being really well looked after.

“But when you start going down the leagues, you start having to fend for yourself. At the age I was, 21, 22, I wasn’t getting food and made some bad decisions.

“I did well for the club but by the end of my loan period, I just wanted to be at home and close to my family again.

“I felt the move to Wrexham was worth moving away for but I wanted to be closer to be around my sister who has always been my priority.

“I decided to go back on loan with Weymouth. It was a time when Weymouth were really struggling.”

Dorset Echo: Kyle Critchell played in five different spells for WeymouthKyle Critchell played in five different spells for Weymouth (Image: FINNBARR WEBSTER)

To say that the Terras were struggling was an understatement as financial troubles ripped through the club, culminating in a double relegation.

“I knew I was going to a club that was struggling, but being a hometown club it worked both ways,” he reasoned.

“I thought I could try and help them survive but the damage was done.

“After that, it was a case at the end of the season just thinking about what I was going to do.

“I signed for Dorchester when the club (Weymouth) was in a bit of chaos.

“I’m going to throw the cat amongst the pigeons. At that point, I kind of just played football for money. I wasn’t necessarily enjoying it.

“For me, it was more of an income than enjoyment. I decided to go to Dorchester under Ashley Vickers, he was a friend of mine in the community.

“That season was a good one.

“Although we were backs against the wall in the Conference South, we didn’t have a big budget, the team was extremely competitive and driven to play in a way that teams didn’t like.

“Ash ended up being sacked. It was around that period where Ash tackled the mankini guy.

“The following season when Phil Simkin came in, for whatever reason we didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye but Phil was an amazing man.”

And so, back to Weymouth Critchell went for what officially was a fifth spell with the Terras, in 2012.

“They paid a nominal fee for me to go back,” he recalled.

“That was at a time when Weymouth had ambitions to get back up the leagues. They signed Nathan and Michael Walker, so they really wanted to go for it.

“Unfortunately, lightning struck again.”

Little did he know it, Critchell would soon be fighting for his life.

“I went into training, I remember this vividly, I was doing pre-season and constantly felt an issue with my back," he explained.

“I just thought it was a muscular injury, or a slipped disc. I went home to Kate (wife), I got fever, I wasn’t toileting and I was really unwell that evening.

“We called out the paramedics and our doctor, they said I had a slipped disc.

“So, I preceded to take some really harsh pain relief to be comfortable. Then, the next night the worst thing happened.

“I don’t remember this but the paramedics were called out and I was diagnosed with sepsis.

“At the point I was diagnosed, sepsis had started to attack all my vital organs. It was fighting the weakest parts of my body, all the areas I had surgeries on.

“It started to attack my heart and brain function. Apparently, I went to hospital and had some emergency drainage. I don’t remember a lot.

“All I remember is waking up in intensive care and Kate explaining to me that she had to make a decision whether to fight the infection or put me on life support with the risk of not having full brain function if I did survive.

“Kate understood what type of character I was and made the decision to try and use one of three antibiotics. Thankfully, they worked.

“I woke up in intensive care and I really don’t remember what happened apart from small parts of it.

“That was really the trigger then, especially in football terms, to focus on what was important.

“That period of my life, I started to focus on new beginnings, new opportunities with work.

“I started to go back to college, resit my GCSEs, do my A-Levels. Now, I’m finishing my degree. That was the beginning of my journey in education.

“I left school at 15 to train with Southampton and I hadn’t finished my GCSEs, didn’t take them properly.

“Again, that’s an area now where probably that wouldn’t happen.

“After that, it was weird with football. I went back and helped Jake Richmond out with Weymouth Reserves.

“I just wanted to get back in and see if I could get back the love for it.

“Randomly, I had the opportunity to go back in pre-season at Dorchester under Mark Jermyn.

“I went back, played a few pre-season games and I remember playing against Yeovil in a friendly. My body just wasn’t the same and I wasn’t the same player.

“I didn’t want to put myself through it again after all the effort to get myself healthy and fit after sepsis.

“It took me a year to recover and I don’t think I’ve fully recovered mentally.

"So, I decided to not take that option up. That was the beginning of my period away from football for a while.”

Although that particular door closed for Critchell, another one soon opened up in 2015.

Having begun his senior career with Southampton, he was not afraid to step down to the 11th tier as Portland United, then of the Dorset Premier League, came calling.

“Randomly, Alex Halloran, a friend of mine, said: 'Come and help us out'”, he said.

“He knew I was having a groin surgery. He invited me to come and play before the surgery. Portland were in the DPL at the time and didn’t have many players available to them.

“I said I’d help out and played a couple of games for them until the end of the season under Gary Bailey. The club finished runners-up and got promotion to Wessex One.

“I was delighted for the club and all the people involved. Gary asked me would I be interested in becoming his assistant manager.

“I took that position up and I loved coaching the lads, it was fantastic. What a season they had. They ended up winning Wessex One but I ended up leaving in January.”

His departure was more worrying than it may have seemed to the outside world, though.

“If I’m being honest, that’s a consequence of the ramifications of mental health,” Critchell said.

“I struggled with depression, identity loss after sepsis. It took me a long period afterwards to deal with what happened to me and overcome it.

“Once you’re known as Kyle Critchell the football player, that’s what your identity is. I had to learn to not be that person and make a different path in life.

“Thankfully, Gary was really understanding. I explained that I needed to take time away and improve, work on myself.

“Again, that was an exile from football for a really long time to the point where I’m now here at Portland.

“I took a lot of steps with a lot of different support networks. My wife’s amazing, she’s the biggest supporter for me.

“I’ve got a special needs son, who’s changed my outlook on life. He’s extremely complex and requires 24-hour care. Between Kate and I, we do the best we can.”

Critchell began to focus more and more on his career in education and also played occasionally for DPL side Dorchester Sports.

He said: “I played maybe the first five or six games and then went on holiday.

“I came back and it was difficult. I wasn’t in a position to train and play all the time.

“Rightly so, there were younger lads not necessarily playing when I was. It didn’t seem fair.

“So, I decided the time was right to take myself away, kind of 10 games into the season.”

It was at Sports, along with Jamie Symes and Shaun Bessant, that he began plotting a move into management in early 2023.

“The Portland job came up,” Critchell said. “I remember Josh Williams saying: ‘You should go for it’.

“Me and Jamie (assistant) put our application in really late, we went in to interview. They really agreed with the principles we laid out and the foundations we wanted to work within.

“There was real synergy and alignment with what we wanted to do. We took the job and this is the happiest I’ve ever been in football.

“I love player development and love trying to give younger lads the guidance I probably didn’t have when I was younger.

“It’s really important that we understand players play football for multiple reasons. The experiences I’ve had within the professional game, my own well-being, I’ve achieved a lot.

“My aim is to try and pass on that knowledge and help them as much as I can.

“The job is a real enjoyment and I’m hoping this season will be just a success as the last.”

And what a success it was, finishing seventh and within one victory of reaching the Wessex Premier play-offs.

Throughout his career, Critchell made mistakes. It’s how you learn from them that matters.

And, as Cicero said, you’d be an idiot to repeat them.

It’s therefore a pillar of Critchell’s management style to ensure his players learn from his experiences.

“It’s absolutely fundamental to try and pass that on,” he said.

“The one thing I’m very good at is inter-personal skills and relational practice. I have a lot of empathy for players and I know when I need to put them in a position to challenge them.

“It’s down to them to take information on board and put that into practice to hopefully go on and better themselves.

“It comes from both sides. I try to input my experiences. So far, the feedback we’ve got is that it’s been enjoyable, that’s the main thing.”

Critchell often makes a point of his players being in a shop window.

He would never stand in their way should a higher-league club court their services. But what of his own ambitions, managerially?

“That’s a really complex question that I’ve been asked quite a lot,” he said.

“Because of the complexities of life at home, first and foremost enjoyment is key to what I’m doing.

“As a player, I chased money and didn’t enjoy football. So, as a manager I want to make sure the environment I set gives them the opportunity to enjoy themselves.

“Of course, I have ambitions to get promoted from this league. Is it realistic? Who knows? We’re going to do everything we can to try and get in the play-offs this season.

“From there, I just want to enjoy myself. I’m working under people that are really special.

“Matt Lucas, our chairman, he’s a special character and special guy. Alan Rodgers supports me immensely and Gary Bailey, the list goes on.

“I’m in no need to move, and no need to want that move. I don’t really look at other clubs and think: ‘I want to get there’ or: ‘I want to do that’.

“If it happens organically, then so be it.”

While Critchell has had a series of failures or, more pertinently, mistakes, he has emerged the better for it.

That can only be the ‘best possible result’ for him, Portland United and his Blues players going into the 2024/25 season.