Joey Barton has played the role of pantomime villain throughout his football career but the reformed bad boy left the youngsters at Fleetwood High School inspired after giving a speech encouraging them to never give up and follow their dreams.
Barton, 36, grew up in Knowsley, Liverpool, an area he views as similar to Fleetwood and went on to forge a career as a professional footballer playing for Manchester City, Burnley, QPR, Rangers and England.
The ex-midfielder has been to jail and was banned from football for breaching FA betting rules before taking on the role as Fleetwood Town boss.
Barton urged them to follow the lead of local success stories Fleetwood chairman Andy Pilley and singing sensation Alfie Boe, stressing anything is possible with the right mindset, before heading to Rossall School to give another talk.
He said: “Andy Pilley is someone of a similar background to yourselves, somebody who has worked really hard to overcome adversity in his life and become very successful and a real shining beacon for the Fylde coast.
“There is no reason why we can’t have eight, 20, 30 of you doing the same thing.”
And he urged them to follow their dreams.
He said: “You make mistakes and I think you benefit if you front up, own them and how do you learn from it?
“I’m not perfect, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve been in jail, I’ve been in many fights and altercations but I have always had in my mind that regardless of what has gone before if you have the correct mindset about moving forward you can achieve anything.”
And it seems that message came across with the youngsters leaving the sports hall inspired and with a free ticket for Town’s November 17 Highbury clash with Walsall.
And 14-year-old Fleetwood fan James Wilson says to know that he has come from a similar background and gone on to forge a career in football was inspirational.
He said: “I learned that he has done a lot considering he lived in a place like this to become a really good player and manager.
“I’m taking away confidence and inspiration because he said don’t give up.”
Joe McDowall, 14, from Fleetwood was also inspired.
He said: “He never gave up, he got told he wasn’t good enough but he never gave up and went on to be a Premier League footballer.
It was inspirational, I learned a lot from him.
And Thomas Hughes, 11, from Fleetwood was one of the children to ask a question in the Q&A segment after the speech.
He said: “I’ve learned about his career QPR, Manchester City even the French clubs.
“For him to come here is really good.”
Head teacher Richard Barnes thanked the Town boss for taking time out of his preparations from their FA Cup first round clash at Alfreton to speak to the youngsters.
He said: “A massive thank you to Joey for coming down.
“We have big dreams about an FA Cup run and it is amazing that Joey has taken time out of his busy schedule to come and speak to us all.”