FA Cup sixth round: Bournemouth’s Lloyd Kelly on 11 years in foster care
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Lloyd Kelly (left) was in foster care for 11 years, up until four years ago
Date: Saturday, 20 March Kick-off: 12:15 GMT Venue: Vitality Stadium Coverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live; text commentary, goal clips and highlights on the BBC Sport website

Bournemouth’s Lloyd Kelly cannot remember exactly when he last saw his mother and he does not know when he will see her again.

“It’s been a good seven years, it could even be longer,” says the 22-year-old.

Since making his debut for hometown club Bristol City at the age of 18 in 2017, the defender has represented England at under-21s level, trained with Gareth Southgate’s senior squad,external-link secured a £13m move to Bournemouth and played in the Premier League.

On Saturday, the Cherries hope to reach the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time by defeating Southampton at the Vitality Stadium (12:15 GMT).

Kelly’s journey to playing a key role in Bournemouth’s aspirations has been far from straightforward.

Aged seven, he was separated from his mother, Anna, and spent the following 11 years, along with older sister, Mary, and younger brother, Marcus, in foster care, only leaving the system four years ago.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Kelly opens up on how growing up in three different foster homes helped shape him.

“It wasn’t easy. Being taken away from your mum, once that happens you have to grow up quickly,” he says.

‘Carer watched me at Euro 2019’

Kelly describes his first couple of years in foster care as “a blur”.

“I was such a young age I didn’t know what was happening,” he says. “It was not until I was older that I realised what was going on and the reasons behind it.”

More than 65,000 children live with almost 55,000 foster families across the UK, according to the Fostering Networkexternal-link charity.

Kelly is reluctant to discuss the reasons for being placed into care but is grateful he was able to grow up alongside Mary, now a care worker, and Marcus, who has played for non-league Mangotsfield United,external-link with three different sets of foster parents, all in the Bristol area.

“You hear cases where some homes are not able to take three children and they are split up,” he adds.

“Fortunately the three of us stayed together and we’re really close although it has affected us in different ways.

“We moved to three different places throughout the years, different families for three or four years each. I believe those experiences have given me a better outlook on life.”

Kelly is still in touch with his most recent foster carer, Thelma, who was in San Marino to watch him appear for England against Croatia at the European Under-21 Championship in 2019.

“What she did for the three of us is extraordinary,” adds the former England Under-20s captain.

“She took us in, treated us as her own and still does. She has a son and daughter who are grown up and we see them as family as well.

“When I was at Bristol City, Thelma came to every game she could with her son and daughter. They were there to support me.”

Kelly (back row, right), lines up alongside the likes of Phil Foden (front, third left), James Maddison (front, second left) and Tammy Abraham (back, second left) for England against Croatia at the European Under-21 Championship in 2019

Ball boy to first team

Kelly left City Academy in Bristol with 10 GCSEs and soon afterwards then-manager Steve Cotterill invited him on tour with Bristol City’s first-team squad, the club he had been at since the age of 12.

“I used to be a ball boy at Ashton Gate,” he adds. “I remember being sat on my stool next to the kitman’s son for the derby with Bristol Rovers in 2013. Joe Bryan scored a late winner. It was crazy.”

After developing into an athletic defender comfortable at left-back and centre-back, Kelly was fast-tracked into first-team training and went on to make 48 appearances in two seasons before Bournemouth, then in the Premier League, came calling in May 2019.

Humble about his career rise, Kelly has developed into a mature young man who retains a strong connection with Bristol.

He has the same circle of mates he grew up with and, despite setting up home on the south coast, returns to the city whenever possible to visit family and friends.

Kelly was in foster care when he joined Bristol City’s academy aged 12, having been recruited locally playing for Bristol Central

Having played for inner city youth club Bristol Centralexternal-link – whose former players also include Fulham forward Bobby Decordova-Reid and Huddersfield winger Rolando Aarons – Kelly helps out at the club’s end-of-season presentations and provides signed shirts to inspire the next generation of players.

“You cannot forget where you come from,” he adds. “Even though I’m at Bournemouth, Bristol is home for me.”

‘I’ve thought about reaching out’

Kelly has contemplated getting back in touch with his mum.

“At times you do think ‘is it worth reaching out?’,” he says. “But you have to weigh up the pros and cons.

“I know what she is doing because my family keep in contact with her so I know she is well. It needs to be the right time to be reintroduced, for my brother and sister as well.

“It’s about finding the balance and the right situation.”

For now Kelly is preoccupied with helping Bournemouth return to the Premier League after a turbulent few months.

Having missed most of his debut season with the Cherries through injury, Kelly returned towards the end of 2019-20 but could not save Eddie Howe’s side from relegation.

Howe, who praised Kelly’s emotional intelligence after his signing, left soon after relegation and Bournemouth have since sacked Jason Tindall.

Kelly (centre) was 21 when he captained Bournemouth to victory over Crystal Palace in the Carabao Cup last September

Kelly is hoping for a period of stability under Jonathan Woodgate, the former Tottenham and England centre-back, who has been appointed head coach until the end of the season.

Woodgate has described the defender, who captained Bournemouth when they beat Crystal Palace 11-10 on penalties in the Carabao Cup last September, as a “Rolls-Royce type of player”.

So, has Thelma been to watch Kelly play for Bournemouth yet?

“I’ll invite her down for a match when it’s safe to do so,” he says. “We have a really good connection.

“I’ve seen first hand how the foster care system works and there are many positives about it.”

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