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Esports: Scottish pupil ‘living the dream’ after joining Gareth Bale’s Fifa gaming team

A 17-year-old Scot has signed for Gareth Bale’s Fifa gaming team while still at school.

Glaswegian Jayden Groden linked up with the Wales international’s Ellevens side shortly after discovering he had scored three A*s and two As in his higher assessments.

Jayden, from Giffnock, is now pursuing his gaming career while continuing to study at school ahead of enrolling on an accountancy degree course at Birmingham University in September 2022.

“You could say I am living the dream and I am definitely happy,” he says.

‘I thought, I could do something here’

A combination of persistence and precocious talent has helped Jayden achieve big things for someone who only turned 17 on August 1.

The Rangers season-ticket holder began playing Fifa 09 at the age of six and spent much of his childhood defeating his friends on the football game.

Jayden’s big break came when he defied the odds – and his age – to beat Lyricz (real name Kylem Edwards) in a two-legged Crystal Palace ePremier League qualifier.

Not only was Lyricz one of the best in the world at Xbox but Jayden was just a novice.

Jayden Groden.

“That weekend I got a ranking that most professionals would get,” says Jayden. “It showed what I could do and was the first time I thought ‘I could do something here’.”

Jayden joined French Esports teams HighView on modest terms, which gave him the chance to enter more Fifa events.

“I was entering small German tournaments and beating big names,” he says. “I was learning how to get better.”

‘They said I was not good enough’

The next part is where Jayden’s persistence came to the fore.

He messaged former Leicester City defender Christian Fuchs’ No Fuchs Given (NFG) Esports team and was was handed a trial in March 2020.

“But they said I was not good enough,” recalls Jayden.

Not to be deterred, the following July he spotted that a member of the NFG team had departed so he contacted them again – this time with success.

He was signed up and soon struck up a good relationship with Fuchs.

“That’s been a highlight in itself,” says Jayden. “I was blown away that he had signed me and was talking to me. I was so excited.”

‘Tens of thousands of people were watching’

Jayden describes his time with NFG as “work experience”. He received no money but was able to represent a recognised team for Fifa 21.

“The first few months were tough but I was young and learning.”

The next breakthrough came in February 2021 when he finished in the top seven of a Fifa Global Series competition on Xbox.

“I beat people ranked in the top 20,” Jayden says. “Everything changed after that.”

He went from strength to strength, qualifying for the prestigious ePremier League grand finals for Everton.

Friends and family watched live on BT Sport as he hammered highly-rated Tom Stokes, representing Tottenham, 9-3 in his first match.

Sadly his nerves got the better of him later in the tournament as he lost another match 3-2 against the same opponent.

“People had watched me and knew who I was and I got very nervous,” Jayden says.

“Tens of thousands of people were watching as it was the biggest event in the UK.”

The tournament was still a success as Jayden finished in the top 12.

‘I had proved to everyone who I was’

Even better was to come as he finished in the top 46 in Europe to qualify for the Fifa Global Series playoffs.

In his final game of the three-day online event he beat former world champion NRaseck to clinch a place in the top nine and become the only player from the UK to qualify for the finals in London’s O2 arena.

Sadly the August 2021 event was called off due to lockdown restrictions across the world but a consolation was that the $500,000 prize pool was divided up to give Jayden a handy $16,000 windfall.

He says: “By that point I had proved to everyone who I was and what I could do.

“NFG wanted me to have another development year but winning was important for me and I wanted to be the best in the world so I started looking for a new team for the following season.”

‘It’s surreal’

Jayden was again proactive, contacting a few sides including Ellevens, for whom he signed in September 2021.

“I have always been quite an independent person,” he says. “If I want something I will try to do it myself without getting help from others.

Ellevens has been absolutely amazing so far.

“At NFG there were eight of us but now I am the main guy, alongside Marc Marley.

“I never imagined I would be at this point. It’s surreal.”

The first tournament this season takes place on November 27.

‘It could suddenly disappear’

Remarkably, Jayden’s gaming achievements have been complemented by exceptional attainment at school.

In summer 2021 he collected A*s in modern studies, economics and business studies, and As in maths and English. His result in modern studies was the highest in the whole of Hutchesons’ Grammar School.

How did he manage to juggle Fifa and education – including 30 hours’ weekly lesson time – so successfully?

“If I know I need to do something I do it,” Jayden explains. “During April and in the holidays I would wake up early and study between 8am and noon.

“That would give me the rest of the day to do what I wanted, including Fifa.

“During the term I was coming home, had to study and whatever time left was spent playing Fifa.”

This year he is studying advanced business and higher accounting, which requires 10 hours of class time – much less than last year’s 30.

Jayden already has a place at Birmingham University so the pressure is off in terms of education.

“I don’t think the career of a gamer is very long,” he says. “In a few years’ time I might still be playing it but, you never know, it could suddenly disappear.

“I take it one year at a time rather than plan too far ahead.”

‘He inspires me’

Jayden has received great support from father Steven, mother Hayley and brothers Joshua, 18, and Zack, 12.

But he suffered personal heartbreak in November 2020 when his best friend Daniel Caplan, of Newton Mearns, died of a brain tumour at the age of 17.

Daniel Caplan and Jayden Groden.

In July 2021 the Doing It For Daniel Foundation was set up in his memory.

“I’d known him my whole life and he inspires me,” Jayden says. “We played Fifa together – it was something we shared.”