At 16, Finn Tapp could have been forgiven for thinking he was putting his name in the spotlight for his footballing skills.
Before becoming a household name on Love Island in 2020, which he won alongside stunning singer Paige Turley, the teenager was on the hook at MK Dons.
He made his debut for the club against Norwich City – coming on as a substitute and scoring in a 4-1 defeat.
But the heartthrob would endure heartbreak for a year before garnering a host of female admirers for his appearance on the hit ITV reality show.
At 19, Tapp was fired from his youth club and fell in love with the game.
“I played football when I was knee high and I was lucky enough to join MK Dons,” the 22-year-old told SunSport.
“I worked my way through the academy and the further you progress the more real the dream of becoming a footballer becomes.
“Then I managed to get a scholarship, which meant I was part of the youth team — and was in a full-time environment doing a bit of college work on the side.
“In 2018 I signed my first professional contract with the club. It was the best time ever and everything I could have hoped for.
“But when I was released a year later, I was devastated.”
Tapp found another club in Oxford City but his love of football had waned.
“I had a period between MK Dons and Oxford City where I lost my love for football,” he explained.
“Because it had gone so wrong for me and I was only there for a year, I thought I’d made it after I got the contract, but the reality was I was still very far from making that dream a reality .
“The deal ended a year later. I fell in love with the game again when I started playing for Oxford City, which is why I played football in the first place – for fun.”
“But when Love Island came along, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I knew I had to have.”
Tapp was happy to play for Oxford City but was aware it could end at any time.
He also admitted it was a risk worth taking – and he could return to semi-pro football if things don’t work out.
Tapp said: “I thought I could get to the end of this season and Oxford City could let me go. It was one of those, the opportunity arose and I had to take it.
“When I first started applying, I never thought I would get on the show. I was 20 at the time and if it didn’t work out I could always go back and play semi-pro.
“There was a lot more reward for the risk.”
Oxford City were reportedly furious that Tapp left them mid-season to compete on Love Island.
Worse, they didn’t find out until he was at the airport to fly to South Africa to start filming.
“When I went through the Love Island audition, it was very confidential,” Tapp revealed.
“I didn’t even tell my immediate family that I was going to continue there. I was worried that if I said anything it would ruin my chances of getting on the show.
“It came to the day of departure, I got an hour’s notice, the producers called me and asked if I was ready and told me they were putting me on a plane to South Africa that night.
“I came to the airport and called my agent at the time and explained the situation.
“Fair play to him, he did it and let my manager know what’s going on.”
Gambling to trade football for reality TV paid off for Tapp, who won the £50,000 prize and found love with blonde beauty Paige.
He said: “I had no idea what was in store for me.
“I didn’t meet anyone, and I really didn’t think I could do justice to what I had seen on TV before. I was just a Milton Keynes guy.
“Looking back, everything that worked worked out. I’m still with Paige, we’re very happy and it worked out perfectly.”
Tapp admitted the experience of being on Love Island was surreal as the cameras rolled 24 hours a day.
This means you never know what will be shown in the last broadcast.
Tapp revealed: “There must have been around 80 cameras in our mansion and they tell you those cameras are on 24/7.
“There’s never a time when they’re free. You are constantly aware of this.
“I don’t know if anyone felt it, but when you stumble up the stairs or do something, you immediately think, ‘Will this be on TV?’ You’re never really sure what’s being shown or not.
“And then when I come out and watch it again, it’s a surprise to me, because when I watch it again — and they’re trying to make a 45-minute show out of 24 hours of footage — it’s interesting, what they inserted .
“It’s also a quiz for us, we don’t know what’s going to be on the show. So you play it like everything has a chance to be shown.”
Since winning Love Island, Tapp has burst into the spotlight. Fame has served him well so far.
“Paige and I are very fortunate that we haven’t had a lot of bad experiences that come with being in the public eye,” he said.
“It’s one of those things, you know what you’re signing up for.
“That’s a question you’re being asked by the producers – is it something you’re prepared for and thinking about?
“When you come out, it amazes me that I’m still the same person before the show.
“But now people stop me on the street and ask for a photo. And I’m like, ‘Why would they want a picture with me?’
“You get used to it. I think it was that initial outburst when you first came out of the airport and the paparazzi were there… it was really overwhelming.
“Six weeks ago I walked through this very airport and no one knew who I was. It happens very quickly.”
While Tapp would love to return to football and has played in a five-man game, he is aware that his fame could stand in the way of serious participation on the pitch.
“With a lot of things that go in and out of a show, it’s a double-edged sword,” Tapp said.
“Because you have the Instagram followers and fan base, some might think you’re going to a club and that might mean you’re selling a few more tickets.
“But I think there’s a stigma attached to reality TV stars. People might be like, ‘Oh, he’s the Love Island guy.’
“You might forget what I did before the show, that I had ambitions to be a player.
“I put myself under the most pressure. I don’t want to be known as the person in the dressing room who only plays for the show.
“I want to play because I give 100 percent in training.”
At the moment, his path to football is mentoring young players who are thrown in at the deep end in senior teams after starring in the youth line-up – not knowing what to expect.
Tapp told us: “I started at MK Dons, I go in and I talk to young players in the youth team who are about to make the transition to the first team.
“I think there is a big bridge between the youth team level and the professional environment.
“When you go from youth team playing with boys aged 17/18 to first team and boys over 30, that transition can be difficult.
“It’s something I found difficult, there were a lot of challenges and sacrifices that had to be made.
“I probably handled it wrong and didn’t have the long career that I could have had.
“So I want to come to more football clubs and help, but I don’t want to come across as this negative man who didn’t make it as a footballer.
“It has to be understandable. And it’s not about failing, it’s about what you can do to help yourself succeed.”
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/5556773/finn-tapp-love-island-footballer-paige-turley/ “I’m a footballer who won Love Island but now I fear my fame will keep me from ever returning to football,” says Finn Tapp