AT 16, Finn Tapp could have been forgiven for thinking he’d see his name in lights because of his football ability.
He made his debut for the club against Norwich City – coming as a sub and scoring in a 4-1 defeat.
But the heartthrob would suffer heartbreak a year before he would score a host of female admirers for his turn on the hit ITV reality show.
At 19, Tapp was released by his boyhood club and fell out of love with the game.
“I played football when I was knee-high and I was fortunate enough to join MK Dons,” the 22-year-old told SunSport.
“I worked my way through the academy, and as you progress the dream of becoming a footballer becomes that much more real.
“Then I managed to get a scholarship, which meant I was part of the youth team – and was in a full-time environment where I was 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 was hoping for.
“But when I got released a year after that and I was devastated.”
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Tapp found another club in Oxford City, but his love for football had waned.
“I had a period between MK Dons and Oxford City, where I fell out of love with 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’d got the contract but the reality was I was still very far from achieving that dream.
“A year later the deal was terminated. I fell back in love with the game when I started playing for Oxford City, which was why I played football in the first place – for enjoyment.
“But when Love Island came along, it was a once in a lifetime experience that I knew I had to go for.”
Tapp was happy playing for Oxford City, but understood that could end at any time.
He also admitted it was worth a gamble – and he could go back to semi-pro football if things didn’t work out.
Tapp said: “My thinking was I might get to the end of this season and Oxford City might let me go. It was one of those, the opportunity came up, and I had to take it.
“When I started applying, I never thought I’d get on the show. I was 20 at the time, and if it didn’t pan out I could still go back and play semi-pro.
“There was a lot more reward to the risk.”
Oxford City were reportedly livid that Tapp had left them during the season to compete on Love Island.
Worse still, they didn’t find out until he was at the airport jetting to South Africa to start recording.
“When I was working through the audition process at Love Island, it’s very confidential,” Tapp divulged.
“I didn’t even tell my immediate family that I was going on there. I was worried that if I was to say something, it would scupper my chances of going on the show.
“It came to the day of leaving, I got an hour’s notice, producers rang me and asked if I was ready and told me they would get me on a plane to South Africa that night.
“I got to the airport and rang my agent at the time and explained the situation.
“Fair play to him, he did and let my manager know what was going on.”
The gamble of swapping football for reality TV paid off for Tapp, who scooped the £50,000 winner’s prize, as well as found love with blonde beauty Paige.
He said: “I had no idea what I was in store for.
“I didn’t go on to meet anyone, and I really didn’t think I could live up to what I’d seen on the TV before. I was just a bloke from Milton Keynes.
“Looking back at it, everything that went right did. I am still with Paige, we are very happy, and it has worked out perfectly.”
The experience of being on Love Island is one that Tapp admitted was surreal, with cameras rolling 24 hours a day.
It means you never know what will be shown in the final broadcast.
Tapp revealed: “There must have been 80-odd cameras in our villa and they do tell you these cameras are rolling 24/7.
“There isn’t ever a time when they are off. You are constantly aware of that.
“I don’t know if anyone felt this, but if you trip up the stairs or do something you instantly think, ‘Is that going to get shown on TV?’ You are never really sure what is getting shown or not.
“And then when I come off and watch it back, it’s a surprise for me because when I watch it back – and they are trying to make a 45-minute show out of 24-hours of footage – it’s interesting what they did put in.
“It’s a quiz for us as well, we don’t know what’s going to be on the show. So, you sort of play it like everything has a possibility of being shown.”
Since winning Love Island, Tapp has been thrust into the spotlight. Fame has been good to him so far.
“Paige and I are very lucky that we haven’t had many 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.
“You’re asked that question by producers – is it something you are prepared for and you do think about it.
“When you come out, what baffles me is I’m very much still the same person before the show.
“But now people stop me in the street and ask for a picture. And I feel, ‘Why would they want a photo with me?’
“You get used to it. I think it was that initial burst, when you first come out of the airport and the paparazzi are there… that was really overwhelming.
“Six weeks before that I was walking through that very airport and no one knew who I was. It happens very quick.”
While Tapp would love a return to football, and has been playing five-a-side, he realises his fame may get in the way of being taking seriously on the pitch.
“With a lot of things going into a show and coming out of it, it’s a double-edged sword,” Tapp said.
“Because you get the Instagram following and fanbase, some might think you go into a club and that might mean you get a few more tickets sold.
“But I think there is a stigma attached to reality TV stars. People might think, ‘Oh he’s the Love Island guy’.
“They might forget what I did before the show, that I had ambitions of being a player.
“I put the most pressure on myself. I don’t want to be known as the person in the changing room who is playing just because of the show.
“I want to be playing because I am putting 100 per cent in training.”
For now, his pathway into football is mentoring youngsters who are thrown into the deep end in senior teams after starring in the youth set up – unaware of what awaits them.
Tapp told us: “I started at MK Dons, I am going in and talking to young players in the youth team who are about to make that transition into the first team.
“I think there’s a big bridge between youth team level and professional environment.
“If you go from youth team playing with boys at 17/18 to the first team and guys who are 30-plus, making that transition can be a struggle.
“It’s something I found hard, there were a lot of challenges and sacrifices that needed to be made.
“I dealt with it, probably, in the wrong way and didn’t have the lengthy career I could have had.
“So I want to get to more football clubs and help, but I don’t want to come across as that negative man who didn’t make it as a footballer.
“It has to be relatable. And it’s not a case of you won’t make it, it’s more about this is what you can do to help yourself succeed.”