What Next? The Fear And Anxiety Of The Out Of Contract Footballer

We all get the end of season blues but for some of us it could also bring the end of a career. One player describes the insecurity involved in a life in football.
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We all get the end of season blues but for some of us it could also bring the end of a career. One player describes the insecurity involved in a life in football.


My name is David and I’m a footballer. Well, I am for another two months, anyway, since my contract at Barnsley will terminating on the 30th of June. After a somewhat brief meeting with my manager, Keith Hill, he told me  he wouldn’t be renewing it. There's was little need for any discussion. I didn't see the point. It was all pretty black and white. The decision had been made and the reasons were immaterial to me. I wouldn’t exactly call it a shock to the system because whenever you go into the manager’s office to talk about your future, there’s always a part of you ready for the rejection, just in case, but I was quietly confident of getting a year’s extension to my current deal. Foolishly confident, as it turns out.

I hadn’t been in the team but I thought I’d still done enough to warrant another year. I’d worked hard, kept a high standard in my training sessions, I was loyal and I was committed to the management and the rest of the team. I’m a low maintenance kind of player. Instead of moaning about not being in the side, I happen to think the best policy is to put your head down and work even harder. Perhaps that’s too much of an old fashioned attitude but I just don’t think running to the manager’s office in a huff, banging his door down and getting into a shouting match is the way to go about things. No manager has ever thought, “You know what? He’s right. He should be in the starting line-up.” and changed his mind because a player tells him he should be playing. I’ve always thought that it’s what you do on the pitch and out in training that counts. Talk isn’t just cheap, it’s worth about as much as one of my signed shirts.

It’s difficult not to take the decision personally but it’s probably best to look at it in a business-like fashion. It’s just football. The game doesn’t owe any of us a living, no matter how diligent or talented we are. Christ, there’s plenty of players who are more skillfully gifted than I am who are without a club so it’s not as if I should be sitting here feeling sorry for myself during this moment of vocational insecurity. After all, I’ve been luckier than most. At least I’ve had a career.

So, after twenty years in the game I find myself in the position of being out of contract without knowing exactly where I’ll be playing next season. If anywhere at all. It’s a new experience for me as I’ve always known where my future lay well in advance of this stage of the season, or at minimum I’ve had one year left on my contract which gave me enough time to engineer a move to another club without the pressure of ending up club-less.

We like to romanticise about football and believe it’s all about living the dream whilst earning a king’s ransom but that’s not entirely the case

As a thirty-five year old, I accept that the days of three and four year contracts are behind me. That’s easy to accept as long as the one and two year deals keep drip feeding the life force of your career. More reluctantly, I also know that it can’t go on forever. The Peter Pan existence that we footballers are used to living quickly ends. Launching a life in coaching and management allows you to hang on to the coattails of your footballing existence but I can’t imagine it’s ever the same as playing. Thankfully, I’m not yet at the stage where I’m hanging on for dear life, clinging on to the remnants of a life I once had. If anything, I’m in as good a shape as I’ve ever been, which makes the position I’m in a harder pill to swallow. If I use the old adage that one when one door closes, another one opens, then of course there are plusses to me being out of contract. New horizons beckon. If you hadn't noticed, that was my attempt at being optimistic.

As you pass into your thirties you're increasingly aware the end is approaching and the transition away from playing football has to be made, it's a difficult process to accept. Whilst I’m doing my utmost to assure my post playing passage into “normal” life is as smooth as possible (I’m in the process of gaining my coaching qualifications and a degree in Professional Sports Writing and Broadcasting, hence this piece), I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness about the whole situation. Every club I've played for has had my full commitment and that's become the problem. When you've invested so much of yourself  emotionally into a club and the people you work with, the divorce becomes that much harder.

Wherever I've been, I was always one the first one's in the dressing room on a morning, with my cup of coffee and copy of The Times in hand, waiting for the rest of the lads to arrive one by one. To me, that hour and a half is the best part of the day. When I'm sat at home watching The Wright Stuff during the off-season, it's what I miss most.

I've had to be selfish in many ways to make sure I stayed in the game but it's the ethos of the team and the spirit amongst that group of players that has made football the love of my life. Being part of that team gives you a sense of worth and when you're removed from that team environment, it can be a lonely place. It's that sense of belonging and the want to be part of something that drives me to keep on playing.

Not that I've played great deal since I moved to Barnsley but being out of the team is what has spurred me on to finish these last few years of my career on a high. It’s just about getting the chance to do that. People assume that after being at a Championship for a few years it’s a foregone conclusion that you’ll get snapped up by a League One or Two club straight away. However, it’s easier said then done.

I’m trying to explain that there’s more at risk in my life than having to cut back on the Cristal

That’s not being pessimistic, it’s merely the cold, hard facts. We like to romanticise about football and believe it’s all about living the dream whilst earning a king’s ransom but that’s not entirely the case. The bare bones of it is we’re just the same as everyone else. We love playing, of course we do but it’s about paying bills and putting a roof over our kids heads. I’m not attempting to extract any sympathy. Far from it, in fact. I’m not naive enough to think I would actually get any but I’m trying to explain that there’s more at risk in my life than having to cut back on the Cristal. At this juncture, I would like to state that I’ve never drank Cristal.

Since I was informed that my contract was going to be left to run out (notice how I didn’t say the word “released” there. I still can’t use it), finding a new club has been a slow process. Everyone consoles you with the fact it’s a notoriously quiet time of the year with many clubs not knowing if they’re going up or down or that manager’s don’t have their budgets for next season but it’s of little consolation. I know that things probably won’t really get moving again until at least the end of May but still the anxiety about finding a new club builds.

I don’t have an agent as such because I really haven’t had the need for one over the past five or six years. I do have people looking for me but my moves to my last three clubs, Silkeborg, Odense and Barnsley, have all been done through people I know who’ve contacted me directly. As in any other walk of life, you often find it's who you know rather than what you know.

I suppose what I should do is use this as article as an advertisement to any managers out there who are after solid goalkeeper. Something a bit like this:

For hire. Thirty-five year old goalkeeper with twenty years professional experience at top level of English, Scottish and Danish leagues. Still in mint condition. Six previous owners but used sparingly in recent years due to acquisition of newer model. Plenty of miles still left on the clock. GSOH (Good Set Of Hands).Left bicep is sufficiently developed to bear captain’s armband. Will travel.

Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for the offers to flood in . . . .

*sits back*


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