Emotional upheaval of Releasing Players P2

I was picked to play centre half and the manager was at the game making his final decisions on a few of us that was playing. So it was a massive game for some of us after two years hard graft. I sat in the dressing room before the game and I couldn’t get my mind off only a few weeks ago the Liverpool team was in here and one of the biggest disasters in football had unfolded right here and I was about to play one of the biggest games of my career. As a Liverpudlian I remember thinking this wasn’t right us playing here after such a short time after the disaster but what was I going to do tell them to cancel the game or say I didn’t want to play when I had worked so hard over two years. We wasn’t given an option just told to play. I then seen the team-sheet and Sheffield Wednesday FC had nearly all the first team players playing. I always enjoyed playing in reserve games as it gave you the opportunity to play in all the stadiums but this was one game I really wasn’t looking forward to. My mum and dad had also made the journey to watch me play.

Hillsborough Disaster Leppings Lane

We kicked off and we are defending the Leppings Lane end and I remember Tony Galvin the ex spurs and Republic of Ireland international knocking a ball past me when he was five in front of me I thought he must be taking the piss if he thought he was going to beat me for pace especially as he was coming towards the end of his career. I turned and started running towards my own goalkeeper and the Leppings Lane end it was if I was running on sand as Tony started edging in front of me and bearing down on our goal I was being exposed and a desperate sliding tackle spared my blushes. I remember Kristian Sigurður “Siggi” Jónsson making a thigh high tackle on my team mate Neil Cartwright who was also in the

“I couldn’t stop thinking about the disaster that had taken place right here only a few weeks earlier”

same position as me looking for a contract, he was carried off with a suspected broken leg. My initial thoughts was I hope this isn’t serious because his two years of hard work might be over by one tackle. The omens wasn’t looking good and I was having a nightmare game and I couldn’t stop thinking about the disaster that had taken place right here only a few weeks earlier. I remember marking from a corner right next to the Leppings lane and glancing over at the mangled terraces as the man I was supposed to be marking who was a good four inches smaller than me getting a free header that hits our crossbar. I wasn’t doing my job as my mind was all over the place. The game passed me by and we actually won the game I sat in the changing room after the game as everyone was really chuffed as we had just beaten what was their first team. I sat quite dejected as I thought I’ve blown this two years of hard work and I’ve just had a nightmare in front of the gaffer who is in control of my destiny. I remember seeing a picture of Kenny Dalglish’s face when the tragedy took place he looked haunted and only a few weeks had passed since the Liverpool players had sat right here while the tragedy unfolded. My thoughts as I was sitting there was also with my mate who was in hospital getting an X-Ray on a suspected broken leg was his career finished? Would he get offered a contract if he’s got a long term injury?

We made the coach journey back making the usual stops at the chippy and the outdoor to collect a couple of crates of beer. We all sat there eating our fish and chips with a beer while some of us played cards. I was devastated I had worked really hard over the two years and one crap game could have ruined all of that. Was I going to be just another player released at 18yrs and looking for a club along with hundreds of other lads being released by clubs and the same time?

“He asked me how I thought I’d played the other night and seemed pretty surprised when I told him I thought I’d had a shocker, he said he thought I did pretty well against a strong team”

A couple of days later a few of us apprentices was asked to wait as the boss wanted to see us. It was me Daryl Burgess and Adrian Foster all players who had been regular in the reserves. Daryl went in first but was sent out a different exit so we didn’t know if he’d been offered a contract or not. Adrian went in next and again same thing he didn’t come back and the call came down into the physio’s room ‘gaffer wants to see you now’. Well here we go as I make the long walk down the corridor to the gaffer’s office. I knock on the door as I’m told to come in. Just me and him as my mouth dries up as I struggle to find enough saliva to swallow. He asked me how I thought I’d played the other night and seemed pretty surprised when I told him I thought I’d had a shocker, he said he thought I did pretty well against a strong team and then he hit me with ‘I’d like to offer you a contract’.

I remember calling Nobby Stiles and telling him the good news and he told me the easy part was getting a pro contract now your going to have to be considered for the first team so the hard work starts now. I’d only just signed a contract and overjoyed at being offered a contract and now the worry starts all over again.

I worked hard on my game over the next year still playing in both roles as a striker and centre half and getting to train with the 1st team on a regular basis. The end of the season approached and I was called into the office this time it was Brian Talbot, Sam Allardyce and Stuart Pearson. I was told I wouldn’t be offered a contract and that I would be free to leave at the end of the season. No explanation to why just a pat on the back and thanks for all you’ve done. I remember walking out thinking to myself that I’m still just 19yrs and learning my trade. I hadn’t really fully matured as a player and was still pretty tall and gangly but here I was on the scrape heap at 19yrs.

I got a few calls from non league clubs wanting to sign me straight away which would give me 1st team experience but I didn’t fancy just training in a Tuesday and Thursday night as I knew I still needed to develop and work on my game which would involve being full time.

I eventually signed for Burnley FC after a short stint in Finland. I’d met manager Frank Casper and he persuaded me to sign he wanted me to play striker and be ready if Ron Futcher got injured or suspended. Pre season started well and I was in and out the 1st team making a few appearances in friendly games. I then picked up a few injuries and before long Frank had been replaced by Jimmy Mullen and I was released again.

The game can be pretty brutal especially during those early days as a young player. Psychologist came into the game more after I had finished playing but I was a prime example of someone needing some help on the mental side of the game at that stage in my career. Especially with the knock backs it certainly effects your confidence.

Being on the coaching side and having to either release players or loan them out you can definitely empathise as you’ve been through it as a player yourself. But for me it still doesn’t sit well with me even if it can be more beneficial for the player to move on it’s never an easy conversation.

I had a young player playing for me in Thailand who had lots of ability but wasn’t quite ready to make the starting eleven as there were a couple of players ahead of him at the club, I could see his career was stalling because he was spending more time in the stands or on the bench. As the transfer window opened in the middle of the season I wanted to let him go out on loan to gain more 1st team experience. So I brought him in with my translator and explained the situation thinking he would fully understand and be happy to gain some experience. I wasn’t expecting this young 21yr old to break down crying saying in broken English ‘please don’t let me go coach’. It brought back probably exactly what I was feeling inside when I was being released twenty odd years previous to this.

I try to be as open as possible give the reasons why and then try to help moving forward for the player but it’s a part of the game that’s awful for both sides.

When I was at Aldershot Town FC I had about 5 academy players who had been involved with the 1st team and the manager at the time was keen on offering these boys pro contracts. In the space of 3 months the manager moved on and only one of them was offered a contract. I was gutted for the lads who had been let go. Only one person at the club had changed and now they was looking for a new club when 3 months previous they would have been offered a contract. I was in a fortunate position looking back as I was released from a reasonably big club but these boys were released from a league 2 club.

Jamie Vardy

At academy level it gets worse because you’re now telling players of 10-16yrs old that the club are not going to sign them. I remember sitting there as director of football at Leicester City FC for the girls centre of excellence with the U12 coaches and child welfare officer telling a young girl that we wasn’t going to sign her. Things had moved on a bit since I was told clubs now have exit strategies and child protection officers for support but it still boils down to the same thing. You’re not good enough at the time that might be one persons opinion or a collective opinion. But you you look at Jamie Vardy breaking through late and even my own father was released at Barrow FC and 8yrs later he’s picking up a championship medal at Nottingham Forest FC.

“As in most sports you have to be mentally strong to bounce back from such setbacks and the beautiful game as it’s called can be brutal chew you up and spit you out.”

As in most sports you have to be mentally strong to bounce back from such setbacks and the beautiful game as it’s called can be brutal chew you up and spit you out.

So why do we put ourselves through it, why do parents expose there children to the harsh realities of life at such a fragile age?

For me it was fulfilling a dream, I found something I was good at and pursued it that led me into coaching which was something I equally enjoyed.

As a player you can find yourself constantly questioning your ability on a weekly basis because you are playing each week so you are being evaluated on a weekly basis. As a coach / manager you’re always looking to strengthen your team and this could be bringing in new players to do this. So clubs are constantly changing players and with clubs changing managers this happens more and more. The uncertainty can be very unsettling for players especially the older you get, taking into account family, children, schools, bills to pay and the upheaval of moving. I remember having fourteen different schools as my father traveled around the world playing football.