Emotional upheaval of Releasing Players

I have been on both ends as a former player I having been released by a clubs and as a manager / head coach I’ve been in a position to move players on.

As a player it can be a heartbreaking moment when the club your playing with decides they want to move you on and your time at the club abruptly comes to a halt. This happened to me as a young professional at West Bromwich Albion FC after spending four years coming through the ranks as an apprentice footballer being offered a professional contract and then your out. I was in the fortunate position after leaving school to have a few pro clubs offering me an apprenticeship although and apprenticeship consisted of a two year YTS contract of £28 week raising to £35 a week in the second year. You also received travel expenses to cover a bus pass. But if you broke into the youth team we could receive win bonuses of £5 and if you managed to get into the reserves you could double your money in win bonuses! When I see what young players are being offered now before they have even played in the youth team or development squads it makes you wonder if the money flooding into the game is heading in the right places?

Ron Saunders

I was making my mind up between a few clubs and I was spending a week at WBA as part of work experience from school and the manager at the time was Ron Saunders who I knew from his Aston Villa days as he had signed my dad for then a club record fee. I remember finishing training and about to start what all apprentices up and down the country had to do at the time which was known as ‘jobs’ this included cleaning the pros boots, cleaning the dressing rooms which could take a few hours of hard labour. As I was walking down the corridor at the training ground the manager was walking towards me. Ron was an imposing man even for some long serving professionals he wasn’t a man to mince words and he ruled the roost. I gave him the nod and the standard ‘afternoon boss’ as I walked past and was surprised when he asked me how it was going and when I was going to sign. Well that was it get the contract out where do you want me to sign. You wasn’t usually on talking terms with the boss when your a schoolboy or even an apprentice unless it was for a telling off or they wanted you to make a cup of tea and here I was still at school and the manager was asking me to sign. I signed by the end of the week and being an August birthday I was doing pre season in June running up and down hills still being fifteen with other pros double my age. I broke into the reserves in my first pre season and was playing with a mixture of youth players, young pros Carlton Palmer, David Burrows and some older pros who was not getting a game in the first team.

“in came Sam Allardyce as reserve team coach who six month previous had kicked me round the park for 90min in a reserve game when he was playing for Preston North End FC!”

Although there was many strikers at the club I was one team off the first team and playing for a manager who wanted me at the club so I was on track. Four months later in the September Ron got sacked and my world was rocked. In came Ron Atkinson for his second spell at the club. The big questions going through players minds when a new manager comes in is is he going to like me? So your future is very much in the hands of one guy if he likes you your in if he doesn’t your out as simple as that. I managed to do ok under the new manager he played me in the 1st team in a few friendly games and I was a regular in the reserves so I was quietly confident I might get offered a pro contract. In my second year Ron decided to move on and Brian Talbot was offered the job my third manager in little over a year. It was quite strange as Brian was a player at the club at the time in the twilight of his playing career so he was someone you could easily have a chat with next thing he’s the manager and your asking yourself the same questions again ‘is he going to like me or not’? Worrying times as this was an important year as many of us second year apprentices was looking for a pro contract. My youth and reserve team coach Nobby Stiles who had mentored me had moved on and in came Sam Allardyce as reserve team coach who six month previous had kicked me round the park for 90min in a reserve game when he was playing for Preston North End FC! So those old questions start going round your head as I’d seen many players move in and out from the club. I remember playing upfront with Steve Bull in my early days at West Brom and thinking this guy isn’t bad but Ron had other ideas and off loaded him to 4th division wolves and for him he went on to a great career at wolves and representing England. So being moved on for some people can be a positive step.

Steve Bull

It was getting close to the end of the season and the club making a decision in my future we played a reserve game away at Sheffield Wednesday FC and it was actually the first game at Hillsborough since the disaster. I remember walking over the the Leppings Lane stand before the game and shocked that all the standing railing was still there all twisted and mangled. I just remember standing there looking down at the steep area from the track and where people had so drastically lost there lives my cousin had been right here on that drastic day and was lucky enough to survive and here I am about to play a game that was about to decide my future of being offered a pro contract. I had been playing between a central defender and a striker which I thought at the time was good because I had more to offer as I could play in two positions.

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…. continued in Part 2 click here