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Free agents face football dilemma

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Jack Ross | 16:30 UK time, Monday, 6 September 2010

When an estate agent describes a property as having character, do we smile in the knowledge that they really mean it requires major refurbishment?

If we do, then we must also believe that, when a football agent describes a client as being a free agent, he is in effect an unemployed footballer!

It gives me no satisfaction to accept that at the present moment I would fall into such a category, but having found myself in such a position the challenge then becomes dealing with it and finding a way out of it.

The most obvious escape from being an out of work footballer is, of course, to simply sign for another club.

But this is a route which has become more troublesome than previously for a higher number of players as a consequence of a difficult economic climate and significant reduction in squad sizes.

However, even given these circumstances, players would feel confident that their playing experience and achievements would still ensure they would find another club.

And yet, a midfielder with an impressive CV such as Stephen Glass, can still find himself out of football as we enter September because of the dwindling openings in the Scottish game.

I accept that circumstances and wage demands will impact on how easily a player can start playing again.

Undoubtedly, some will have a playing standard or income level that they are either unable or unwilling to drop below.

For example, when I returned to full-time football in my early 20s I did so for a salary of about £200 per week.

At that time, my family and financial commitments were very different from now, and I was desperate to prove myself in the game.

I am honest enough to admit that there is no possibility of me being able to return to a similar situation again.

Not because I have less passion for the game or have become more mercenary.

Rather, changes in personal circumstances mean a move to part-time football or full-time employment that meant no time for playing, would have to take precedence over such a contract.

This more broad-minded approach is not unique to my own school of thought as there is evidence to prove that increasing numbers of Scottish players are becoming better prepared for the future.

Craig Flannigan, the education co-ordinator with PFA Scotland, does a fantastic job sourcing information and advising players on future careers and he would readily admit to having his busiest-ever summer.

This demand for courses comes at a time when funding to help players is far less than it was previously and suggests that it's only the current worrying state of the game that is driving players to think long-term.

At this point, I stress that this is not a blog aimed at gaining sympathy. After all, every employee in every profession is vulnerable to being in the same predicament.

Further to that, as a footballer I have to date (and hopefully will have for a couple more years) enjoyed in my eyes the greatest job in the world.

The enjoyment of training and playing while earning a living is immeasurable and the reason why so many still aspire to play the game professionally.

There is one source of irritation to me within those who comment on the unemployed football player: that is the description of them now having to live in the real world.

The vast majority of players face the same responsibilities as many others in both a personal and financial sense, and therefore don't live in a fantasy world where no worries or troubles exist.

Of course, they live the dream and again I have no concerns in admitting I have enjoyed a good lifestyle from my chosen occupation.

But having no job affects a footballer in just the same way as most other people.

If the search for another club proves fruitless then what other options will a player consider?

The desire to stay within the game is sometimes considered the easy path to follow but in reality it is what a player know best and why the opportunity to coach, manage, work within the media or in an agency will always be appealing.

One final hurdle that an unemployed player must overcome is of course staying fit, and to that end I am very grateful to the management team at Falkirk, and in particular their under 19 coach Craig McPherson, for allowing me to use their facilities and train with their youth team.

At the moment my ambition is to keep playing in the SPL but with enough realism and ambition to be exploring every other possible employment opportunity, both within and out of the game.


  • Comment number 1.

    I am unconvinced that an England Football Team should have a non-England coach. I say this not as an insult to Fabio Cappelo; but I think English players would be better motivated under an English coach who comes from and appreciates the same roots. This may make the difference between winning and losing.

  • Comment number 2.

    good blog Jack its true the vast majority of proffessional footballers would appreciate your comments I'm wondering whether you'd consider a move abroad or across the border to Ireland or England?

  • Comment number 3.

    Echoing #2 would a move to the MLS, the 'A' League in Australia or rich emerging markets such as Russia or the Middle-East appeal? I appreciate it would mean a great upheaval for family and lifestyle but these places seem to be attracting a lot of more experienced players from other countries and there seems to be a lot more coaching opportunities for ex-pros? Is your agent in touch with these organisations - it seems every foreign player is hawked around all the World' clubs? Ever thought of developing a soccer coaching career in the U.S. perhaps at Universities or Colleges? Realising it's not all as easy as it sounds I reckon judging by your strong journalistic skills reading your blogs puts you in a pretty decent position regarding media/education work as a fall back..hopefully you will find a decent club who will appreciate all you can offer not just playig of luck anyway.

  • Comment number 4.

    Did getting rid of the Reserve League contribute to your problem of being without a club ?
    Would the introduction of SPL Reserve teams in the Football League with a glass ceiling at the 1st Div stem the loss of players ?

  • Comment number 5.

    From a players point of view the playing is the 'be all and end all' and the thought of not playing at the level you are accustomed to may seem like the end of the world.
    From a fans point of view the many different options available would be seen as a fantastic opportunity.
    Good luck

  • Comment number 6.

    come play in nigeria

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Jack, great article. Thanks for a small insight into what you must be dealing with right now.

    Was this article written after reading Paul Fletcher's blog on football's free agents? I noticed the comments on there were overwhelmingly unsympathetic to footballers which I thought was a tad harsh. It seems as though a lot people think that once you have played a few years as a professional footballer you are set for life. That might be the case for a lucky few, but for the majority of players - lower leagues/youngsters, its simply not the case.

    At any rate, good luck finding a new club and enjoy training with Falkirk.

  • Comment number 8.

    Thank you for all your comments.

    The opportunity to play or coach overseas is one area I am investigating at the moment and if the right opportunity presented itself then I would be happy to take it. I am also considering continuing to play full time, part time or possibly not at all depending on what other options I may have. The latter is obviously the most difficult one for me to consider!

    Regarding the question on the Reserve League I don't think it has impacted upon my own situation too much but it certainly will have on others. Obviously, clubs can carry far smaller squads as a result of no official SPL Reserve league meaning more players are cut adrift. I personally believe the scrapping of the league was a ridiculous decision and one which I hope may be reversed in years to come.

    I read Paul Fletcher's blog after I had submitted mine, and was not entirely surprised by some of the responses. Hopefully, this blog has given a player's perspective on how great but precarious a career football is at times.

  • Comment number 9.

    hi jack a considered and succinct blog as ever. not having had the oppportunity (or Skill, Talent, and generally being good enough)to play professional football and realise your dream. I hope this goes someway to getting the ill-informed commentators on Paul Fletcher's blog to see things in the "Real World".
    the potential earnings of an average 12 year career in the SPL outside of the ugly sisters and the one or two push the boat out cotracts at some clubs is annually less than wayne rooney gets a week! or for that fact less than joke cole!
    yes there are some mercenary b@#tards out there (A. Gow) and equally so agents playing four or five clubs at a time. but there is an ever increasing number of decent young players being lost to the game early and the SPL and the scottish national team will struggle even more in future because of this drain of potential.
    for the enjoyment and spetacle a right good game can bring to the spectator i would say the vast majority are rewarded appropriately.

    if you need a reality check consider inspite of rumours about which spl clubs would come in for Billy Mehmet and andy dorman once out of contract. the reality was no current spl club that wanted them could pay them their worth! even as free agents and that obviously includes St Mirren. i can think of at least one more player that falls into that category :-)

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Jack

    Insightful blog.

    While I can sympathise with your personal circumstances, there are far too many players in Scotland making a full-time living from the game. It is inconceivable that any clubs outwith the SPL have full-time players when their gates average a maximum of 3,000. Scotland has 42 Pro teams and a population of 5 million. England has 93 Pro clubs and a population of 60 million. I'll let others do the math.

    My point is this: far too many players earn a full-time living from the game, have no qualifications to fall back on, and when they are released from a club and can't find another one due to their footballing inadequacies, they struggle.

    Scottish football should be part-time apart from the SPL. That way our game would have a healthy 'bank' of part-time players that the SPL could pluck talent from, squeezing down the number of full-time players in a scenario that would eventually lead to the cream rising to the top.

    Scottish football has, for a long time, had an attitude that if you play for the likes of Dunfermline, Dundee, Ross County, Airdrie etc then you had "made it." These clubs have all had very recent finanical difficulties, yet they continue to support a first team with 18 full-time players, and attract crowds during the middle of winter of 1,500. The business model is flawed.

    Jack, I hope you find employment either in or out of football very soon that will lead to you having a happy and healthy future.

  • Comment number 11.

    I found this blog really interesting and have some sympathy for unemployed players like you Jack.
    I'm currently working as a teacher but have done many different jobs in the past; bar manager, policeman, postman, and solicitor. I've often come across ex-professional footballers especially in the hospitality industry, the police and the post office.
    At the moment I work at a school where one of the PE teachers used to be on YTS forms at a London club.
    With all the money in football now people tend to forget that players in the lower divisions or north of the border can sign for a professional club and have a full career in football that doesn't leave them financially secure.
    A lot of people are guilty of assuming that because the top stars at the big clubs will never have to work again once they retire it's the same for all ex-pros, when that clearly isn't the case.
    I think the player's association needs to look into educating and supporting players, so that they can be prepared for life after football.
    I don't want to generalise but I assume, unlike you, most players have a pretty basic education and their options once they finish playing are pretty limited? This is sad and I think it needs to be looked at because their must be a vast number of applicants for coaching vacancies and a far great number of ex-professional footballers out there than there are jobs in the game.
    Good luck in your search for a new club, and with whatever you do in the future. A lot of the ex-pros I've worked with have been very happy in their new careers so don't dispair, their is life after football.


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