No point crying
Hi. Hope you are all well.
I usually have to think long and hard about what subject I should focus on for this blog, but this week it was easy after being called into Notts County manager Ian McParland's office last Thursday and told the club would not be renewing my contract.
At the outset, I have to make it clear that this is not a sob story.
Regardless of what job you do, being told you are going to be out of work it is not a pleasant experience to go through.
However, such experiences come with the territory of being a footballer in the lower leagues and there is no point in crying over them as far as I am concerned.
It does, however, give me the opportunity to explain what goes on when clubs are in the process of deciding what players they wish to keep for the following season and which they don't and how the players deal with the situation.
Contrary to what you might think of a footballer who has had as many clubs as I have, this was only the second time in my career that my contract has run its course and not been renewed.
The other occasion was when I was told by Steve Wignall that my short-term deal at Southend United would not be extended, having joined the club on a five-month contract when they were under the caretaker stewardship of Stewart Robson, the former Arsenal, West Ham United and Coventry City player.
Wignall was appointed manager towards the end of the season and decided not to offer me a longer deal.
Lots of people have asked me if I had anticipated County's decision.
The honest answer is "yes".
I did retain some element of hope, especially when I managed to get back into the team in the last couple of weeks of the season but being the realist that I am, I have to admit that I did not play enough games during my time at County to warrant receiving a new deal.
The primary reason for my lack of games was the string of frustrating injuries I suffered.
None of them could be classed as serious - a couple of hamstring pulls and a slight medial knee ligament injury - but they were enough to upset any momentum that I had created for myself.
The absence of a reserve team at Notts County - a common cost-cutting measure at a lot of clubs - meant that it was hard for any player recovering from injury to regain match fitness, a fact that has been acknowledged by the Notts County management team and something they are looking to address for next season.
Players are generally not the biggest fans of reserve team football, myself included in my younger days.
But as the years have gone by, I have looked at these games in a different manner, not as a reflection of my being perceived as unsuitable for the first team but as an ideal way to maintain fitness.
I have learned that keeping an optimum level of fitness throughout the squad is vital and if I ever become a manager, I will put a big emphasis on this, even though I don't think it will make me very popular with my players!
I am sure any player who is approaching the end of his contract will testify that not knowing what is going on in the manager's head with regards to how he rates him is the most frustrating element.
Professional footballers tend to be insecure at the best of times and waiting for signs that they might be offered new deals - or otherwise - inevitably causes them to become particularly jumpy .
Every aspect of the manager's day-to-day dealings with you is analysed and it is amazing what you read into them at times.
For example, if the manager has not spoken to you one morning, you immediately think that it could be a sign that you are on your way to the exit door.
These insecurities are also apparent in the conversations players who will be out of contract conduct among themselves.
The most common points in the dialogue are "when do you think the manager will tell us" or players asking each other if they have any other irons in the fire regarding other clubs who are interested in signing them.
That latter question can often lead to a degree of exaggeration - quite often this can stem from agents filling their clients' heads with nonsense!
When the time comes and you are summoned to the manager's office, you know in an instant what the decision is.
In fact, when Ian McParland said to me: "Strach, can I have a word?" I knew by the tone of the request that the outcome of the meeting was not going to be a positive one for me.
There is no bitterness or resentment of any kind on my behalf.
In all honesty, I felt sorry for Ian because I have it on pretty good authority that telling a player he is released is the hardest part of the job for a manager, especially if you like the player as a person.
I know I would not like doing it if I were a manager.
As the meeting went on, Ian attempted to justify his decision - a decent thing to do and one which I very much appreciated.
However the truth is that after he told me: "I am afraid I cannot offer you anything for next season," I was not really listening to what else he said.
This was not because I was being rude, it was purely a case of trying to comprehend what I had just heard and thinking where I could go from there.
After I went home from training on the Thursday, I learned that the majority of the other players out of contract had also been let go.
At that point I phoned some of them and we shared our experiences - a kind of a group therapy if you like!
The following day at training was a bit awkward but there is nothing like the sense of humour from the players to get you through days like this.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of the week for me was that I was selected in the starting eleven for our final match of the season at Wycombe Wanderers.
I only found out I was in the team when we entered the dressing room at 1.30pm and have to admit it came as a bit of a shock - I have never previously heard of anyone who has played in a last match of the season under these circumstances.
It was then a case of getting my professional head on and going about things in the right manner.
As it happened, I really enjoyed the game, not least because we pulled off a surprise 2-1 win.
We passed the ball about really well and caused Wycombe a lot of problems with our formation, especially in the first half.
Ian McParland did take me off after an hour but fair play to him, this was because he did not want me to pick up an injury which might have limited my chances of finding another club - or so he said!
A win at Wycombe was definitely a better way to end my Notts County career than the home defeat against Dagenham and Redbridge the previous week.
The traditional lap of honour at County's last home game of the season was more a lap of "dishonour"!
One of the other County players who has been released by the club is Jamie Forrester, and after the Dagenham match, I remember saying to him: "If this was to be our last taste of league football, it will not give us the happiest of memories " .
So what lies in store for me now?
My first close-season priority will be to dodge all the jobs that my wife has lined up for me and I think I will have some pretty good excuses.
Much of my time will need to be spent looking for a new club.
In addition, I will be working towards my Uefa B coaching badge and finishing the journalism degree course I have undertaken.
Where all this will lead to I don't know but at this stage of my football career, it is reassuring to know that I have other potential strings to my bow.
Perhaps the best advice I could give to any young professional footballer, regardless of his ability, would be for him to enrol in as many outside courses as he can.
The more qualifications you can get, the better - and you never know when you might need them.
Although the thought of all the free time a professional footballer has at his disposal is appealing, young players should definitely stick at the education side of things, as opposed to waiting until their careers have ended, by which time it is often too late.