Contracts Time

Contracts Time (written at the end of a recent season)

So it’s that time of the year again. This week up and down the country, there are some tough decisions to be made.  It’s the time of the year when your football club decides if you are for keeping or for throwing into the scrapheap.  It’s obviously a stressful time for players and staff alike.  Even if you are one of the players being kept on, it can be a difficult time.  It’s a weird sensation to be part of a group, and then to witness that group being taken apart before your eyes.

From my viewpoint, these are not just players; these are my friends. I’ve gotten to know them and their families throughout the year. I’ve experienced huge highs as well as major lows with them. We’ve pretty much lived, eaten, worked, travelled and slept beside each other all year. While there are bound to be some very disappointed people, those being released might comfort if they are young, or if they have other options in the game.  I can only imagine how difficult it must be to tell someone that their career is over.

But I don’t need any imagination to know how bad it feels to be released. I’ve been in that position before. Last time was the 10/11 season and this is how it went for me:

‘It’s done, isn’t it?’ The Gaffer looks to his right down along the bench. We all nod in agreement and smile, like we always do.

‘It’s done Gaff. Congrats’, I say.

We’re 3-1 up on the final day of the season and about to secure the final automatic promotion spot. It’s May; the sun is shining, and its promotion party time. I’m sitting next to him on the bench but slowly I’m squeezed down the bench by players and staff who want to be there first to congratulate him at final whistle in front of the cameras.

The final whistle will always blow and when it does I stroll onto the pitch – the other subs race on. It’s a moment of celebration. Fans pour on to the pitch to celebrate with players, ducking, weaving & dodging stewards. Inside, I’m not celebrating. Inside, there is not much joy. I join the intertwined herd of fans and players and jump around singing and shouting. I’m happy for the lads but envious of the satisfaction they must be feeling.

I’m angry at the manager, at myself, at the untimely injuries I got and most of all at the uncertain position I now find myself in. Its season 2010/11 in the football league. An injury has forced me to just play 22 games for Wycombe Wanderers FC in a season where Wycombe got promoted from League Two into League One.

The fans sing, the owner is chuffed, the manager is delighted. My contract is up and I’m screwed.

That Saturday night our celebrations carry on into the late night hours. Looking around I know it’ll be the last time this bunch of lads will be together.  The following Wednesday we are all due to discuss our futures with the manager. You read about people getting laid off and watch on the news how disgusted they are to be treated so badly and how angry they are at the company for treating them this way after years of loyal service. I wonder whether it is harder if you at a club for a long time or a short time?  I also wonder whether it is easier or harder to take if you’ve experienced it a few times. It doesn’t matter really I suppose as, in any event, there is the same conclusion – you’re out of work.

This is my third time in four years being told I have no future at a workplace. This is the reality of basement football in England. I step into the manager’s office and he tells me how hard it is on him, how stressful this day is for everyone and how much of a good professional I am. It’s for my benefit because I need to be playing regularly. But inside I’m thinking ‘If you really want to benefit me then don’t cut off my sole income!’

This time it’s all done in a matter of minutes and I’m out the door, head spinning and into the next office where the secretary meets me. He gives me the necessary paperwork saying, ‘You’re experienced, you’ve been down this road before, sign here and here’. ‘Screw him,’ I’m thinking, he’s got stability, and he knows what will come in and go out of your bank account for the next few years. God, I wish I had that certainty!

My anger towards him is misguided. I just want to get my black plastic bag full of my kit and get out of the training ground. Even though I knew that the signs weren’t good in terms of getting the offer of a new contract, I had still held out a faint hope. The lads are all hanging around the place. Some know their futures are secure and are planning a trip to celebrate the promotion.

I tell them to give me a shout when they know the details but I know I won’t be going. I say goodbye to a few staff I meet as I’m heading towards my car, avoiding their pitiful stares. Outside in the car park I suddenly feel all alone, angry and bitter. I get into the car and start to drive home. I need petrol. I drive out of my way to go to a cheaper station (using more petrol). It’s incredible how quickly your mind-set changes when you know you’re in financial uncertainty.

Last summer I was in a secure position so I went on holidays down under and had a great time. This summer I will spend staring at my phone, waiting for a call.

While this was written by me a few seasons ago, this will be the type of summer experienced by some players at my club this year. My advice is that when it happened to me I didn’t take the rejection as a definitive ‘No’ to the hopes, aims and goals that I had in mind to achieve in football. I just took it as a ‘No’ that I won’t be achieving them with you.

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