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The Ben Smith column: That time of year again

For a footballer, the summer is over - although surely there has been some law broken under the trade descriptions act regarding this summer and it is back to work.

It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting in my customary place of last season in the stand at Accrington, feeling delighted for my friends in clinching promotion to League One and relieved for myself that this disastrous personal season wasn't being extended for another month via the play-offs. The promotion bonus came in handy too!

This off-season was a time of reflection for me. I have come to a period in my career where I realised football could no longer be the be all and end all and I have to accept that I need to look at a new primary career.

It had been a strange season as physically, I felt great and actually thought that when I did play for my array of teams, my level of performance was up to a decent standard; despite the fact I was challenging for a spot in many different teams and finding myself moving on every time I started to feel settled.

When we got promoted back to the Football League with Crawley, I thought at the time it may have been a good moment to move on.

I had finished a successful season for both myself and the team but realised with the ambition and financial strength of the club, that it would be tough to secure a permanent starting spot in League Two.

I was confident that if I got a fair chance of earning a place in the team, I could prove people wrong like I had the season before. Unfortunately I don't think that happened, although I didn't help myself with a disappointing pre-season.

Being the realist that I am, I'm aware that there isn't exactly going to be a scramble for the signature of a 33-year-old that started only 15 games last season. Once you get over that 30 mark, people start to look at your performances in a different light.

Now if you have a below-par game, your 'legs are gone' rather than just having a bad game like you do in your twenties!

Plenty to learn

I couldn't sprint at any pace when I was 21, so I definitely can't now. However, I believe I am currently in physically better shape as I look after myself in a way that I didn't when I was younger and can make up the yards I lack in my legs with my brain.

Over the last couple of months, I have received a few offers within the football industry; some playing and some coaching.

The coaching offers were both really interesting and if they had been in two years time, I quite easily could have taken either of them.

However, at the moment I feel I have plenty to learn regarding coaching and want to gain more experience before taking on such a role. I am acutely aware, that if you don't get it right in a managerial or coaching role the first time you don't get another chance.

I also received an interesting offer from a big League Two club as a player. The contract was only short-term and the way I interpreted it was that I was required as cover until an injured player had recovered from injury.

If I had been offered a one-year-deal, there would have been every chance that I would have accepted the offer. However, in my current position I wanted more security.

As a result of this, I decided the time was right for me to start building my new career and feed my thirst for football by playing part-time.

I have always said I wanted to stop playing full-time football on my terms and not when football decided to retire me. I'm not quite sure I achieved this; I think it is fairer to say it’s a mutual decision!

I recently had a job interview and I am optimistic that this will result in me being given the opportunity to embark on a new career.

Opportunities

The football side of things are still very much undecided. Alan Devonshire at Braintree Town has been kind enough to allow me to join his team for pre-season training.

There have been no promises regarding the future from either side but I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to get myself fit, whether that be for his team or someone else.

Whether you are playing full or part-time, pre-season doesn't get any easier!

I have spent the last week running up hills, around parks and pitches with some football thrown in for good measure. Whilst demanding when you are doing it, you can't beat the feeling of satisfaction after completing a really tough session. Football is a much easier game when you are fit.

This is the second time I've been in such a position where there seems to be very little on the horizon.

The last time was when I originally signed for Crawley. You wait for the phone to ring but it never seems to.

Fortunately as a Football League player, you are entitled to one month severance pay when your contract finishes on the 30 June - if you haven't secured new employment - which buys a little more time.

The current financial landscape means that in the lower leagues, the power is back in the hands of the clubs.

Players have one idea of the wage they should command and clubs have a different idea. As July goes on, the demands of the player and club can change. It is a case of who blinks first.

I often liken the transfer market to the process of buying a house. It is like a chain. Once one player signs for a new club, this leaves a place available at his previous club; they sign someone to replace him and so on...This is why there can seemingly be no opportunities and then suddenly you get a phone call and within 24 hours, you have found a new home.

Let's hope my chain, wherever that may be, starts moving soon.

By Ben Smith

Please follow me  on Twitter @bsmudger7 to discuss this column or even better sign me!

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