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The Ben Smith column: The insecurity of football

I have been lucky enough to earn my living from football for the past sixteen years and feel very privileged to have been able to do something everyday that I love and get paid for it. 

However, like anything there are also some downsides to being a professional footballer especially in the lower reaches of the footballing pyramid. One of those is the feeling of insecurity, not as a person but regarding your job.

In the Premier League the majority of players sign four or five year deals. 

This not only gives the player security but also means that the club has the player on a long term deal so that they can secure the best price possible if they decide a player is surplus to requirements or the player is refusing to sign a new deal.

Once a top performer goes into the last year of his contract the club has a big problem and a big decision to make as illustrated by the Samir Nasri situation earlier in the season.

Balance sheet

Players on long term deals at top clubs are seen as an asset on the club's balance sheet as they can be sold on for multi million pound transfer fees. 

However a 29 year old League Two player on a three year deal would be seen as a liability on the balance sheet as the club would be on the hook for their wages and the player would have little or no re-sale value. 

This is why you very rarely see a lower league player sign more than a one or at the very best two year deal. The only exception to this is if the club has a very promising young player who they feel they can sell on and who will be on modest wages.

This leads to a vicious circle. In early May you might sign a new one year deal for the next season which means you know you can pay the mortgage for another year. Then you get to February and you start worrying again about whether your contract will be renewed. 

If you are settled in the area and the club knows this they may ‘try it on’ and offer you a contract which is not what you are happy with but is good enough to not dismiss out of hand knowing full well that if you turn it down you will be taking a big gamble that someone else will take you. Graham Turner was especially good at this!

Uprooting family

Also there is every chance you will have to move house which in a lot of cases means uprooting family and taking children out of school. 

I personally have never resented this as the club has got to do what is best for them just like a player has got to do what is best for him and his family. After all as a player if you are not happy with a contract then you don’t sign it.

Because of this the main thing that any footballer craves is security and stability. Unfortunately these are in short supply in football. Even when it appears that you have that security it is not always the case.

In January of 2006 I moved to Weymouth from Shrewsbury. The previous eighteen months had been nothing short of disastrous. After a bright start at Shrewsbury I got injured and during my rehabilitation period the manager who signed me got sacked and was replaced by Gary Peters. 

We never saw eye to eye on footballing matters and it was a matter of time before I moved on. See what I mean about stability!

Disillusioned

For the first time in a long while I had become disillusioned with football, I had very few expectations when I joined Weymouth but knew I wanted to get away from Shrewsbury so just went for it. This again meant my girlfriend and I had to uproot and build a new life on the South Coast. 

Moving to a new town and club has never been a problem for me. 

After a couple of weeks of being like the new boy at school and keeping your head down you soon settle in and make new friends. However for the people you are taking with you it is never that simple. 

On numerous occasions I have come home from training, told my girlfriend we are leaving and moved to a new club within days. She has to leave behind all the friends she has made and her job and build a new life wherever we go. 

This is never easy for her as she has to find a new job and construct new relationships. This also puts pressure on me as I am the only person she knows and to be honest I like my own space. 

Captain

These are all factors that people probably don’t think about when a player joins a new club.

Straight away I enjoyed myself at Weymouth and everything went great. We got promoted to the Blue Square Premier and I was made captain of the team. 

We settled into the new league really well and were around the top five up to Christmas. I was really enjoying my football and asked the club if we could extend my deal. 

After some negotiation we agreed on a new two and a half year deal. This was the longest contract I had signed and I thought I finally had that security and stability I craved, how wrong could I be!

In early January we were due to go on a mid season break to Spain. Two days before our manager Garry Hill called a meeting which I assumed was to discuss the details for the trip. 

Bombshell

He then dropped the bombshell that we were all going to be put on the transfer list and that we could all leave the club. I started laughing. He looked at me quizzically, I said you’re obviously joking. 

He then told us he had been sacked and we would be paid to the end of the month. From signing a new deal the week before it now looked like I was leaving. Exactly a week later I re-joined my old club Hereford.

Just two weeks after signing a long term contract I was on the move again. When I first became a professional footballer I found it quite exciting that at the drop of a hat I could be moving anywhere around the country. 

However as I have got older it is the one thing that really annoyed me and I have always craved the stability of knowing where I will be from one year to the next and the security of knowing what I will be earning. 

Yes your wage can double from one contract to the next but it can also half. Over the last three years my wages have dropped over 60%. 

This lack of security problem has only been exasperated over the last couple of years due to the economic problems that are being suffered all around the world. 

It has become common place now to see players signing short term deals from one transfer window to the next in the lower leagues.

That is why it always makes me chuckle when I hear top players moaning that they are in the last two years of there £4 million pound a year contract and want there future sorted out!! 


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