The end of another season has arrived and so the rat race begins trying to find a new club. Being released at the end of a contract is one of those things that every player apart from the lucky few will have to endure at some stage throughout a career. The feelings of anxiety and worry are unavoidable for a player as you enter into a phase of the season where clubs are adjusting budgets and looking to recruit players as best as is possible to fit in with club finances. As a player, you just hope the reputation you’ve built up and the previous seasons performances haven’t gone unnoticed by potential suitors, but it’s a time where the waiting game begins and the phone is a constant companion. Will it ring, if at all and who will ring, if anyone?
It makes you wonder, as a player, about the question of loyalty in football and the realisation that it simply doesn’t exist, but that is simply the reality of the industry in which we ply our trade. You often hear of managers and fans questioning player’s loyalty when players move clubs, citing the usual cliche of ‘money grabber’ but the fact is players are in the game to achieve success, be it to win trophies or promotions, and to earn the best deal financially available. Take the contrasting fortunes of Orient keepers Ryan Alsopp and Lee Butcher and perhaps you’ll understand what I’m getting at.
Ryan was criticised heavily when he departed to Bournemouth earlier in the season for the security of a long term contract and I presume a more lucrative salary. He took the risk of a short term deal at Orient where he was signed as nothing more than a number two, but after getting his opportunity to play, as a result of injury, he went on to have a phenomenal stay between the sticks therefore attracting interest from all that saw him in action. Yes, people will say that Orient gave him an opportunity and he perhaps should have stayed loyal, but he earned his move, risked injury for a fragile short term deal and performed fantastically for the club when called upon so he should have been thanked and wished well. Hypothetically speaking, if he never got the opportunity to perform or if Lee recovered from injury in January to challenge Jamie Jones for the position of goalkeeper then would Ryan’s contract have even been renewed? Probably not, but I guess we’ll never know.
Contrast this to Lee’s situation, who amongst all the lads in the dressing room was undoubtedly a shoe in for player of the year in 2011/2012 before doing his cruciate ligament in March of that year. He was a stand out performer and won us points on his own with his performances which ultimately kept us up but where one has gone onto promotion to the championship, the other has been released on a free. In this instance, I think it’s safe to say that football can be a cruel mistress at times. As a player, you give everything on the football pitch or should do as a minimum requirement anyway. You put your body on the line and play through injury for the love of playing and helping the team, but when it comes down to contracts and loyalty it seems the only thing that matters, especially in the current economic climate, is where the player fits in with the budget, but hey, that’s football.
For me, in a season of more highs than lows culminating in us finishing seventh, I fell one league start short from getting an automatic one year contract extension. So close yet so far. Similarly, players will have fought relegation up and down the country and given everything to avoid the blot of relegation on their CV, only to have the ecstasy of survival soured by their release from their club. Like me, released with nothing more than a thank you and goodbye but that isn’t a criticism, just simply the nature of the industry in which we work.
For me personally, I would like to thank Leyton Orient for a great two years, a truly fantastic club in every sense of the word. As a footballer, you play with a lot of players throughout a career but only a handful you can truly call friends so it’s an added bonus to have met some top guys during my stay that I’ll be sorry to leave behind. I’d like to thank the fans for the support they’ve given me every time I crossed the white line and for recognising my efforts by singing ‘The Sweeney’ theme tune. Without question I will be very sorry to leave it all behind, but again, that as they say, is football. Like every club I’ve played for I take great satisfaction that I’ve left them in the same or better state that when I arrived. I arrived at Brisbane Road with the team seventh in league one and I leave with the team seventh in league one. Let’s hope the club can go one step further in the near future. Thanks for the memories.