Tommy Lee: My boot boy's release is his nightmare but his dream lives on
As the last ball is kicked and another season draws to a close for a few professional football players it is a time to celebrate, for some it is a time to reflect and refocus but for many it is a time of worry and uncertainty.
Clubs up and down the country are deciding which players warrant a contract and who is to be released.
To be told that your contract will not be renewed is something I have had to endure twice, once with Manchester United and once with Macclesfield Town and it is a terrible experience.
Your world is tipped on its head and you are faced with the question: “What next?”
My release from Macclesfield at 22 was especially jarring and for a while I considered quitting the game.
After months of soul searching I came to my senses and realised as a former Manchester United scholar with 100 league games and a Wembley play-off final on my CV, I still had a lot to offer the game.
Thankfully, former Chesterfield manager Lee Richardson, through gritted teeth, agreed with me.
I was lucky in the sense that I had league experience to help me in my search for a new employer but for thousands of 18-year-old academy players who will be coming to terms with the nightmare of being released it is a luxury most don’t have.
And for my ‘boot boy’ and young Chesterfield striker, George Milner, that nightmare became a reality.
Having spent two years living away from home, working tirelessly to achieve his dream of a professional deal it wasn’t to be.
He explained just how difficult the experience was.
“The coach came in and said, ‘will you come up to the room in 10 minutes?’ each player went up and then it came to me.” George said.
“I was walking up the stairs, nervous. They said to me, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, we can’t offer you a contract.’ It was gutting.”
He continued: “I have worked all my life for it, I have lived away, I have tried my best but it wasn’t to be.”
In spite of his exit from Chesterfield, the Macclesfield-born striker remains pragmatic: “It’s what they’ve got to do, they choose who they want to take on and they let go who they want to let go.
“It’s no hard feelings, you’ve just got to keep your head up and keep going and hopefully prove them wrong in the future.”
To his immense credit George understands that whilst being released isn’t nice it is part and parcel of professional football.
It is a sentiment echoed by Chesterfield academy director Mark Smith, who has the unenviable task of delivering the news to young players.
“It’s probably the hardest part of the job. You are crushing people’s dreams and aspirations,” he said.
“Some take it alright, some take it really badly and they will break down in front of you which is not nice to see but it’s part of this industry that they are coming into.”
Mark explained that while a future out of professional football may seem daunting for the likes of George and the thousands of others, there can be, and often is, a happy ending: “It’s difficult now but my advice to the kids is always get yourself at a level where you think you can cope and get back playing again and start to enjoy it again.
“The non-league game is getting scouted more and more now, get yourself in a team, start playing and then who knows.”
The inspiration is there, Football League teams are littered with players deemed not good enough at 18 who dropped down the leagues, matured and worked their way back up the pyramid.
In our current squad the likes of Ollie Banks, Charlie Raglan and Dan Gardner, amongst others, o were all released from league clubs in their teens only to excel in non-league, earn the opportunity to play in the league again and grasp their second chance with both hands.
As a professional footballer there is nothing worse than being told that you’re not good enough but there is also no greater motivation. For George Milner and his peers this period of their fledgling careers may seem like a nightmare but with the correct attitude, a desire to succeed and a little bit of luck, there is no reason why they wont achieve their dream.