THE SECRET FOOTBALLER: ‘I’ve been relegated from the Premier League. My wages were cut in half and I couldn’t pay my bills’

Don’t worry, I’m not expecting sympathy. The real cost of relegation comes when you see a flood of staff members with their lives packed into cardboard boxes that they pack into banged up old cars

Stoke City's Ryan Shawcross shows his dejection after Patrick van Aanholt scored Crystal Palace's second goal in Saturday's Premier League.

Whatever you think of Premier League football, it is impossible to ignore its drama-giving qualities.

Manchester City may have run away with the league but they have done it with the most inventive and exciting style of football seen on English shores for at least 10 years.

So nobody begrudges them.

Liverpool have taken their firepower to the continent and are now within one game of conquering it. Arsenal are all over the place which has led to the gentle ousting of their most successful manager, Arsene Wenger.

Arsene Wenger.

 

And if, like me, you’re a football nerd then there is even a certain amount of pleasure to be found in the chaotic and continued rebuilding programmes at both Manchester United and Chelsea.

Tottenham are in the middle of a disease that their fans refer to as ‘very Spursy’, it is a condition that sees the club snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and in this case it is their determination to salvage a Europa League place from almost certain Champions League qualification.

But it’s at the foot of the table where things have been, and remain, particularly interesting.

On Saturday it was West Brom who did for Spurs. Darren Moore’s men had to win to stand a chance of staying up, and they duly did, but there was an unexpected bonus for the Baggies at Goodison Park.

I actually fell asleep during Southampton’s match with Everton. I woke up just in time to see a deflected Tom Davies strike secure a 97th-minute point for the Toffees.

Tom Davies.

In all honesty, I took more pleasure in the boos from the Everton supporters that greeted the final whistle.

I’m not a Sam Allardyce fan, I despise the way his teams play football and I felt Sammy Lee had some nerve to celebrate the equaliser as if he’d just won the World Cup having dished up 96 minutes of utter shit. And not for the first time this season either.

But it was drama. Unapologetic drama. Earlier in the day Stoke departed the top table with a whimper after a lacklustre 2-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace.

I can remember Stoke City’s first match in the Premier League. It didn’t feel too long ago until the commentator reminded us that the Potters 10-year stay in the Premier League was over. Ten years. I felt old when I heard that.

During that match my wife had walked into the room and asked me where Mark Hughes was, having seen Paul Lambert in the home dugout.

She walked out again muttering something about the clubs that keep giving Mark Hughes jobs. She can be cuttingly honest when the mood takes her by asking questions to which there are no logical answers.

What remains at the foot of the table is a four-way fight for survival between West Brom, Swansea, Southampton, and Huddersfield.

I know that it can be hard for some people to appreciate the significance of a relegation and the impact beyond that of having to visit The New Den once more. Many teams that go down take a few seasons to return but that’s merely the tip of the iceberg.

I’ve been relegated from the Premier League. It’s the worst feeling in the entire world and it stays with you forever. For many players, the reality is life changing.

It certainly was for me. My wages were cut in half and I couldn’t pay my bills. I had to move clubs. I didn’t want to but I had too. I left a city I loved, a club I loved and team-mates I loved.

But what really stays with me when I look back are the faces of the people that worked for the club both at the stadium and the training ground. After relegation was confirmed we came into training to have our end-of-season measurements taken.

This involves a Vo2 Max test to determine our current fitness, as well as measuring our weight and height.

The idea is that the players then have a dedicated programme that they must follow over the summer break so that everything marries up when the players return for pre-season.

And so we drove into the training ground in our £100,000 (€113,084) cars for what is the most mundane day in the football calendar.

What greeted us was a flood of staff members walking in the opposite direction with their lives packed into cardboard boxes that they carried towards banged up old cars. I’ll never forget it.

I changed that day, I’m not sure if any of the other players did, but I certainly did. Football became a little less important to me and I don’t think that I was ever the same player again.

Without labouring the point I felt directly responsible and it was hard to look those that had lost their jobs in the eye, much less hug them and wish them luck.

They weren’t just office workers, chefs and security car park staff to me; they were friends, friends with families and mortgages.

So if you’re struggling with the concept of multi-millionaire footballers crying when the final whistle sounds as reality sinks in, take it from me, those emotions are real and they stay with you in one form or another.

Every now and again I really miss playing football and wonder how, or if, I have ever replaced the rush of winning a football match or a trophy.

But when I remember back to that day I’m grateful for the fact that at one time or another the bell tolls for every footballer and he is forced to accept that he can no longer play against the world’s best players and call himself a footballer.

He never again has to encounter the face of failure and experience the desperation of relegation, and everything that goes along with it.

Don’t worry, I’m not expecting sympathy. The real cost of relegation comes when you see a flood of staff members with their lives packed into cardboard boxes that they pack into banged up old cars


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