It was my first day at Notts County. I looked across the dressing room and saw a player I knew well, too well, Neal Bishop. Playing against him with previous clubs I’d not just kicked, tussled and argued with him, I’d even broken his jaw in an aerial challenge. It wasn’t deliberate, but he might not see it that way.
Elsewhere in the dressing room were two or three players looking me up and down in a not-so -riendly manner knowing that I’d been signed to potentially take their place in the team. I knew it could be a good few weeks on the periphery, trying to pick the right time, and right words, to join in the banter before these barriers would come down.
These awkward situations are 10-a-penny in the professional game, but especially in lower-league football as the transfer merry-go-round means nearly every seasoned player will know someone at their new club, have links with someone or, as in my case at Notts County, will have to bury hatchets with enemies.
The transfer window is dominated by talk of big moves with eyebrow-raising figures, but away from the headlines there are many deals that barely make a paragraph of print, or a line on the Sky Sports News ticker. Yet for the players involved they are just as big as the superstar moves, paradoxically more so because the finances are so much smaller.
When Arsenal paid £42.4m for Mesut Özil he reportedly signed a five-year deal in the region of £100,000 a week. Regardless of previous earnings, the moment that ink is dry he is a multimillionaire with no financial worries again, so his motivation and drive then has to come from success. You won’t see him involved in any transfer again for the length of that deal unless there is some sort of falling-out within the club
At the other end of the spectrum, a friend and former colleague at Bradford City, Guy Branston, boasts 12 clubs and 13 loans across a 17-year career as he strived to keep his dream alive while providing for his family. It is no mean feat to achieve this longevity. However, he has endured countless stressful transfer windows and covered thousands of miles travelling around the country in order to remain in a job. Is this all done for love of the game, or to make a living, because I don’t believe anyone would work for 24 different insurance companies?
Compared to Guy I’ve been lucky. This latest window has seen me move again, for the second January on the trot, and I’m excited by my new challenge at Mansfield Town. They are the eighth club of my career, plus a loan spell, at Chester, which was cut short when I was sent off in my third match! I’ve played in the third and fourth tier, and the Conference since starting out as a trainee at Barnsley 16 years ago. Like most players I would have preferred stability and to stay at a club for many years, but the reality is that it’s a fickle game with lots of change. This game that we all love is also our livelihood that pays the mortgage and puts food on the table. So when you find yourself out of favour – which can easily happen given the turnover of managers – you have to act on it.
The January transfer window allows this to happen and is becoming an ever-more popular time to do business. Once that deadline passes, out-of-favour players face being out of contract in the summer along with 900 others competing in what can only be described as a rat race to find another club. Everyone is undercutting each other and the power completely swings in favour of the clubs. It is much better to get fixed up in January.
That, though, is easier said than done. Not only do you have to find a club that wants you, it often needs, at this level, to be in the right place. Frank Lampard’s move from his beloved Chelsea, to title-rivals Manchester City must have torn him apart. On top of that he will have had sleepless nights deciding whether to buy a house in Alderley Edge or Wilmslow and with how many bedrooms. I, however have to choose my potential suitors from a geographical perspective as I simply don’t earn enough to justify uprooting my family. My children are settled in a lovely school with lots of friends and my wife is working hard to develop her business, so giving that up is not an option.
People think footballers’ wives stay at home, shop on the internet, lunch and nip to Dubai for three weeks at the drop of a hat. The reality is that many are juggling the kids, their own businesses or job, and the house – with not a lot of help, it has to be said from their husband.
If I sign for a club outside a 100-mile radius, I am either living in and out of hotels away from my family or commuting for five hours a day. This was unfortunately the case for me at my previous club, Northampton Town. Although I enjoyed my year there retaining the club’s league status against all odds, I had to live with a mix of both methods. This meant I missed many crucial family events because of nights in hotels as well as enduring hours in tailbacks on the M1.
If you are lucky enough to have a choice of clubs then you have a decision to make. It is easy to simply pick the higher wage, but you need to take a long-term view. It usually comes down to how the manager sells his philosophy and the ambition of the club.
I went to Bradford City after Phil Parkinson told me to trust in his process. When I reflect on that two-year period, which ended in a Capital One Cup final and promotion to League One through the play-offs, he was true to his word.
By comparison I joined Notts County as I completely bought into manager Ian McParland and the club’s vision of a major takeover and three-year plan to reach the Championship. The season did end in promotion, but during it we had three managers, Sven Goran Erikson and Sol Campbell also came and went, and the takeover was revealed to be a massive scam.
That memorable season, 2009-10, myself and Neal Bishop quickly put the past to bed and formed a formidable partnership in Notts County’s midfield. Five years later I’m happy to say we’re good friends and I’m pleased to see Neal, now at Scunthorpe, progressing on his own journey.
Although I have moved more times than I would have wanted, I am fortunate that I have never had to make a decision under the time constraints of deadline day. That really puts pressure on a family. As a football fan there’s nothing I like more than to sit back and watch the transfers going through on deadline night, but as a player I also think of the agonising that must have gone on behind some of those moves. It is great being able to play football for a living, but spare a thought for those lads who appeared in the small print this week.
Ricky Ravenhill has made 492 professional appearances in a career with Barnsley, Doncaster Rovers, Chester City, Grimsby Town, Darlington, Notts County, Bradford City, Northampton Town and Mansfield TownReuse content