Regrets?You could say that
LIFESTYLE RUINED MY CAREER
IT ALL started as a young 14-year-old where the dream of being a footballer was almost believable. I was approached by Reading whilst playing for Wycombe Wanderers and was asked to go on trial. It was the longest trial ever, but it was worth it. A few months later and compensation was agreed between the two clubs and I was on my way.
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Injury struck and recurring back problems made it difficult to earn a scholarship. I was the last one in my age group to find out whether I was to be rewarded with a contract, but luckily on March 8, 2004, the news was positive and I was to start full-time in July.
My mindset changed rapidly as I still had four months of school to finish. Laziness set in during my GCSE exams and I did the minimum required after being schooled at Aylesbury Grammar.
I thought to myself that football was the beginning of something that would last forever. But how wrong was I?
Fast forward to July 2004 when I attended my first preseason training session with Reading; I was ready to showcase my ability. I started like a true professional, showing a great attitude as to what was required. Then slowly the sloppiness crept in. I became ‘Jack the Lad’ and thought I knew best. I didn’t do the things that were standing me in such good stead at the beginning.
A couple of years on I had my jaw broken, which arguably was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was a real awakener when Steve Coppell, the first-team manager, pulled me into his office to make it known that he didn’t want to see my face at the training ground for the whole season and that I was going on loan to Aldershot. This was a massive dent to my ego.
I drove out of training absolutely gutted that I was signing for a Conference National team when I had squad number 44 in the Premier League with Reading. This wasn’t fair, surely? But time passed and I absolutely loved being a 19-year-old plying his trade in the fifth tier of English football. I was scoring goals, 11 in 24. I felt appreciated and we went on to win the league at a canter.
A new two-year deal was to be waiting for me at Reading and now I was earning money that I had only dreamed of.
Back on loan to Aldershot I went for the following season in League Two, where I was at it again. Scoring 14 in 32 from midfield and making a name for myself with rave reviews written by the likes of Steve Claridge and Paul Parker.
The money I had was being spent, but not wisely. New cars were bought, clothes, watches and ridiculous amounts on nights out. Oh, and add gambling to that also. I loved a bet.
There was no better buzz than getting comfortable for a long journey north with your team-mates whilst playing poker for hours stuck on the M6 in standstill traffic. We played until the early hours of the morning when we should have been preparing for our match the next day. But I wasn’t the one to tell the boys to call it a night.
With one year left on my contract at Reading I was fortunate enough to be selected by Brendan Rodgers to be in the starting eleven against Notting- ham Forest on the opening day of the season. We drew 0-0, but yet again I received positive feedback from the people that mattered. Four games on and I was sat in the stand at Barnsley watching my team-mates with no idea why I wasn’t involved any longer.
My attitude, that’s why. I was the last in to training and I was the first out the gates. I thought that I could do the bare minimum required, but this wasn’t to be. A month or so later they tried shipping me back to Wycombe for half the fee they paid for me at 14 years old. Where had it all gone wrong?
At the end of the season I was out the door and on my way to Crawley Town to sign for them on a permanent basis on a twoyear deal. As a team, we had a good season, getting promoted to League One, but it was very stop-start for me.
Arguments with the manager resulted in me going out on loan as I was told I would never play for the club again during a pre-season trip to Portugal. During the team-talk the manager was constantly on at me, which I felt was unjustified. So I got up and walked out. The boys were in complete shock, but I wasn’t as I knew what I was capable of.
The next season in League One was a fresh start for me with Sean O’Driscoll. Well, I saw it that way...
A member of staff at the club had a personal issue with me and he made it clear to the management staff that I was unavailable for selection. This personal issue was to be over a female that worked at the club, how was my luck?! Apparently you aren’t allowed to be friendly these days. I had worked hard for my dream to be cut short by some money-driven businessman who wasn’t judging me on my footballing ability, but my interference between him and someone he admired.
So onto the next club I went. Oxford United, where if I’m brutally honest, I didn’t perform to the best I could. It lasted 18 months, but went very quickly – it all seems like a blur to me now. At the end of the 2013-14 season I was let go and my professional days were over.
This hit me quite hard, but not as hard as the gambling addiction I faced. Having bet on my own games for a number of years and other games that I shouldn’t have, it was evident that it had become a real problem and one that I couldn’t just stop by choice. I sought help and went to ‘Sporting Chance’, a rehab clinic set up by Tony Adams to hopefully help my addiction. I took on board every word they said and to this day I am free from a bet since June 8, 2015. This is something I am extremely proud of as it was something that not only ruined my life, but ruined the career I adored. I now give something back to the sport by going and talking to the young professionals and telling them my experiences of where I went wrong and how they can seek the necessary help if and when they get into trouble like I did.
I now sit here on May 2, 2017 as an out-contract player after two seasons in the National League South with Wealdstone and Oxford City, unsure of where I will be plying my trade next year.
It makes me feel uneasy, and leaves an uncomfortable knot in my stomach.
Among the many out-of-contract players in Non-League football, you still have the ones who believe they can make a living in the professional game. The players that live solely off their football money and don’t work during the week as they want to keep the tag of being a ‘baller’ next to their name. Some would say that it’s time to wake up and get a reality check.
It’s not given to you, it’s a reward. A reward for the hard work and dedication throughout the tough times to eventually get you to the good times.
But even then, it still may not happen.
GOOD TIMES: Scott Davies in his Aldershot days
CHANCE: Reading manager Brendan Rodgers, right