Welcome to the first TMCELITE article. In this first series, we are going to be sharing the experiences of ex professional football players and their lives after football. Shedding a light on the reality of the fickle business that football is.
I recently spoke with ex professional footballer Craig Lynch about his experiences as a player and how he has moved on from that stage of his life. Craig spent 10 years within Sunderland’s youth academy system before graduating to receive his two-year scholarship offer. Showing that he had stood the test of time within one of the best academy systems in the country. Lynch continued on his path to becoming a professional footballer by signing his first professional contract at 18 years of age. Becoming an example for young academy players that you can make your dreams come true.
A year on and Lynch was handed his first premier league cap by manager at the time, Steve Bruce. At this point it was official Lynch had now made it; a complete academy graduate representing the first team in the most prestigious league in the world. His picture was now up on the academy of light wall for all to see. This was hard fought after major injuries had crippled Craig’s playing time as a scholar. Lynch had now achieved more than most boys ever would. Playing for the club he had represented for over 10 years and achieving his dreams of making it as a professional footballer.
Lynch was then sent on a short loan spell to Hartlepool United to gain some playing experience in League 1, where he scored his first league goal. Another achievement in the cabinet. However, the game of football is an unforgiving beast and with changes of managers and another bout of injuries, Lynch left the club at 22. Rochdale was his next home for six months. He grabbed the opportunity by both hands and was fortunate enough to be part of a promotion winning side. Again, adding another feather in his cap. Unfortunately, his contract was not extended. This was Lynch’s last professional club and his time in the pro game was coming to an end at the young age of 22.
Craig believed the feedback he received from Sunderland, Rochdale and a brief spell with Gateshead when departing was not an honest reflection of his game and what he had to offer as a player. This began a disillusion of Craig’s thoughts on the game. Subsequently resulting in Craig’s decision to move away from the dream of pro football at 22. Even though he was still at a young age with regards to the professional game, Lynch remarked that he wanted to completely move away from football and wasn’t interested in any involvement in the game at all.
He came to realise later on that football was all he had known and deep down his passion for the game had not gone away. This can happen to players when going through such a disheartening period of time. You question your value and what you have to offer, not just as a player but a person. In line with Craig’s tough mentality, he dusted himself off, completed his UEFA B licensee and started his next chapter as a coach. Lynch had a realistic outlook to his playing career, his next steps and the decision he made to become a coach. He did not wish to travel up and down the country looking for one-year contracts to fulfil the dream of playing. A sentiment I share as an ex player and one that is the reality of professional football outside of the premier league and championship in England.
Craig is now the head coach of a football coaching company delivering football programmes to primary and secondary school pupils. Alongside this he is assistant manager at Morpeth Town FC, who compete in the northern premier league with a rich footballing history. A prime example to all young players that there is still a career for you in full-time football outside of playing professionally. Lynch actually loves coaching and enjoys his new career more than his time as a player. He has big ambitions and wants to travel as high as possible as a coach. Pushing his ability to develop the new age of players.
Lynch speaks very openly about his experience as a player and thinks more could have been done to prepare him for this time in his life. Clubs could be doing more to connect current scholars with pros who have went through the scholarship programme and might not have had a hugely long-lasting career. Ultimately, this is the brutal truth of the game. Players need to be made aware that more than likely they will not play football at the highest level. Having said that when you are in the bubble all you are focused on is becoming a professional footballer.
Lynch does feel that his experience as a player under coaches Elliot Dickman, Kevin Ball and Stephen Clemence, has influenced and shaped his coaching career. He looks back with a sense of accomplishment for his achievements as a player, and uses the lessons he has learnt to try to have a positive impact on young footballers today. He has succeeded in turning a negative and somewhat daunting situation into a positive one.
His advice for young players is to work as hard as they can. Do the extra. Put in more hours than anyone else. But also remember it may not happen for you. That is the brutal nature of the game. Players need to have a plan B. Look into more qualifications, courses, and other things you’re interested in. Also remember that you’re not in the real world when you’re a player and a long day is a 3pm finish. A harsh reality check I came to learn leaving professional football and started working 10-12-hour days. It really opens your eyes. I agree with Craig that players need to be made aware that their situation is very lucky, but not forever.
Overall, Lynch has a new found love for the game in his coaching career which he praises to his time as a footballer. He is hopeful to continue with his progression as a young coach by gaining more qualifications and going as far as possible in the game. However, he also believes that there is scope to be doing more for young players to best prepare them for life after football.
I wish Craig all the best in his coaching journey and thank him for his brilliant honesty and candid knowledge that I’m now able to share with all the young players out there.
Thanks for reading.