Welcome back guys. This week we hear from Seamus Kelleher, a young player with West Bromwich Albion FC who was blind-sided when being released. We hear the downward spiral, humiliation and denial that this can cause for young players. Let’s get in to it.
Seamus joined the English academy system at an older age and underwent trials with Ipswich Town FC and his hometown club Norwich City FC. Unfortunately, this was his first taste of rejection, as he was told he wasn’t at the standard and lacked physicality. However, when Seamus was 15 he received trials again with Norwich City FC, West Bromwich Albion and Southampton FC. He went on to be offered a scholarship at all three clubs.
You can see how football can drop you down and then within a short period of time pick you back up, with the ego bust of three professional clubs all offering you a full-time scholarship contract. Seamus opted for West Bromwich Albion as his new home of football. Mentioning that West Brom were new to the academy set up, but had attractive coaches such as Aidy Boothroyd and Dan Ashworth which swayed his decision.
Seamus went on to spend two and half years with West Brom performing in the youth team and reserve squad during his time with the club, predominately playing as a left back. As mentioned previously this is where football can bring you back down to earth rapidly. In 2007 Seamus was released from West Brom, with his contract being terminated early. Forcing him to look for a new club.
After being in high demand by three professional clubs and feeling on top of the world, just three years later he was being reminded that like most players in football, you’re just a commodity. Seamus had a few unsuccessful trials with other professional clubs but seemingly this was the end of his professional playing career.
I asked Seamus what his immediate reaction was to being released from West Brom and he described it as a complete surprise. Caught off guard, Seamus had spoken to the manager (Tony Mowbray) the day before he was released while training alone on his day off. His manager had re-assured him that he was doing well.
This brief passage of events is all too common within the professional game. Being told one thing and then the next day it being completely different. This is football and it will never change in my opinion. What does need to change is how we help aid and support young players after the fact. Seamus described the embarrassment of having to walk into the club canteen with all the staff and players sitting there, them knowing he had been released from the club.
A young player now upset and distraught as his dreams were fading away. Seamus explained that it took him a while to accept this decision and shift from disappointment, anger and ultimately feeling in a low state of mind. He went onto say “It was a long hard process and you feel like your world has ended and all you have ever known has been pulled from underneath you”. Seamus then threw himself into trial games and networking with coaches and contacts to try and hold onto the professional dream. I would personally describe it as survival mode. You’re trying to do everything in your power to cling on and hope it will happen. However, the reality for most is a resounding no.
Having said that, the reason behind these articles and brilliant stories for young players to understand, is that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. With the right mindset, support network and determination, things will become good again.
Seamus commends his mother for sending an application in to Team Bath without him knowing. Resulting in Seamus going on to represent Team Bath from 2008-2010, where he signed a contract, trained full time and completed his studies in sport performance. Another great story of a player combining his love of football with education. It may not be the desired route for most young players, but think about the opportunity. Stepping on the field to train every day, play in a competitive league alongside securing a degree. What a great way to set up your future after football and continue to play at a good level with great facilities.
I dug deeper with Seamus to understand his points of view on the mental and emotional implications of being released from a professional club. Alongside subsequently not fulfilling a long-term career in professional football. He believes that you don’t ever fully accept that you won’t be a footballer until your body stops allowing you to be. He went on to say that you always believe you can play and perform at a certain level within your capabilities. However, there comes a time when you must accept reality.
Seamus described a shift in his mentality around 27 years of age where other parts of his life became more important. Such as family, education and focusing more on his career. You have to understand that playing football is then becoming more part-time, a hobby. The everlasting dream of trying to be a professional footballer starts to disappear in the distance.
The big question I ask all the ex-players when writing these articles is if they had some denial about their professional career ending. In my opinion Seamus is the first to really describe his emotions during this time. He described what I believe every single footballer has went through when being released. Saying, “I felt ashamed to tell people I was no longer a professional footballer playing for a Premier League club. Even after I dropped into non-league I used to tell people it was a stepping stone back to the professional game.” Seamus went on to disclose that it took him a long time and a lot of hard conversations with himself to finally admit that he wasn’t going to make it. He explained “it feels like your giving up and accepting the fact that you weren’t good enough. It’s still tough to come to terms with now all these years later.”
Seamus thinks more needs to be done for young players from reflecting on his own journey. Describing that he remembers so vividly a now high-profile coach telling him to come and see him when the dust settles. Three days later Seamus went to see him and before he could even speak he was told to leave. This set the tone for Seamus and is a living memory of the lesson that is football and its ruthlessness.
Seamus was thankful for a network of strong family and friends giving him love and care but also mentions that he felt he was still alone. Living away from his family training every day and attending games that he wasn’t going to play in. This can take a toll on a young man’s confidence and self-worth. Similar to Callum Smiths words from last week.
Seamus has, in my opinion, absorbed this pain and disappointment as life lessons. Now a coach developer for U.K. Sport he tries to help develop coaches who will compete at the Olympic Games. Mentioning that he also had the pleasure of working with England manager Gareth Southgate for three years, in the run up to the world cup. Seamus also runs his own 1-1 football coaching business in South-London, trying to help develop and support young players with his past experiences.
Seamus did thank West Bromwich Albion for providing players with education as scholars and sharing information on the small percentages that would make a long-lasting career as professional players. He believes more conversation could be inserted around how swiftly you can go from top to bottom overnight and the difficulties of coming to terms with that. He thinks players need to be made aware of this, to understand the brutality of the game impacting their mental health.
Seamus explained that football has had a huge part to play in his career now with U.K. Sport and within his own coaching business. Giving him moral values, coaching style and how he delivers his opinions while working with coaches. Seamus ultimately knew he would be involved in coaching as he was so passionate through football. As well as having his experience of playing at an elite level which has opened up other doors, which he is hugely grateful for.
He only has one regret about his time as a player and it was not being as forceful with his preferred position as a player. Looking back, he said this hindered his opportunities. A good tip for young players to really understand that you have to be tough and stamp your mark as an individual if you do want to succeed within the industry.
Seamus has given great pieces of advice for young players starting their own full-time journey within football. First and foremost, he says that “you need to do more than anyone else. Play every game like it’s your last. Ask for feedback every day and build up as many contacts as you can. These contacts will be invaluable in the future.” He went on to say that for him, the biggest thing clubs can do right now is to help players from a mental aspect. Giving players support after these decisions are made and not just casting them out.
Seamus ultimately feels that he gave it his best shot and worked on everything he could to be a better player. However, he says “football isn’t just about things you can control individually. There is a huge element of luck, fortune and timing to be successful. Which is all out of your control”.
I think all young players need to continue to play and understand you can have a good semi-professional career. Seamus still loves playing semi-professional, which he has done since he left West Brom in 2007 and he currently plays in Bostick Division 1 League. Enjoying football, earning money alongside building your future with new interests. Just because you may not be playing in the premier League, doesn’t mean you can’t achieve success within the game.
I’ll finish this off with a great story Seamus shared about one evening training with Southampton as a young player. “I rocked up to training at Southampton for a 5 a side tournament and my team was me, Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, David McGoldrick and Nathan Dyer. Safe to say I was impressed by the standard.” Not everyone can say they have played with Gareth Bale. Some memories will always stay with you from being a player. It’s also important to understand the new memories you’re going to create. There is life after playing professional football. As Seamus highlights with his final words.
“The real driver now is for me to help people who are going through what I did. I’m now supporting and guiding them. Seeing a player flourish and develop gives me as much pleasure than when I was playing professionally.”
Thank you, Seamus Kelleher, for brilliantly describing the up’s and downs of your professional playing career. Along with the vivid moments that stay with many young players for a life time. The biggest take away for young players today is football is hard and unforgiving. However, if you can use your experiences and pivot, the career option doors will swing open. There is Life After Professional Football.
Thanks for reading.