In Search of a Club – The Trials of a Free Agent

At the time of year when most football fans are wondering how they will get by without football for the next two months, an increasing number of footballers are wondering where and if they will be playing next season.

An estimated 500 professional footballers will be out of contract this summer after being informed by their clubs that they are no longer required, whether to cut the wage bill in austere times or simply because they no longer feature in the manager’s plans.

One player in exactly this situation is Neil Wainwright, once of Wrexham, Sunderland and Darlington but most recently of League Two Morcambe.  Neil has been plying his trade at The Globe Arena (and Christie Park before) since 2008 and has made 59 appearances for the Shrimps, but following a change of manager he has since been informed that his services are no longer required. 

Following some low level harassment by your correspondent, Neil agreed to answer a few questions for Footy Ramblings.

Neil said that following the last game of the season he received a call from the new manager at Morecambe to tell him that he wouldn’t be offered a new contact and that he would need to find a new club.  Whilst Neil isn’t at the stage of producing a glossy colour brochure advertising his availability and links with major brands, a listing on the PFA site has allowed Neil to reach out to managers looking for new signings for the following season. is the PFA’s database of players who are looking to find a new club, and at this time of year it is at its busiest.  Neil is listed on the site as ‘experienced left side player’ and ‘a skilful player used either as an orthodox winger or a defensive left wing-back’.  Whilst looking for Neil’s listing several familiar names cropped up on the site.  Lee Carsley, Nathan Ellington, Pablo Counago and Christian Dailly are all players with Premier League experience who are in the same boat as Neil.

When asked whether it was the club, an agent or Neil himself who is responsible for the listing, Neil said “I rang the PFA and informed them of my availability and they put my details on there for anyone interested”.  However, Neil went on to say “Location is more important now then when I was younger due to me having a family as I don’t want to move from Lancashire as we are settled here.  Having said that, I wouldn’t mind doing a bit of travelling if the right club came along.”  Being based in Morecambe itself, depending on Neil’s definition of a bit of travelling, a multitude of clubs from League One through to the Conference North could be possible destinations.

Neil is preparing for all eventualities and is currently nearing completion of his UEFA B coaching badge. However, he is hoping not to be utilising it just yet.  “I think I’ve still got plenty of years playing left in me and I am as fit as ever.” 

Neil started his career at Wrexham as a trainee and went on to make 11 appearances before securing a £100,000 move to second tier Sunderland under Peter Reid.  However, Neil only made two substitute appearances in the league, along with three appearances in the League Cup.  Neil then moved on loan to nearby Darlington who were in Division Three at the time.  Neil was part of the Darlington side that made the play offs but he missed the final at Wembley against Peterborough, where they Quakers lost 1-0.  Neil returned to Sunderland where he made his last appearance for the red and whites in a 3-0 League Cup victory over Luton Town, before again hitting the loan trail when he pitched up at The Shay where he would go on to make 15 appearances for Halifax Town. 

In the summer of 2001 Darlington forked out £50,000 and brought Neil back to Feethams on a permanent basis.  Neil quickly became a fans favourite with his direct wing play exciting the punters at Feethams.  Neil was named as the fans player of the year on two occasions, but recalls his fondest moment at Darlington was when he scored the last goal at Feethams before Darlington moved to their new out of town stadium.

After five seasons with Darlington a change in management seen Neil sent out on loan to Shrewsbury and Mansfield, and when his contract ended at the end of the 2007/08 season he was released by Darlington, a move that was a surprise to observers due to his previous successes with the club.  Neil was quickly snapped up by Morecambe where he would go on to play for three seasons that have included a loan spell at neighbours Barrow.

Whether Neil is successful in securing a playing contract over the summer remains to be seen, but with the assistance of the PFA and an impressive footballing CV he has every chance.  However, the difficult position Neil is in will be echoed by footballers up and down the land.  Whilst the public may be lacking in their sympathy for a footballer out of work, the silly money in the game is only at the top end.  These footballers are a long way from the riches of the Premier League and need to balance their desire to play football with the demands of family connections, mortgages and travelling.  With the number of players looking for clubs expected to increase once the season draws to a close, Neil faces a fight to secure a playing contact for next season.

Thanks again to Neil Wainwright for answering the questions put to him whilst undertaking a coaching course and obviously exploring future employment opportunities.  Neil can be found on twitter at @wainy11 for any interested parties wanting to hear how his summer pans out, or for that matter, any prospective employers.

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3 Responses to In Search of a Club – The Trials of a Free Agent

  1. paul Carter says:

    Just one point, Morecame are The Shrimps not Shrimpers that’s Southend. Good look Neil I’m sure you will get a club and in time make a good coach.

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