Sponsorship deals, greedy-agents, a place in the sun, even Champions League football. There are many reasons why the ‘top’ players leave a football club. But what about at non-league level? Swapping the dreary Ruislip climate to move 19-miles north is hardly boosting your bank balance and adding to your tan – is it?
Tottenham’s Gareth Bale is arguably the most coveted footballer on the planet right now and with that statement, he is arguably the priciest too.
But why would he want to leave Tottenham? Why would any footballer leave a club that is on the up?
At the highest point in the footballing pyramid, the top of our game, the answer should be obvious. In Bale’s example, he could board a plane to Madrid tomorrow and in doing so swap the dreary London climate for the sunnier climbs of Spain. The player can go and live a life of riley on twice the money and lead twice the life – arguably. And why wouldn’t he? The possibilities of what he can achieve are seemingly endless.
Inevitably, where football is their profession, footballers will move for money and lifestyle. And for some, either a well construed guise or a truth that comes from the heart, a greater chance of silverware.
In the non-league game however, clubs are less frivolous. Player sponsorship deals are non-existent and greedy agents are far harder to come by. The money just doesn’t exist at non-league level like it does in the pro game. Obviously, like anything, you have exceptions but the only real reason for a player to move on at non-league level is for a personal challenge, right?
Then perhaps it was no surprise to learn on Sunday evening that Lee Chappell and Chris O’Leary, two of the most consistent Stones players over recent seasons, were departing the club for a new challenge. Their ability merits a level of football higher than Wealdstone after all.
I doubt I was alone in Googling St Albans City just seconds after their destination was unveiled on Twitter. I doubt I was alone in wondering if Wikipedia had not updated their page and St Albans actually play their football in the Conference South. And I doubt I was alone in realising that the pair were in fact joining a team at the equivalent step in the pyramid to Wealdstone.
So just why did they join St Albans?
St Albans finished their respective season in 11th place with an average attendance of just 376 compared to Wealdstone’s 549 average – ruling out the ‘bigger club’ theory.
But this is clearly a hungry club. One that is still licking its own wounds after successive relegations saw them dip from the summit of the grass roots game and it would be fair to assume they are intent on regaining that status which they held, albeit briefly, some 5-years ago.
They have the hallmarkings of a club in transition particularly after an indifferent league campaign and in ex-Stone Jimmy Gray, they have a hungry and enthusiastic young manager. Chappell and O’Leary cite Gray as a friend who undoubtedly helped influence their decision to move 19-miles north of The Vale to help St Albans City back to non-league’s top table.
The ‘disappointment’ in their choice rankles concerns about our own club’s ambition. Of course after two narrow ‘failures’ it was inevitable Wealdstone were going to lose players but most would expect the talented ones to be cherry-picked by teams already drinking at the Blue Square functions – respectfully St Albans City are not one of those teams… yet.
It was also a concern to see Chappell’s “Gordon’s blessing” tweet. Can Bartlett really be happy that the league’s best left-back is making a ‘sideways move’?
Chappell himself is a player who was touted as a potential target for Football League 2 side Torquay United a couple of years ago and Gordon doesn’t strike me as a man happy to let talented individuals make ‘sideways moves’. Let’s not forget this manager has tutored the Ferdinands and Beckfords of this world and has a healthy habit of turning non-league dynamos into professional hotshots.
One could cast a critical eye at the ages of Chaps and CoL, both in their late-20s, both (I assume) with established careers outside of the game and both content to play the game at a level that allows them to indulge in their settled lifestyles. But again, the point being that both were capable of playing at a higher level – which they may yet reach – but it’s disappointing the club has meekly surrendered two prized assets to a club sharing the same goal.
We may yet learn of a small transfer-fee, we may yet learn that we have signed a few more Football League fallouts and we may yet witness a transitional period descending around our own club this Summer. Let’s just hope these players haven’t learned that our club is on the verge of doing a Portsmouth and let’s hope the reason for the move was simply a well-constructed project being undertaken at Clarence Park.
Whatever the reason we wish them well in their new challenge and if we meet again they will receive a heroes welcome bestowed for only the special ones.
Let’s just hope this isn’t the start of an exodus and our board has some trump cards of its own…