A few weeks ago I was unfortunately given the news that all apprentices dread come the end of the two year scholarship. In a meeting with Gary Issott and Dougie Freedman I was told I would not be offered a professional contract at Crystal Palace.
Being 100% honest I wasn’t really expecting to get one, but I knew I had done enough to give them a tough decision. It hit me much harder than I thought it would have. You can prepare yourself for it and tell yourself to not expect anything, but the reality of hearing it brought emotions and feelings I didn’t think it would. It was only a short ten minute meeting in which Dougie did ALL of the talking, where he told me why I wouldn’t be offered a new contract and the next steps I should take. He said I was very, very close, but very close counts for nothing.
To be fair, I have known Dougie for quite a long time now and I have got so much respect for him. I first worked with Dougie as an under 15 when he was still a player and was doing his coaching badges. His sessions were interesting and it was good to work with an idol. I since encountered him when I played against Southend as a 17 year old, then at Palace as assistant manager and now the ‘Gaffer’.
When he told me he wouldn’t be offering me a contract, he wanted me to have his personal number so that we could keep in contact, and if I ever need anything to call him. Despite the disappointment of not getting a contract, the one pleasing thing was the impression I have left on him and the rest of the staff. He praised me as a person and what a credit I’ve been to myself and my family.
As my ‘job’ was doing first team equipment we spoke pretty much every day and I like to think we have built up a good relationship. Unlike many others, Dougie is one of them people you would stick your neck out to help, and whenever anything came up I made sure to do my best for him. It was a sad day, but the mutual respect me and Dougie have is something which means a lot.
Of course I am not going to say what was said in that meeting, but in my opinion there were a couple of reasons why I didn’t get a professional contract. The biggest one I think has to be the amount of football I have missed through injury or circumstances ‘beyond my control’.
I didn’t play a lot of football at under 15 level as there isn’t an u15 league, my u16 season was over at Christmas as I had Achilles Tendinopathy which ruled me out for 3 months, and my first year as a scholar was stop-start due to a couple of injuries that kept on coming back again and again. This has been my first full season in a long time, and I feel like it’s no surprise I have got better and better as the season has gone on. A lot of people have said to me how much I have come on this season, and I believed if I was given another full season then I would have been able to push on even more and get to the next level.
Every time I have stepped up to train with the first team this season I believe I have done very well and didn’t feel out of place. Playing with better players makes your own game increase, and when the few opportunities arose for me I think I took them. I would have also liked to of been involved in more games for the reserves but just like the previous season, with Jack and Jerry in front of me it was hard to get a look in. I first played for the reserves when I was 15 but don’t feel I was really pushed on from there.
It is now down to me to try and find a new club to try and stay in the game. It may mean dropping down three or four levels, but if it’s what I have to do to stay in football then I will do it. I believe I am good enough to play league football but right now I lack the experience. Realistically I think I will have to go part-time next season and get use to playing ‘proper football’. I believe once I get use to it and have a good season or two, I will be able to climb the football ladder again.
Clubs just don’t want to take a risk on an unproven 18 year old centre back. If you’re a winger or a forward then the story is very different as they’re not in a position where one mistake can cost your side three points. It’s a bit harder as a defender but as I said, I need to gain some experience and then work my way back up.
TWO QUICK YEARS
The journey that I have been on in my two years as a full time player of Crystal Palace could be somewhat described as topsy turvy. My first year which had me in the Physio room for most of the time was the lowest point by a country mile. I felt I lost a lot of ground on the others in my first year which would have given me a better chance this year. Although it’s not unusual for first years to not play many games, I had a lost a lot of training as well so in my second year I was still picking up stuff that I should have learned the previous year.
I can still remember the feeling of nerves and excitement during the summer of 2009 in the build up to the start of my scholarship. I began my scholarship with the pre-season tour to Sweden for ten days. Sweden was a fantastic tour in which I don’t think I have ever laughed so much. Despite not playing much in the first week, I kept involved with the banter with the lads and some of the things that went on must not be spoken about on here! We all bonded really well and it set us up for a great season.
The season started really well for us and by Christmas I think we were either first or second. We also had started what turned out to be a fantastic FA Youth Cup run. The Youth Cup run was probably the highlight of my first year, as I came on at Selhurst Park for the remaining ten minutes of extra time against Bristol City. Ten minutes isn’t a long time, but the fact that I had got on at Selhurst Park was an amazing feeling.
I ran on shaking with nerves and excitement, and I think I was still shaking a week later! It was a tight game in which we won 3-2, and I replaced Charlie Holness who had broken his metatarsal. What was extra pleasing for me was after the game Sellsy told me that not only had I been brought on to help shut up shop, I was also the fifth penalty taker had the game gone to penalties.
In the week before the game I was on fire during the practice pens, and I kept on battering Sellsy to make me one of the takers. My persistence obviously paid off in the end!
In the Youth Cup run we also played Derby County, Hull City and Newcastle United. Of course Newcastle was the pinnacle as it was played at St James’ Park. I didn’t manage to get on and we unfortunately lost, but it was still a fantastic experience to warm-up and to be part of a team that played at such an illustrious stadium.
The only positive to take from going out of the Youth Cup was that there was now going to be some changes in the team, and some opportunities to get some game time before the season finished. I had to wait a while as I had Nnamani and Holland in front of me, but I managed to get a couple of starts against Charlton and Arsenal before the season finished.
Arsenal was also a bitter sweet memory for me. The game was the last game of the season and it was played at Selhurst. We won the game 4-1, but sticking to how my first year had gone, I had to come off just before half time with an injury that had plagued me all season. I was having a good game at full-back and felt I was growing in to the game. What it did do though was focus my mind on the next season already. Walking off the pitch I was already thinking ‘just get yourself right for next season’.
I came back as a second year in a much better frame of mind about the year ahead. I knew it would be the biggest and toughest season of my career yet, and it proved to be just that. I worked tirelessly over the summer to get my body in the best possible shape to return. I only gave myself 4 days off at the end of the season, as I knew I had to work harder than anyone else to catch up. I wrote myself out a work out plan and hit the gym 5 times a week. I believe the work I did in the summer break paid off, as I have played 39 games this year, and only missed one game through injury and that was more of a precaution then a serious injury.
Again we started the year with a pre-season tour, this time travelling to Holland for two weeks. Whereas the last tour was more about team bonding and gradually getting in to things, Holland was more of a training camp. We trained hard every day and worked with some really good coaches such as Ben Wijnstigers. After the first week of training, the second week consisted of some games. If i remember correctly we beat Qatar u19’s 5-1, won 3-1 against Huddersfield and lost in our final game to a Belgian team that I have never known the name of!
In that second week of the tour I had played more minutes than I did the whole of my first year for the youth team. I played 90minutes against Qatar on the Monday, 90 minutes against Huddersfield on the Thursday and 45 minutes against the unnamed team on the Friday. I had started the season well and hoped to carry it on when we returned to England.
The season started a little bit slow for us as a Youth Team as we were still getting to know each other as players, and the ‘correct’ team line up and team shape was still being worked out. The team that started against Leeds United on the first game of the season had never played together before, so it was great credit to us that we came home with a 3-1 victory.
As soon as we had a settled team we went on a great run of wins and pushed ourselves right up the table. We stayed top of the table for a good couple of months in the build up to Christmas, which is where we said we wanted to be. We were on track and had got off to a great start in the Youth cup.
In the Youth Cup we beat Cardiff City 3-0 in their own stadium which was a great achievement. Despite the nerves, we went there with not a lot of pressure on us. We knew we would be up against it, but we played our game and more then deserved the win.
Of course the biggest game of the season would come in the next round in our trip to Anfield to play Liverpool. It was a fantastic experience to play at Anfield and a memory to hold on to forever. We travelled up the day before and the level of excitement was really high as you’d expect. So many world class players have played at Anfield, and we knew in 24 hours we would be able to grace the same pitch. I tried to keep my ‘football head’ on as much as possible, and tried not to take many photo’s etc. There was a job to be done and I was so focussed on the game.
We done fantastically well to go in at half time 1-0 up, and battled hard for the rest of the game. It’s a phenomenal credit to us that we were still well in the game with only a couple of minutes remaining of extra time. The full backs that played against us that day have since gone on to play for Liverpool’s first team and three of the midfielders have been on the first team bench.
I have made some friends for life at Crystal Palace, and not being able to work with them every day will be somewhat hard. I have spent 6 years of my life at Palace, and would not have wanted to spend them anywhere else. I have grown up as a player and as a man, and have learnt some really valuable lessons along the way.
I would like to thank a lot of people at Palace for the past two years who, even though it has been up and down, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time. I would like to say a special thanks to the following; Adam Sells, Jack Gray, Jordan Reece, Antonio Falanga and David Moss. All of the above people have helped me hugely with their advice and words, and have just been good people to work with.
The biggest thing I am going to miss is the boys and the banter every day. It’s true to say, we have a special type of banter at Palace that I won’t get anywhere else. The lads are a great bunch and i wish all of them every success. I hold no grudges or jealousy and hope they can all push on to have successful careers. I will keep in touch with them all and will have to look forward to playing with and against them in the future!
The amount of messages of support and good luck I received after I got the news was astounding. Thank you for everyone who has been a follower of my blog and has followed my journey. I now pass on the baton to Alex Wynter who will continue the blogs as the representative of CPFC. He has got some work to do to fill the HUGE boots of the most successful LFE Blogger ever, but he’s a smart lad and I’m sure he will give it a good go! I now leave it as my mission to build myself up again and to prove the people that have doubted me wrong. Thanks again, Prings.
You can keep following my journey on Twitter: @Dan_Pringle