By the time the transfer window closed, more than 200 professional footballers were still without a club. Leon Wobschall meets one of them.
Michael Collins’s footballing year has not exactly panned out in the way he envisaged.
Released by Oxford United in January to help enable him move to a club closer to his family in Halifax, the former Huddersfield Town midfielder was probably not expecting to end up 5,000 miles away in India.
Now back in Yorkshire after a four-month stint in the sub-continent with Indian outfit Bengaluru, the 30-year-old is one of countless professionals on the lookout for new employers. It has not been straightforward.
They say that being a footballer is a comparatively easy ‘gig’. Not so if you are among the group of 200 or so out-of-contract players who were left without a club when the transfer window closed at the start of September.
Collins is among that bracket with a foot injury suffered earlier this year at Bengaluru compounding matters and coming at the worst possible juncture, scuppering his hopes of a summer move to Blackpool.
He remains without a club and accepts that he will be faced with a decision shortly as to whether to enter into the realms of non-league semi-professional football, with his career very much at a crossroads.
But come what may, he believes that his tough yearly experiences have at least hardened him for life on civvy street, something which countless professionals invariably face at some point.
Collins, whose story will be featured in a Sky Sports documentary Sunday night, said: “This year is certainly not what I had planned.
“One of the reasons why I came back up from Oxford was that my girlfriend did not settle and was on maternity leave anyway. When she was due to come back to work, she had not settled and wanted to come back to Halifax.
“I then had the short stint in India and when I came back, I said that I wanted to stay within driving distance of my house.
“But the trouble with that is you limit a small number of clubs to an even smaller pool and all of the offers I have had have been outside of the league.
“If I could stay in the league, that would be a lot better. But I am realistic enough to know if that is not the case, I will look outside the league.
“I am weighing up everything. With the emergency loan windows closing, a lot of people told me that if they were in my position, they would hang fire as it might work in my favour if someone gets an injury, in that I might get an opportunity,
“That is all great in theory. But if those opportunities don’t present, I cannot hold out for ever as the opportunities on the table now will not always be there and one way or the other, I’ll probably have to do something in the next two weeks.”
Even accounting for the upheaval of the past year, Collins is sure upon one thing. Namely, that it has toughened him up mentally for the next chapter of his working life, whatever that might entail.
Collins, who made almost 200 appearances for Huddersfield and also spent a short spell on loan at York last year, said: “It has kind of been a blessing. Since leaving school at 16, all I have ever known was football. Up until this summer, it was all I’d ever done. The one thing that has always panicked me is what I will do when it comes to an end.
“You say to yourself you will do this and that, but the reality is I have only ever known football.
“For me, it was a case of here it is, you are out of it. The fact that I have kind of got on with it and am fine has reassured and relaxed me a little bit. There is life after football and will be life after it. If it is not in football, something will come up and I will attack something new.
“Life goes on. Sometimes thinking about life after football is scarier than the reality.
“You have to get on with it as best you can. I have had an insight into the family business in modular construction with my dad and brother and they have said come in and shadow us.
“They have said that if the opportunity does not come in football, there might be something there and that has helped me knowing I have a little insight into life after football.”
Out of Contract, Sky Sports 1, Sunday at 6.30pm.