What Is It Really Like to Be a Professional Footballer?

Andrew McNairSenior Writer IDecember 9, 2008

THESE days, it is almost impossible to see beyond the modern footballer's lust for money or their culture of celebrity obsession when looking at footballers' biographies.

For those football fans who don’t live in the world of tabloid gossip or Hello magazine, however, don’t despair. There was once a footballer who lived a little before approaching a publisher with his ideas—a book from his own experiences, and one he actually penned himself.

No multimillion pound book deals here: just Garry Nelson’s Left Foot Forward: A Year in the Life of a Journeyman Footballer. At £6.99, it is well worth a look.

The left-footed midfielder made over 600 football league appearances for Southend United, Swindon Town, Plymouth Argyle, Brighton and Hove Albion, Charlton Athletic and Torquay United, but never once played in England’s top tier of professional football. That, though, is what makes his story so appealing.

It’s the summer of 1994, and the story starts with an aging Nelson wondering if this season (the last of his contract) will be his last as a professional player. If it is, how is he going to support his young family when it is all over?

You see, his life is far from the glamour of modern-day Premier League stars. Garry has a mortgage to worry about and an aging car to replace, never mind the worry of injuries to his aging body that has already battled ME.

The book, which is written in diary form, is a transparent and humorous read, one that you and I can definitely relate to.

First-time author Nelson provides an honest perception of what being a “real” pro is actually like, with his additional responsibility of being Charlton’s Professional Footballer’s Association representative adding once in a lifetime insights.

That job is to offer PFA help to young players who find out that there will be no professional contracts, no dream career in the game.

Left Foot Forward deals with the other side of transfers too, the moves, the commute, or more precisely, the car sharing from Nelson’s home on the South Coast to the London club with three of his teammates—a far cry from stars of the top flight.

For more modern readers, there is an early look at the managerial career of the now respected Alan Curbishley, Nelson’s boss at Charlton. You might have heard of one of his teammates too—none other than former Charlton boss, Alan Pardew.

From his early season form of six goals in six games to an injury that could end his career, it is a gripping tale.

There is no big-headedness whatsoever, and Nelson’s only moment of grandeur comes when he compares himself to a Sunday league player, and rightfully so. In reality, he was no slouch. No one who has played that many professional games ever was.

You won’t hear a single self-absorbed mention of a career that eventually saw him named to Plymouth Argyle’s team of the 20th century.

Although this book isn’t for everyone, and a knowledge of football would benefit the read, it is by no means necessary. This book is about life and the struggle that it is.

You’ll be left reeling like you know Garry personally before wanting more, but don’t fear—there is a sequel. But that is for another day.