AT the start of each summer, dozens of aspiring young footballers have their dreams shattered when they are released from their club. Former Doncaster Rovers prospect Brad Grayson is now plying his trade part time, three tiers below the Football League.
HAVING a livelihood taken away has become a horrendous reality for thousands of people, of all ages and all backgrounds, over the last few years of economic downturn.
But in the world of football, this shattering of lives does – and forever will – occur on an annual basis.
Dozens of teenagers are released from clubs each and every year, potentially halting professional football careers at the point they are due to start.
Largely unproven and untested, these youngsters are left with only the hope they will be picked up by another club, probably several rungs down the Football League ladder.
Others, like former Doncaster Rovers youth striker Brad Grayson, will drop out of the league altogether and be faced with a long and difficult climb back up.
Now semi-professional with Frickley Athletic, three tiers below League Two, Grayson is faced with that ascent.
Surprisingly handed his release from the Keepmoat in May, Grayson’s four year stint with Rovers ended after a season which had seemed so promising for the Town Moor native.
He appeared on the bench four times last term, coming on for his debut against Accrington Stanley in the Carling Cup and 30 minutes of football he will never forget.
“When James Hayter went down injured I knew it was my chance and I was really excited,” the 18-year-old said.
“I wasn’t nervous at all, I just wanted to get on and play.
“I played quite well and got good reviews in reports and on the message boards.
“It seemed like I was up and running.
“I was doing really well, scoring a lot of goals for the youth team and training with the first team quite regularly.
“I ended up on the bench a few times and travelled to away games a few more times as well.
“They said they wanted me to get a feel of what it was like being round the first team squad.
“I loved it, it was all so positive.”
As first team regulars returned from injury, Grayson found opportunities to sit on the bench limited but remained confident he had a future with the club beyond the end of the season.
Especially so when the day came in April for youth team players to be told of their future.
The former Danum Technology College pupil was the only one in the group to be handed a two week extension, which quickly stretched to a month.
So there was no one more surprised after the final game of the season when he too was told he would be released.
“All the signs had been so positive but then it was just a massive blow at the end,” he said.
“I always thought they’d offer me a deal because of things like the fact they rushed me through college so I got it out of the way.
“I only ended up at college for half a year and I was training with the first team while the other lads were there.
“They’d picked me to go away with them and I was getting great feedback from Sean O’Driscoll.
“I was absolutely gutted when they told me, it took some getting over to be honest.”
Grayson believed O’Driscoll saw potential in him but now thinks assistant Richard O’Kelly was not quite as positive.
He said: “Sean was quiet but he kept telling the youth team manager to keep me going.
“He was raving about me at times and kept saying he wanted me on away days to build up my experience for this season.
“But it obviously didn’t work out.
“Looking back now, I think there was something else with O’Kelly.
“He was buzzing about me around Christmas but around February he just seemed to go off me and I don’t know why.”
The timing of his release proved problematic for the former Sprotbrough and Cusworth Crusaders striker also.
He said: “The way Rovers handled it messed it up for me.
“Because everyone had played their last game and finished for the summer I couldn’t get any trials anywhere else.
“I tried ringing a few clubs up but they’d done for the summer so there was nowhere for me to go.
“All I could do was keep myself fit and see what I could do a few months down the line.”
Grayson believes the absence of a reserve team at Rovers has hindered their youth development programme and directly led to his release.
He said: “They told me it was a big jump from the youth to the first team and I wasn’t at that level yet so they wouldn’t offer me a pro deal.
“It was difficult to get that experience because you were always playing the same players in the youth league and never getting the chance against experienced pros who would make you better.”
Following his release Grayson was offered the lifeline of a scholarship at a university in Milwaukee in the US.
But as he was about to depart, he received another offer he quickly snapped up.
“My dad got a call from Pete Rinkcavage at Frickley Athletic saying he wanted me and I jumped at the chance.
“At the start of the season I regretted it a bit because I wasn’t playing.
“Now I’ve started scoring and playing well and he’s starting me.
“He offered me a contract last Tuesday and I found out a couple of Conference teams wanted to put notice in for me so it’s all going well.”
Grayson insists he is coping with the extra physicality in the Evo-Stik Premier Division, with his pace and sharpness giving opposition defences a torrid time.
“I want to be a full time footballer again. I had one frame of mind growing up and that was I wanted to be a footballer and I still do.
“I thought when I was released that it was over.
“But you quickly realise you’re 18 and there are pros coming out at 24.
“I’ve still got a lot to do but I’ve got to get back on the ladder and get myself out there.
“There’s no hard feelings towards Rovers, it’s just the way it goes. I enjoyed every minute.
“I was loving life and I still am but it would be better if I did get up in the morning and got paid to play football full time.”