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Left Foot Forward – Diary of a Journeyman Footballer

With the amount of free agents currently about the game it is a strong reminder to us obsessed by the Premier League and all the Sky Sports Wham Bam that there is more to football than heaps of cash, there is in fact a very human side and Left Foot Forward by Garry Nelson helps to evoke those emotions that can be lost by the cold face of football.

Garry Nelson's Book

Left foot forward by Garry (yes two r’s) Nelson is the diary of a season as a journeyman footballer. The diary stars in June 1994 and recounts the tale of an average football season for an average (forgive me Garry) footballer, at an average football club, in this case Charlton Athletic. This brings to the fore the first question I asked and without doubt (if you’re my age) the first question you asked too, Who is Garry Nelson?

Garry Nelson was a professional football who played upfront or as an occasional left winger between the years 1979 and 1997, he played for several different clubs, notably in the south of the country and by the end of his career his league stats looked like this.

Years Team Apps† (Gls)†
1979–1983 Southend United 129 (17)
1983–1985 Swindon Town 79 (7)
1985–1987 Plymouth Argyle 74 (20)
1987–1991 Brighton & Hove Albion 144 (47)
1990 → Notts County (loan) 2 (0)
1991–1996 Charlton Athletic 185 (37)
1996–1997 Torquay United 34 (8)
Total 647 (136)

In many ways you will quickly be forgiven for not knowing who Garry Nelson is, but his story is surely a more common one than a quick glance at the newspapers may suggest.Whilst there are some footballers earning fame and fortune through their careers there are also large numbers of us who have to pay subs every week to play. Then there must of course be a middle ground, a grey area, that’s where Garry Nelson fits in, fighting tooth and nail for a career in the sport he loves.

Garry Nelson was one of the lucky ones he had a 17 year career and played 647 league games, however a 17 year career whilst being a relatively long footballing career is of course a short career in almost every other field. Whilst never denying he earned a good wage Garry stress’s the well… stress’s of being a middle of the road professional footballer. During the season Garry turned 34 and from day one consistently fretted about the re-newal of his contract, without a new contract he would have to find a new club, which he concedes can be hard at his age, or in fact he would have to retire and forge a new career, indeed in pre season he almost resigned himself to such a fate. So it appears the life as a football isn’t all pop stars and shiny new cars, indeed Garry drove a Fiat. In fact many footballers, especially in the lower leagues try to elongate their careers to give them financial security, not a side of football frequently shown. In fact many pro footballers have to make sure they have careers to pick up once their life as a footballer ends. This may of course be harder than expected, with footballers being picked up at younger ages, their education can be affected and as Garry touches on in the book, these youngsters can of course not make it, football does have its dark dingy side.

This book helps to give the reader a deeper understanding of life as a lower league footballer and will show up many an ignorant fan as well as lay persons, who believe footballers just to be overpaid idiots. The book is a good read with some very useful insights it allows the reader to understand the daily chores of a footballer, the commute, the training, the injury room and the long away days. Overall though it leaves you thinking about the gulf in pay between the football leagues and the impact this has upon the perception of all footballers and the lived reality of some, as Garry talks about his pre season holiday to Florida during the 1994 USA world cup an American asked him what he did, as Garry replied a professional footballer the American assumed Garry to be extremely wealthy, this Garry concedes, was far from the truth.



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