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John quits with dignity


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John quits with dignity

Last Update: 3/4/01; 7:01:16 pm

By Chris Thompson

Only a few weeks have past since John Bailey announced his retirement from professional football, due to a recurrent back injury. His exit from the game has been almost as quiet as his entry.

Five years ago on a balmy July evening in Ringwood, John Bailey donned an AFC Bournemouth shirt for the first time, and his childhood dream to play professional football became a reality.

John's ambition was nothing exceptional, numerous youngster's have had the same yearning. What made the realisation of John's aspiration as being exceptional was his age, at 26 most footballers have established their careers, not started them.

Talking to John at his home , I discovered a man still passionate about his sport, the club he used to play for, and his years as a semi-professional footballer. Affectionately he recalled his experiences with non-league Croydon, who gave him his first taste of first team football.

"I was 18, the wages were only £15 a week, but I felt on top of the world, I was able to say I was a professional footballer."

Though his career had made a positive start it took another seven years before his aspirations were fully realised. "One of my only regrets in football was turning down a move to Brighton and Hove Albion when I was 17. I was young and didn't want to move away from my family."

In hindsight this was a missed opportunity, but football is all about passion, and John's enthusiasm and dedication to the sport remained steadfast, even in times of self doubt. "I always believed that deep down I was good enough to become a professional player, but at the age of 25, even I started to doubt that it would ever happen."

That was until AFC Bournemouth's Mel Machin telephoned him, " At first I thought it was one of my Enfield Town team mates messing about,"said John. "It wasn't until Mel told me to phone him back, that I realised the offer was genuine. My feet didn't touch the floor for weeks after."

"After my first game I thought I'd done really well , I'd scored a goal and I came off the pitch feeling so proud of myself," that was until Mel spoke to him. " Mel gave me the biggest rollicking of my life. Nobody in football had ever spoken that way to me before. At Croydon I could do no wrong, at Bournemouth it seemed I was do nothing right. I was in a state of shock for weeks even months after."

The memory of such trauma became self-evident. His initial, inviting gentle tone gave way to a more speedy aggressive timbre, forcing him back deep into his chair, as if he was still turning away from the memory.

"I went to see Mel about a month before the end of the season , I told him that I'd had enough, that I didn't want to play anymore, I just want to go back to my non-league days," with Mel's permission, John and his family moved back to London, and John commuted to Bournemouth. " My game changed overnight, I started to play football again."

Though one problem was solved, other difficulties still remained."Its not easy, when your're an outsider. All of a sudden your taking another players position . It very hard , when you've come from non-league football, the respect isn't automatic, it's not nice being an outsider, nobody talks to you .

Conversation is something that John does not shy away from . However what surprised him most of all on turning professional, was the level of Bournemouth's supporters animosity both on and off the pitch, towards the players.

"When things are not going right on the pitch , the fans soon start turning on you whilst the game is on. It makes the team so nervous." For some football fans this would seem to be an acceptable face of football. What surprised John most of all was the animosity off the pitch.

"At the beginning, I used to go into the supporters club with the lads after a game, for a few drinks and a chat ," shaking his head in exasperation John described the post- match atmosphere. "If we had won a match everything was celebrate. If we lost a match , the supporters would be shouting their abuse across the room and confrontations would start between the players and fans, so I stopped going."

Though this might taint his memories of AFC Bournemouth his impact on the club and supporters will echo in AFC Bournemouth's hall of fame for years. As John Bailey was Bournemouth's first ever player to score at a Wembley final. " 60,000 people are in the stadium, you score and you hear nothing!"

His exit from the game has been quiet, something you couldn't imagine happening to David Beckham or Ryan Giggs. Perhaps this says more about the difference between the status of the Premiership and the Nationwide league.

"Football fans sometimes don't appreciate the gulf between the leagues. Division two football is hard, both mentally , physically as well as financially," says John. "The income at our level isn't as great as people imagine and your career can end at any moment."

These are not the words of envy. John has nothing but praise and admiration for those playing top flight football. Indeed John's praise's extend to Bournemouth old boy Matt Holland, with a sincerity seemingly unimaginable in such a competitive sport.

Matt Holland is now captain of Premiership side Ipswich Town, something not unnoticed by some of Bournemouth's players."I have been surprised how jealous some of the players are of Matt. When I arrived at Bournemouth Matt he gave me so much encouragement even in difficult times."

John's innate optimism and zest for life should hold him in good stead for the future. He spoke of numerous ideas both inside and outside of football with the enthusiasm that he must have had as a promising young footballer. No doubt his off-field talents will serve him as well as his on-field talents.

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Originally posted: 5/1/01; 11:37:35 am Last update: