Out of contract & inspired by Andy Robertson - how do players find a club?

Exit trials match
The annual PFA Scotland exit trials match gives out-of-contract players the chance to impress SPFL managers

The pre-season slog is well under way but for hundreds of Scottish footballers the biggest sweat concerns where their next wage will come from.

Released by clubs this summer and facing an uncertain future, it's a familiar feeling of dread with competition for a contract more fierce than ever.

So when you are a professional footballer out of work in the Scottish game, how do you go about finding a club?

'The clubs are less than helpful'

Getting your name out there as a free agent is essential and PFA Scotland are an invaluable aid. Communications and wellbeing officer Michelle Evans is at the forefront of the players union's efforts to find employment for their members in a marketplace where "supply far outstrips demand".

She collates the details of as many of out-of-contract players as possible to send round all 42 SPFL clubs - as well as those in the Highland League, Lowand League and juniors - on a weekly basis to put clients in the shop window.

The PFA Scotland website is also an essential tool, listing available players by position.

But Evans feels the clubs could do a lot more to help the players they discard.

"I contact the clubs and send them a pro forma and ask if they can fill this in with details of any players they have released," she says.

"So I send that out to all 42 clubs, it only takes them two minutes to fill out, and guess how many replies I get? Eight is the best I've had so far and I've been doing this job for five years. So the clubs are less than helpful.

"We're trying to provide a service, which will help the clubs too because if I get freed players I put them on a list and they get it sent to them and are able to cherry-pick from it. But I have to beg, beg and beg.

"There are some clubs that are fantastic at responding, I have to say. Airdrie are great, Aberdeen are always brilliant, as are Stranraer."

Exit trials and planning beyond football

Numbers are limited to 30-32 but the exit trials run by PFA Scotland are an ideal way to showcase talent.

This summer's edition culminated in a match at Stirling Albion's Forthbank Stadium on 1 June, watched by a host of managers and coaches from the SPFL and beyond, but there's much more to it than a 90-minute kick-about.

"It's a full week, 10am-3pm each day," Evans says. "You sign up for the football and have to do the education side of it as well, because there are a lot of them who think 'I can't be bothered with this part'.

"They do training in the morning, have lunch, then in the afternoon it's into the classroom. We have people coming in to speak to them about life after football, a recruitment company talk about getting jobs. We have Skills Development Scotland [government agency] who talk to them about modern apprenticeships which they can get involved in."

The live-for-the-moment mentality of modern-day players is a problem the union are at pains to address.

"The hope is that at some point the penny drops because a lot of these boys have been released from full-time football and are probably going to drop into part-time," Evans says. "So they're going to have to supplement their income somehow.

"It gets more and more difficult because every year there's a mass release, particularly of the younger players. And there are fewer and fewer contracts in Scottish football. The supply of footballers compared to the demand is completely off the scale. You have 42 clubs and thousands of players."

'Make or break' and inspired by Andy Robertson

Cameron Clark was released by Livingston this summer
Cameron Clark was freed by Livingston this summer

The academy system means a flood of young players are released at the end of every season and plunged into a daunting fight for a future.

Cameron Clark, 18, found himself in that situation this summer after three years with Livingston, the last 12 month as a full-time pro, and admits "it is quite scary not knowing what you're going to do".

Keeping in the best possible shape in readiness for a move was a priority for the defender.

"As soon as I got released I was in the gym that night," Clark says. "It's just that mentality, you can't let it beat you. You have to be motivated to get another club or you'll just fall out of the game. It's make or break."

Cameron had booked his summer holiday but rescheduled it when he found out it clashed with the exit trials match. And it's a decision that paid off as he has now secured a contract with League Two side Queen's Park.

If starting afresh in the bottom tier is good enough for a European Cup winner and Scotland captain - Liverpool's Andy Robertson spent a season with the Spiders after being released by Celtic as a youngster - it's good enough for Clark.

"My dad was saying that to me this morning," he says. "It's a great venue as well at Hampden, so I've no hesitation about playing there."

And while inspired by Robertson's rise to stardom, Clark is making sure he has a fallback option.

"Queen's Park are obviously part-time, so I'll be working during the day and training at nights. I have an electrical engineering apprenticeship lined up."

Andy Robertson
Andy Robertson spent a season with Queen's Park after being released by Celtic

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