Issue Better ways to earn a crust? Talking to Graeme Tomlinson

As told by Daniel Horsfall

Gareth Grant, David Brown, Danny Forrest, Craig Midgely, Wayne Benn, Craig Bentham, Kevin Sanasy, Tom Claisse, Liam Flynn, Jon Worsnop, Tom Penford, Jon Swift, Tom Kearney, and maybe even Lewis Emanuel are all players with something in common; they had all called themselves Bradford City players by the age of 20 and were all playing non-league (or lower) by the age of 25. Add to this list the names of Des Hamilton and Graeme Tomlinson, two lads who left for greater things only for it to not work out for whatever reason. Let me ask, if you had to write a list of opposites, a list to balance the one above, who would be on it? Andy O’Brien? Dean Richards? Steven Schumacher (not a product of our academy though)?

Why do I mention this then? Well I have this notion that football is quite a hard life at this level. We as fans pay a lot of money and generally believe that entitles us to make our feelings known. This is somewhat fuelled by the stream of money-grabbing players who grew fat as our club grew thin – plus, let’s not forget that most of us would give our right arm to pull on the claret and amber just once.

A career cut short

One man who got to do that is Graeme Tomlinson and I was lucky enough to get to speak to him recently. Tomlinson insists that despite his poor fortune with injuries, he still believes football is a fantastic industry to be employed in and that even at our level there is decent money to be made. He does concede however, that it was his big break at Utd and the help of close friends that ensured he would be financially sound even if his career were to be cut cruelly short.

But these are not the old days; this is not the Bradford of Tomlinson’s time. As Tomlinson himself accepts, league 2 youngsters and trialists will not be on particularly good money, the end of their career – regardless of age, is just around the corner. Take Steve Williams for example, at 22 and playing for Bamber Bridge, with a failed trial at Oldham behind him, he must have almost given up; if this season doesn’t work out the chances are we’ll never see him again. Same goes for David Syers or went for James Hanson last season.

Now I initially planned to write an article from the standpoint that for all those lads I named earlier, lads like Gareth Grant and David Brown, we might just have reached a point where football, for all its potential glamour isn’t really worth the hassle. To give your all from the age of 14 or 15 just to find yourself, every summer, getting geared up for pre-season friendlies to prove that you have what it takes at league 2 level against lesser opposition, prove to the fans that you are committed – yet not run round like headless chickens, and most importantly, not get injured. All of this with no guarantees and even less in your pockets if you are on trial, faced with the statistics laid bare; chances are your career will be over in the next five years.

However, with the assumption that many of you will not be particularly pre-disposed to feel sympathy for the young lads who are living the dream that still flits through your sleep – regardless of your age, I changed my mind. This was also in part due to something Graeme Tomlinson said when I asked him whether he thought it was all worth it for the youngsters:

It all comes down to an individuals hunger to play the game. If they love the game and it is entwined with their heart, wild animals couldn’t stop them from playing the game. But if the individual is money motivated then perhaps it is not worth it and one should seek an alternative career away from the beautiful game as even at part time level it is a lot of time and commitment for little financial reward

Watching Joe Colbeck

A year or so ago as I sat watching City trailing to a woeful Lincoln team, listening to folks moaning about Joe Colbeck, with the words of Graeme Tomlinson in my ears, I realised I wanted to tell people to lay off Joe for a bit but they never really did. We all understand that people pay their hard earned and as such should be allowed to complain a bit, Tomlinson understands that, understood that as a player, I’m sure Colbeck did as well, but the criticism become much more with Joe and I am certain that it will result in his name being added to the list. His exit to Oldham, and from Oldham less than a season later continued this path.

Nevertheless back at Lincoln as I sat there watching Colbeck take to the field as a second half sub and inject a bit of pace into a team that had waterlogged the pitch just so they could keep up with the ball, I thought to myself, what has the lad ever really done wrong? Come back from a bad injury and take a few matches to get his sharpness back? Go out on loan and play so well we have to bring him back? Be voted ‘Player-of-the-Year’? Play with a passion that sometimes boils over? The lad can’t do right for doing wrong.

All I could think was that here is a kid who loves City, loves football; a kid who plays with hunger and whose heart is indeed entwined with the game. Here is a kid who will pick the ball up and drive at a full back and if it doesn’t come off, will pick the next one up and drive at the same full back again and again until he succeeds.

Lads like Colbeck then and Syers now are playing for there future; a good season and he might be off to League one, but a bad season and he may just join Sanasy et al.

A short talk with Graeme Tomlinson

DH: How’s tricks?

GT: Great, loving life and living each day as if its my last.

DH: Generally, what keeps you busy/working at the moment?

GT: I made a decent enough living out of the game so don’t have to work full time. I invested some of my cash whilst I was playing in various business ventures and also property so looking after my business affairs keeps me relatively busy.

DH: Do you still play any footy/sport?

GT: I don’t play football competitively, but occasionally get a call asking me to play in a charity match, I had Exeter on the phone but I was away in Maguluf. however, enjoy a kick around now and again with my nephew Konnir whom is joining the Watford Academy next season. Also I enjoy golfing, I find it highly pleasurable and love the social aspect of it. I am currently playing off 11 and will hopefully down be to single figures by the end of the season!

DH: Did you ever pursue your coaching badges?

GT: Yes I still dream one day of going into management, people have been getting onto me saying that I need to finish off all my badges soon, but realistically I’m still very young and time is definitely on my side.

DH: Do you still keep an eye out for City in the news?

GT: Absolutely. The club will always have a special place in my heart. City have wonderful fans who were incredible to me during my time at the club so I always keep an eye on what’s happening. I must say it hurts me to find the club in league two.

DH: Are you still in contact with any lads you played with (at City or elsewhere)?

GT: It’s a funny one, unfortunately I don’t keep in contact with as many of the lads from City as maybe I would if I stayed for longer. I was bought by Man Utd when I was quite young and lost contact with a lot of my mates from the youth set up. I still keep in touch with the likes of Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs who have all had glittering careers and I’m proud to call them friends.

DH: In the Guardian you said that you didn’t regret the way things turned out, now you’ve stepped away from professional and non-league football, do you still feel the same?

GT: I have to admit I can’t help thinking what might have been as even Sir Alex told me when I got released from Manchester United that I had lost that little bit extra I had previous to my leg break. Prior to my leg break he had said to me that he saw me as a key part to the future of United. However, the compound fracture occurred and those were the cards I was dealt and I just have to deal with that. So yes I do now slightly regret the way things turned out when I think about my career now, but I cant complain as I had a better career than a lot of players and it let me in to a whole new world which has been shining dazzling and splendid.

DH: You also said that football didn’t rule your life at the time, does it even figure in your life any more? Is it still important?

GT: It still figures in my life as I follow how the clubs I played for are doing and always watch the big games on the tv in particular the champions league ties. It is not the most important thing in my life and just like when I was playing it does not rule my life. It was never my eternal love, my everything.

DH: When you were on trial at clubs like City (the 2nd time), did you worry at all about life outside football? Especially what you would do and the money side of life?

GT: Luckily I got sound advice from my advisors, Charles Poaches and Lukasz Shemshov and invested wisely early on in my playing career and I was lucky enough to know by my late twenties that bar a catastrophe, I would be financially secure for quite a few years.

DH: Do you think clubs should do more to ensure youngsters have something to fall back on? Indeed, was there anything there for you?

GT: If you look at the Man Utds and Liverpools of this world, they have academies for youngsters teaching them all the works of life. For lower league clubs without this infrastructure, it’s very difficult to do anything apart from batter them on the pitch with a football!

DH: Should supporters be more understanding of how hard a footballer’s life is at League 2 level? Or is it all par-for-the-course?

GT: All par-for-the-course I say. Whilst it’s disappointing City are in League, the supporters pay good money to come and see Cit and they deserve to see some entertainment… of course getting on the team’s back isn’t good for anyone.

DH: For all those lads who will probably end up on the part-time circuit, without ever really getting a taste of the big time, is it really worth it anymore?

GT: It all comes down to an individuals hunger to play the game. If they love the game and it is entwined with their heart, wild animals couldn’t stop them from playing the game. But if the individual is money motivated then perhaps it is not worth it and one should seek an alternative career away from the beautiful game as even at part time level it is a lot of time and committed for little financial reward.

DH: Especially with the risk of injury playing such an important role in shaping a player’s career, does lower-league/non-league football represent a good way te earn a crust?

GT: Make no mistake it is decent money in the lower leagues and there are plenty that are earning a good crust, however, not enough to set you up for life and have the fancy cars and the luxury mansions in Monaco. Add in the risk of injury and it does not look too attractive but it is a wonderful, wonderful career which allows you to meet fantastic people.

DH: Do you have anything you would like to mention about the current state of football/Bradford City? Any advice for youngsters/trialists?

GT: I think the gap is widening between the Championship and the lower leagues, much like the Premiership gap is forever getting bigger. I recently went on a family trip to Poland and knew a few contacts from my playing days who invited me to go watch Legia Warsaw (res) vs Wisla Krakow (res). There were three players who caught my eye (and apparently have attracted interest from Man Utd, Spurs, and Barcelona): Lucasz Woppenyeknick (16), Urisz Leppenbracknov (16), and Mikel Bhitch (18), all of whom were extremely talented youngsters. My advice is for any youngster to play each game as if it’s his last and give 110%.

DH: Would you change any of it?

GT: I would change the fact that I was injured. Sure I wish my career dazzled like the moonlit sky, but I met some really good guys and gals along the rocky road so it’s all good. I believe that if the injuries didn’t occur you could have seen me at United a lot longer and even a part of the side that won the champions league in Barcelona in 1999.

DH: Do you still DJ?

GT: It’s more of a hobby as I have a family. A few years back I performed in a few clubs and did a few gigs nationwide, which was an awesome experience!