The stark reality facing out-of-contract players

‘Each day that passes I’m closer to retiring’ admits Liam Craig

St Johnstone's Liam Craig is out of contract soon. Picture: Bruce White / SNS

As he approaches his 34th birthday later this year, with over 500 senior appearances on his CV, Liam Craig is under no illusions about the status of his playing career amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’d normally have four weeks off in the summer,” reflects the St Johnstone midfielder. “That’s now seven weeks we’ve been inactive and, to be fair, each day that passes I’m closer to retiring.”

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Before football was suspended in Scotland on 13 March, Craig had been in negotiations with the Perth club over a new contract. Like a whole host of his colleagues throughout the country, the PFA Scotland chairman’s current deal expires in the next few weeks.

With so many of the SPFL’s 42 clubs facing financial uncertainty as they wait to discover when they will be able to open their gates again, Craig knows that contract offers previously in the pipeline could easily disappear down a Covid-19 drain.

“It’s tough,” said the former Falkirk and Hibs man. “There are a lot of players like me whose contracts run out this summer. I’m 33 now, so no-one is going to be chasing me to sign any time soon.

“But you just have to stay positive. The PFA stuff is keeping me busy, so I’m not really focused on anything else.

“Myself and our captain, Jason Kerr, have regular phone calls with St Johnstone, I speak to the manager a couple of times a week. The club has been brilliant in terms of keeping the players in the loop.

“That’s given me a bit of breathing space. I’ve got a great relationship with St Johnstone and I want to stay there as long as I can. But I realise that with the severity of this situation, things that were said a month or two ago might not still be on the table for some players.

“Until we get a wee bit of clarity on when next season starts, I don’t think clubs are going to be in a mad rush to be offering too many contracts.

“It is a worry and you could have a massive volume of players out of contract. We have made players aware of how severe the situation is.

“Until anything is signed, players are genuinely worried about moving forward. It could be a time when you see more and more players looking for a job outside football.”

To that end, the work of PFA Scotland’s education officer, East Fife defender Chris Higgins, pictured, has never been more important.

“Right from the start of this season, when PFA Scotland did our annual club visits, we made sure players were aware of the benefits of the educational side of things we can offer,” added Craig.

“The players really bought into it and over the last couple of months, Chris Higgins has been brilliant in terms of the amount of players he has spoken to, letting them know there are other careers and options for them.

“Even if you sign a three or four-year contract, you should always be looking to do something outside football so you have something to fall back 
on.

“Every player is in a different circumstance. I’m lucky that I’m married with three kids. I’m not used to being in the house every hour of the day and dealing with those sorts of issues. Some players will be on their own and not have much contact with anyone.

“We made a decision as a management committee that four or five times a week, we give players updates with where we’re at, in terms of helping them and where we felt they needed help. Some clubs have been great throughout this whole process and some clubs maybe haven’t had that contact through this process.

“It has been difficult but you have seen on social media how players and clubs can play a massive part in communicating with supporters and young football players. It has been tough but a lot of good has come out of it.

“In terms of the players I’ve dealt with, it’s been great in terms of proper grown-up chats moving forward. That’s why when we do things like the survey on reconstruction, it should be taken seriously. Players aren’t silly, they realise the severity of the situation and big decisions are going to have to be made. We just feel we should be part of them moving forward.”

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