Writer: By Mark McBurney
Date:Sunday September 30 2012
At a time when football clubs are slashing costs in a bid to stay afloat, there are more players available on free transfers than ever before.
One player who knows all too well how difficult a situation it can be is former Bristol Rovers midfielder Craig Disley.
Disley was released from Shrewsbury Town in May last year, and joined the massed ranks of professionals all looking for a club.
'I honestly thought I would find another club without a problem, but that wasn't the case. It's dog-eat-dog out there with so many players looking for a club, and the money is just not there in the lower leagues anymore'.
Luckily for Craig, just as pre-season training was beginning, Blue Square Premier side Grimsby Town showed their hand and made him an offer which he quickly accepted.
'The Grimsby move was the best firm offer on the table at the time and it was one I felt was right. The fact that it was closer to home was a bonus too!'
Disley accepts that he is one of the luckier ones though. 'I know players now, good players, even in September still without clubs. It's a tough world.'
It wasn't always like this for Craig though. As a teenager he progressed through the youth system at home town club Mansfield Town.
Reassuringly though, there was no hint of the arrogance which has blighted many promising careers.
'I've never really thought I'd 'made it', during my second year as a YTS I was playing some good football and I thought I had a good chance of becoming a professional.'
Become a professional he certainly did, in a Mansfield team which became known for playing attractive football.
'The side which I played in at Mansfield was a very good side. We were a very young side and had come through the youth team together so to progress to the first team was very pleasing.'
That side included several players destined for bigger things. 'A lot of that team have gone on to have very good careers, the likes of Lee Williamson, Bobby Hassell and Liam Lawrence.'
Craig's first taste of the transfer market was to come in 2004 though, after a meeting with controversial manager Keith Curle.
'I was offered a new deal, but since it was on less money I was able to leave on a free transfer. I just didn't feel that I was a big part of his plans, which made the decision to leave easier.'
Moving away from home for the first time was not a simple choice though. 'It was a hard decision but one that I felt was the right one.'
Bristol Rovers manager Ian Atkins well-known ability to attract players played a big part in his next move.
'I came down to Bristol to meet Ian and he really sold the club to me. At the time there were plans for a new stadium and the club were supposed to be based at Filton as a training base.'
Craig soon recognised the potential of the Pirates. 'It was definitely a club on the up, and my mind was made up pretty much straight away.'
'I didn't really know a lot about Rovers as a club, but I knew of the size and fanbase of the club, and that was a big attraction for me.'
Disley soon established himself as an important player, eventually striking up a key partnership with Stuart Campbell at the heart of Rovers' midfield.
Remembered fondly by all Gasheads, Craig rates the 2006/07 season as the best in his career. 'It didn't start great but the run toward the end of that season was unbelievable. We were going into games knowing we wouldn't be beaten. Even going behind at Wembley I knew we wouldn't get beaten. That's a great mindset to have.'
'That was one of the best days of my life. The JPT final was a great experience too, even in defeat to Doncaster.'
There is clearly a lot of affection still there toward Rovers, and those that played a big part in Disley's Gas career. 'Everyone was great to me during my time there. Obviously Trolls and Lennie were a big influence for me, and helped me develop a lot as a player, but from Roger the kitman to Keith Brookman to the office staff, everyone made my time at Rovers great.'
There was of course one particular song that became synonymous with Craig. 'It always made me laugh, and I think it's still a favourite for the fans to this day. It was hard explaining it to my daughter though!'
Sadly all dreams come to an end at some point, and the summer of 2009 was a disappointing one for Craig.
'I had a meeting with Trolls who explained that he wouldn't be offering me another contract. It was half expected as, even though I'd played forty-odd games that season, I'd played a lot on the right of midfield, and although I gave my all there I didn't feel that I was as effective out wide.'
A sense of déjà vu and that awful feeling of having to find a new club returned. 'I'm not going to lie, at the time I was devastated. I didn't want to leave the club; my family and kids were settled and I loved the area, but that's football and it was time to move on.'
'I have some very fond memories of playing at Wembley and the Millennium Stadium in the same season, and the games against Bristol City were very special. I do think if I'd played more centrally in my last season that things could have been different.'
'It's a fantastic club, and it would have been nice to have played in the new stadium, but sadly it never materialised.'
Craig had options to remain in League One but may have surprised a few people by choosing to move to Shrewsbury Town. 'Shrewsbury were a great club in League Two, with a lovely new stadium and new training facilities, and was a club really on the up so I didn't hesitate in joining.'
Sadly his two years at the New Meadow were interrupted by several injuries. 'My time at Shrewsbury was very up and down. When I was fit I was playing well but I spent half of my two years there out with bad injuries.'
A broken ankle in February ruled him out for the remainder of the season, effectively bringing the curtain down on his Shrewsbury career.
'I think things would have been a lot different without the injuries but I'll never know. I wasn't used to it but injuries are part and parcel of football, it just came at a bad time for me.'
'In the end I was frozen out for no reason, which I don't believe had anything to do with football.'
Refreshingly, unlike many footballers who dream of spending their retirement on the golf course, Craig Disley has a different idea of what the future holds.
'I'm currently at college doing an accountancy course, which is a route I'd like to go down, as I'm now at the age when I need to think of life after football. I have two kids, Emmie who's nine and four-year-old Harry, and it's tough moving around all the time, especially for them changing schools.'
Luckily, the West Country appears to have left it's mark on the Disley family. 'We can settle down after football, in Portishead maybe. My family are very supportive of me in everything I do, and would follow me anywhere and I'm extremely grateful for that.'
Craig has had a real lower league boys-own adventure. But would he change anything? 'I have no regrets in my career, and I wouldn't change a thing. I believe everything happens for a reason and I feel I've had a good career so far. I've played many more games than a lot of players will.'
In the style that has endeared him to fans everywhere he's been, Craig finishes with one last quip when asked if there's anything that people wouldn't know about him.
'We'll I'm not a natural blonde!'
And that, Craig, is why the West Country are proud to have you as an honorary son.
Date:Sunday September 30 2012
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