IT’S that time of year again when football is all about promise and promises, when before the action – and the reality – kicks in, all the talk is of winning, fulfilment and deliverance.
For Andy Reid, it’s season number 13 in a professional career that has taken in six clubs, £11 million in transfer fees and, since Sean O’Driscoll’s appointment to the Nottingham Forest dug-out, 16 different managers.
He’s seen enough to be as sceptical about the present as he is hopeful about the future. “Cynical is the only word to describe football,” he says. “That’s the type of industry it is.”
Yet, he freely acknowledges, it is also the type of industry that has given him – and his family – a better life.
He was 17 when faced with a choice whether to stay in the game or return home to Dublin. Told he was about to become a father, he deliberated for months over what was the best thing to do. In the end, he stayed in England, and in football, becoming rich, reasonably famous and happy. “But was it the right choice?” he asks. “I’ll never know.”
What he does know is that anything he could do for his daughter, Saoirse, he has done. They regularly spend time together, speak for an hour every day on the phone and have a close relationship. Reid is a good father, not an absent one.
Yet football has kept them apart. The supposedly beautiful game, which, when he is on song, he plays quite beautifully, has exposed him to the worst aspects of man’s personality: the disloyalty, the abuse, the ruthlessness and the selfishness.
“Nobody cares about anybody else in this sport and if anyone tells you differently then they’re lying,” says Reid.
“Now okay, you will get some teams with a great team-spirit who will do anything to make sure the team gets a result. But at the same time they are also trying to win for themselves because they know victory reflects positively on them as individuals.
“This is the reality of the modern game. A lot of players kid themselves thinking their manager and club care about them. They don’t. Because once their time passes, they will be moved on. And players are cut from the same cloth. When you get the opportunity to further your career, you go.
“That’s not just the way football is. That’s modern-day life summed up in a nutshell too. Try telling me the man on the street, a mechanic, say, working in a garage on £500-a-week wages, won’t move if he gets offered twice as much from a rival company. His loyalty won’t be to his employer but to himself, his family and his career.
“It’s time people got real and got true. I could laugh when I hear managers go on about loyalty all the time but what happens when someone is managing a club and gets a better offer elsewhere? One per cent of them stay. The rest go.
“Similarly, there have been times when I haven’t been wanted at football clubs and have been told as much in no uncertain terms. Yet when Darren Bent left Sunderland by choice a couple of years ago, around the same time I was shown the door, he was dubbed disloyal. It is a mixed up, confused world.”
Perhaps because of the mixed-morals of the dressing room, Reid has such a full life outside of it. In his spare time he has studied history at the Open University, as well as honing his talents as a musician. Not shy about jamming in front of friends or strangers, it was one particular impromptu session which proved pivotal in his career, when in the team hotel in Mainz, after Ireland defeated Georgia 2-1, a sing-song ended with Giovanni Trapattoni and him arguing.
Shortly afterwards, Trap dumped Reid from his squad and has spoken disparagingly about the player’s abilities ever since. Reid, though, has yet to hit back. “If I said anything now it would be unfair on the players in the squad and would hardly be helpful. So I’d prefer to keep a dignified silence.
“The fact is, I never once made myself unavailable for Ireland. I haven’t retired from international football, still care about the team and will be cheering the lads on whenever they play. Hopefully I will get the chance to play for my country again one day and if I do speak up about my exclusion from the panel, it won’t be in the immediate future.”
Instead that immediate future sees Reid and another Irishman, Sean O’Driscoll, hoping to plot Nottingham Forest’s return to the Premier League. Backed now by the millions of their Kuwaiti owners, the feeling of hope fills the air.
“There is quality is in our squad and we’re capable of going on a big run,” said Reid.
“We had a chat there late last season and pointed at Reading and asked ourselves – ‘how many of their players would get in our side?’ The answer was positive from our perspective but there is also a realisation that they had a fabulous belief and a work ethic and were desperate to get up. We have to be equally as hungry.
“That’s what I’ll be anyway because this club has done so much for me – and while I got to sample the Premier League before with other clubs, I want to do it this time with Forest.
“After all they took me over from Ireland when I was 15, they developed me and given what also happened our owner this year [Nigel Doughty who died in February], and all the love he put into the club, we’d want to get there for him.”
Yet he also wants to get there for himself.
He says: “There have been plenty of times in my career, when I have been at a club and things just didn’t add up. Some managers simply don’t fancy you. But the thing is that there are a lot of managers I don’t rate either.
“So many of them are on a merry-go-round and end up in one different job after another – and you wonder how they keep getting employed? Football is all about opinions. Some managers want you to play a certain way. Some managers fancy you. Some don’t.
“Well, there are plenty of managers and clubs I don’t fancy. Their style of play simply wouldn’t be for me. It’s only when you get the right fit – the right club, the right manager – that the best comes out of you. We’re thrilled we got Sean. We know him. We like him, like his football. This year will be a good one.”
So he hopes. So he promises.