Some players accept that they will not reach a professional level. They may have tried their best to make their dream come true but it never happened. And that’s fine, not everyone can – but have they really tried? Have they really put their all in and committed to making their dream reality?
One person who can say he definitely has is Kyle Bailey.
Having no experience of playing in an academy and only making the transition from Sunday League to senior men’s Saturday football at the age of 18, many would have doubted his chances of securing a professional contract. But now, as we message each other on Twitter, the 26-year-old is waiting to begin his third season as a professional footballer.
“I pinch myself a lot but at the same time I’ve always believed in myself,” says the defender. “I’ve always worked hard to achieve this goal so I guess it was just a matter of time.”
He has turned his non-league exploits into his full-time job and has called Malta and Norway his home in recent years. Right now he is biding his time with Norwegian fourth-tier side Nybergsund IL as they wait for the football season to resume.
Growing up close to Clapham Junction, Bailey recalls his first experiences of senior non-league football.
“When I was younger I didn’t play for an academy, I started off playing football at Sunday-league level. However, as I grew older I found out about the non-league scene.
“My first non-league club was a team named Sheerwater and at the time, not knowing much about what non-league would be like, I found this opportunity very exciting.
“In all honesty at the young age of 18, it came as a shock to me how passionately people played the game, although due to my determination and love for the sport, I caught on quick and it was great playing for them.”
After finding his feet in the tenth-tier of English football, Bailey continued his progress in non-league by joining Combined Counties Premier Division side Westfield, based in Surrey. In his first season his side finished second but they would go one further the following season, lifting the title.
“Playing for Westfield was the team I gained more experience from, along with having the most success so far in terms of silverware as we won the league and also the League Cup.
“Westfield to me was one of the clubs where I can truly say that I developed as a footballer; that’s all down to their amazing coaching staff, not to mention some real quality players that pushed you every match day and training to be better.”
Having come into the football pyramid late, the defender was now rapidly progressing up it and now with an agent, he had doors opening for him across Europe but it would not be plain sailing finding that first contract.
“I had been on a few trials that year in places such as Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and then finally came Malta. I went out on trial and had one game to try to show what I was capable of. At first I was slightly nervous because I had been on so many trials that year and not signed for any of the clubs.
“However, just before the game started I told myself I have nothing to worry about and this is my dream, it doesn’t come easy so I just have to do my best and leave everything I have on the pitch.
“We won the game and I thought I played really well and luckily enough so did the sporting director of the team. A few days later, I signed.”
The team which had helped the Londoner realise his professional dream were San Ġwann of the Maltese First Division, the second-tier on the island. The club had finished sixth the previous season and had recruited Bailey to add some more steel to their defence.
Arriving in the country he found a new way of life but remained focused on his goals.
“I found it easy to settle in and having had trials in a few countries, Malta was just another country to add to the list. The main thing I was there for was football and trying to improve myself as a footballer, so settling in was not a problem.
“It was also made easier by my team mates making me feel welcome as the lifestyle was very different from what I was used to in London due to the fast-paced lifestyle. Malta was really relaxing and the weather wasn’t bad at all either!”
Monday 17 September 2018 may have been a regular Monday evening for most but for Bailey it was the day he made his professional debut as San Ġwann hosted Swieqi United in the first game week of the 2018/19 Maltese First Division season. It would end in disappointment for the team as they lost 3-1 but it would be the first of 10 appearances the defender would make in Malta.
“The standard of football was high,” he recalls. “There were a lot of good teams in our league so it was a tough league to be in. The professionalism with in the club was very high and the coaching staff took everything seriously: there was no details they had missed. Even in training everything had to be done to a high standard otherwise the coach wouldn’t be happy and personally, I thought It was great having never had that type of coaching before so I tried to learn as much as I could. I also made sure I tried to implement what he had relayed to us in games.”
Knock back and return
That opening defeat would be the start of a difficult spell for San Ġwann however, as they would win just one of their first nine league games and Bailey would leave the club at the end of 2018. The club would eventually suffer relegation.
Bailey returned to England and was initially rocked by the sudden end of his first full-time contract but his resilient attitude meant he was determined to not make it his last.
“Being let go by San Ġwann meant I was more hungry and determined than ever to prove that I was able to be a professional player.
“After playing for a few non-league clubs just to keep my fitness up and get game time in, my agent messaged one day asking me if I was ready to go abroad again for a trial. Without thinking about it, I said yes and I was ready. I had already been training hard and within a few days I was in Norway.”
The defender did enough to secure a contract with Nybergsund IL ahead of the 2019 campaign. The club based in the south-east of Norway had been relegated from the third-tier in the previous season.
He arrived at the club alongside several other English players and the mixture of new players saw the club struggle to adapt to life after relegation but once the team began to gel, they had a strong finish to the campaign, losing only four times in their last 15 matches as they finished fifth.
Bailey made 23 appearances in his debut season in Norway, scoring once and he lined up alongside several other Englishmen. They included Simo Mbonkwi, Emmanuel Adeyeye and a certain David Olaoye, who had previously gained fame as the only English player to feature in Argentina.
But it was not a fellow Englishman who stood out for Bailey. He had played in the heart of defence alongside Football League veteren Jean-Yves Mvoto. The French defenders has over 200 games in England to his name, playing for the likes of Oldham Athletic and Barnsley but had now found himself in Norway’s fourth-tier.
“It was an amazing experience,” says Bailey of playing alongside the former PSG youngster. “I learnt so much from him I do feel very lucky to have been able to play alongside him and pick up a few tips from him great player.”
Overall it was a season which the defender looks back on fondly.
“My first season in Norway was great. I believe that year I played some of my best football. I learnt a lot about being a leader and never giving up no matter how tough times get, always keep fighting and I think that was shown out on the pitch every game that was played.
“The start of the campaign was tough as I was getting used to the players and how our coach wanted us to play. Although, once everything was understood it all fell into place and having started the season on the back foot, we ended the season very well.”
It ended on a personal high for Bailey as he secured a contract extension for the 2020 season. He remains in Norway training in small groups waiting for the go ahead to start the league season.
Words of wisdom
Heading into his third season as a pro, he has some inspiring advice to pass on.
“For me that [earning a new contract] was a great achievement because it goes to show that if you get knocked down and stay down then things won’t go the way you want them to.
“If you have a dream of becoming a professional player and doing what you love it won’t come easy, you have to work hard. Receiving the contract extension made me really happy and made me realise even more: never give up, if you get knocked down, get back up and work even harder because one day a door will open for you and once it opens it’s up to you to show what you can do. It’s up to you to show what all the hard work was done for.
“If there’s anything I could say to any aspiring footballer out there, it’s to never give up and if you get knocked down, get back up and keep fighting because one day a door will open for you. Always remember to continue to work hard and improve everyday. Just try to be the best you can be both on and off the pitch because that will help you reach a higher level.”
They’re words from a man who has been through it all himself and come out as a professional footballer so it would be wise to follow his advice but that does not mean he cannot continue to follow it himself.
“My ambitions for the future are to continue to improve as a football player and reach a top division whether that be here in Norway or elsewhere. I want to make a career for myself within football and learn as much as I can along the way.
“After football, I would love to become a coach and share what I’ve learnt with the next generation of up-and-coming football players.”
Nybergsund have now recruited another Englishman who has been on a similar path as Bailey. Bobby Vaughan has played in Finland, Malta and Scotand. They’ll definitely be a team to watch this year with the determination of the English players who have worked so hard to make their dreams reality.
For Bailey, he will continue to work hard and enjoy his dream.