Simon Ainge has seen both sides of the football dream. From a youngster at Bradford City to dropping down into Non-League with Guiseley and landing international honours before returning to full-time football.
But, back part-time, the Boston United defender says he is enjoying his football more than ever having started his own recruitment business – Ferox Resourcing – off the field.
“I’d always thought about football, I never thought about anything else,” Ainge told The NLP. “I was a 22-year-old when I left Bradford City. I’d been in and around the first team, made a handful of appearances in League One but was never established and I’d pretty much spent two years sitting on the bench.
“I got to the end of the contract and all I’d thought about was football. So when I needed money coming in, I decided to get a job. I worked in as factory picking and packing before stumbling into a recruitment role. I was playing part-time for Guiseley, thought it was a call centre before it was explained to me it was a construction recruitment business!
“I always believed at that point, I would be a footballer. I felt if I could just get playing at Non-League level, I would get my chance.
“I was doing well at Guiseley. I went away with England C four times and got a full-time move to Luton. I kind of thought that was it but it didn’t quite work out at Luton.
“I came back up and kind of liked the idea that I could work and play football alongside each other.
“I learned a new recruitment role at a more senior level alongside playing part-time at Halifax, where we had a really good time.”
While playing at Harrogate, Wrexham and Darlington, the 31-year-old has spent the past three years launching and developing his own company that places people in work within the construction industry.
“My mindset has been that I want to be in a position that, by the time I finish playing football, it’s not going to financially cripple me,” Ainge said. “I wanted to make sure I’ve got something and I’m engaged elsewhere.
“So three years ago I set up my business, Ferox Resourcing, and now we’ve got seven people working in the office and I’m at a stage where if I suddenly had to stop playing it would be OK.
“We’re having a good season at Boston and I can almost enjoy it more because it’s kind of taken that pressure off. The dream of playing in the Football League and making millions playing football is long gone.
“I actually enjoy who I am – playing Non-League, experienced, I’ve had a decent career, and now I’m setting myself up for life after football. Hopefully over the next few years I can carry on enjoying my football, getting success, and a promotion or two.”
Ainge believes many Non-League footballers are capable of following similar paths and is happy to hand out any tips or help players find work.
“I’d always be able to help anyone or give advice,” Ainge said. “It’s going well because of my football background.
“It can be daunting. Most footballers, all they know is football. The truth is, if they are given the tools and they can channel that determination they could do really well. There are lots of opportunities out there.
“The way my career has been – I’ve been full-time and part-time – I’ve been fortunate because it’s made me think of my future. I’ve seen both sides of it.”
Ainge was capped three times by England C – and had a fourth call-up for the postponed game with Albania – and also had a stint as a goalscoring sensation for Harrogate when he was switched up front.
But now at the National League North Pilgrims, he’s aiming to play his part in a successful promotion campaign.
“It’s going well,” Ainge said. “We’ve got good players. A lot of the lads are familiar because we played together at Harrogate, the manager Craig Elliott is good, and it’s a good club.
“It’s a tough league, the National League North, but we’re strong physically, we’re solid defensively and good going forward so it’s a nice mix.”
By Matt Badcock