Free Agents FC has burst onto the scene to bridge the gap between released players and teams in need of fresh legs. Semi-Professional speaks to Billy Cove, the man behind it, to understand why the account has been so successful…

There’s a new way to sign players and staff in need of a new club in non-league, and it comes in the form of a social media account. 

Run by a man with his own successful career in non-league, Billy Cove, the Free Agents FC account on X links free players, managers and even physios at any level of non-league with clubs that would be interested in them.

The best part is, in a world of agents trying exploit talent across every level of the game, the promotion posts for players and staff are all for free.

The account, which is full of posts profiling players and staff looking for a new team, was set up by Cove, a former non-league player and now Hashtag United Reserves manager, after he became frustrated by the current climate of non-league transfers.

Having seen players at Step 7 and Step 8 face charges from agents to find unrealistic transfers, Cove began setting out a way to make a more accessible and useful platform for people to find a new team.

 “I’d seen loads of the normal free agent posts where players announced they had left a club by posting #freeagent,” Cove says.

“They weren’t getting much traction, it wasn’t reaching anyone, it was just a tweet players would do in anger on a Saturday night when they’d left a club and that would be that.”

Free Agents FC’s posts detail where the footballer or staff member in question lives, their previous clubs and what level they would be aiming to play or coach at.

After a profile of someone looking for a new team is posted, clubs send Cove a message saying they would be willing to give the player a trial or sign them.

The system has been so effective, that Cove now has to spend hours at a time uniting players with new teams, scrolling through his now huge list of contacts in the game.

But it’s worth it for Cove, who says he enjoys the feeling of knowing he has helped so many members of the non-league community with Free Agents FC.

“I just get a buzz when I get messages from players saying, ‘thanks for a lot, I’ve just signed for this club’, or managers will message me saying ‘thank you so much for putting us in touch, we signed him and he’s scored loads of goals’,” he says.

“Every transfer gives me the same buzz and it’s really good.”

A meteoric rise in popularity and a full overflow inbox of players requiring his services later, and Cove has found his account in demand, having caught the eye of clubs in America, Saudi Arabia and Australia. 

Despite the interest in purchasing the account, Cove wants to grow Free Agents FC and deliver a free promotion service for non-league players for as long as possible.

“I’ll keep it as it is until it gets to a point where I can’t keep up with it, and then probably look at moving it onto someone who has time and staff who can take it onto another level, because I’ve been offered decent money for the account.

“If that’s what they’re offering now, when it grows to double the size, maybe it’s double the price, so I’ll hang onto it and see.

“It takes all the romance away from it once they start financing the platform, it’s there because it’s a free service for teams and players, I’m no agent.”

Whilst he may not be an agent, to many, Cove is an innovator who has found a way to change non-league transfers for the better in an overly complex market.

Free Agents FC is the latest of many successes Cove has had in non-league.

From his devastating impact in front of goal as a player, to his loyalty at Walthamstow that the club say lands him a place within their top 10 appearance makers, and even his more recent escapades as a gaffer, Cove has certainly earned himself a reputation within the game.

Not many people however associate Cove with Free Agents FC, which, unusually, is arguably his biggest contribution to non-league football to date.

Currently boasting over 22,000 followers on X, Free Agents FC has been a huge success in allowing hundreds of players and staff without a club to find a team that suits them. 

In his own playing career, Cove admitted it was much easier to find a club.

Despite battling a long-term hamstring issue, breaking his leg and then facing back troubles that forced him to retire by age 27, he never struggled to find a team when he was fit.

“When I was younger it was all pretty much your mates, and transfers were done through word of mouth,” Cove says.

“The non-league circle was quite small when I played, the managers knew who all the best players were, and the players knew who all the best managers were.”

In the world of modern football however, many talented youngsters fall through the cracks, and Cove has dedicated himself to preventing it from happening to as many players as possible.

Cove had the opportunity to make it as a pro himself, which in the end wasn’t possible for him due to the training days at Millwall, his former club, not aligning with his Dad’s busy schedule as a fruit and vegetables trader.

As his Dad was his only way of getting to the sessions, he was forced to leave the club, and after an unsuccessful time at Leyton Orient, his career in non-league began.

From there, Cove carved out a fantastic playing career for himself.

He was an entertainer in his prime who scored goals for fun, despite his own admission that he was never meant to be a striker, only moving up front having played there for his Sunday League team.

He began his career at centre back and was soon leading the line for teams, in a switch that would go on to be a resounding success.

“I scored a few goals in my career and have done alright, I played for some really good managers and won a lot of trophies with the clubs I was at, I was the top goal scorer a few times.

“I won Supporters’ Player of the Year quite a lot, just because I was so laid back on the pitch, I liked having a good laugh and doing the odd trick here and there and scoring worldies.”

After hanging up his boots, Cove spent a whole decade away from the game.

Whilst he felt he needed a new mindset before he could join forces with Allan Fenn at Ilford in his first role in the dugout as his right-hand man, his love for the camaraderie of the dressing room hadn’t changed at all.

Cove says his role as the go-between for players and the manager made him a popular figure at Ilford.

“I was the gap between the players and the manager, so everyone loved me, and I could get away with murder.

“Players would tell me stuff and the manager would too, and I would filter back anything I felt I needed to.”

He soon learned the role of manager required a new outlook once again. With a new relationship between himself and his players needed, he was thrust into a new side of the game, being entirely responsible for the results.

The next few years saw spells with the likes of Herongate, DTFC, now known as Cannons Wood, where he achieved promotion into Step 6, and then Harold Hill.

It was the desire to push players to reach their potential and existing friendships within the club that motivated Cove to become Hashtag United Reserves manager.

Despite such an impressive playing career, Cove says he may never have reached his own ceiling, and that inspires him to push his young squad to hit new heights in their own careers.

“There’s a lot of things that I did wrong, I never did any extra work after training, warm downs after games, or stretched properly, and little things like that are so important for a youngster coming through,” Cove says.

“I try and steer our players away from where I went.”

Cove claims he considered focussing purely on Free Agents FC before taking the Hashtag United Reserves job last summer, after the platform almost exploded overnight.

“I would say it was last summer it just seemed to go mad.

“I posted a player’s profile and I think it got 1.7 million views, and from then it just went crazy, the followers just kept going up and the messages kept coming in.

“I had a few players that had been released by Arsenal, and then Tottenham, and it went on from there really.”

Much like the players it promotes, Free Agents FC has the potential to have a huge impact on the non-league community for the foreseeable future, and Cove will be vital to ensuring its success.

For more stories deeper down the non-league pyramid, click here.