Free agency in football is a bit weird to say the least. Clubs either sign a player whilst they have six months left on their contract, or the mighty Fabrizio Romano let’s everyone know who’s going where as soon as the transfer window opens.

But, in non-league, it’s not quite the same. Every year, thousands of players finish off their last game in May without knowing what club it is they’re now off to. We talked to some of the players involved about their last season and the process of finding a new club.

Samuel Clark, 22, who played for Henley Town FC last year, hasn’t been in the English non-league game long. Instead, he’s been off plying his trade in the USA.

“The very first exposure I had to the American college experience was through an agency. They pitched the idea, and I loved the thought of continuing full-time football.”

“I then played semi-professionally in the NPSL, most if not all teams will offer you a place, however it’s difficult to find a place that suits your budget as you can’t play on a student visa.”

It’s easy to look down on the American “soccer” game (and those fans on twitter rarely do themselves any favours) but, for Clark, he found it to be just as physical, if not more than back home.

“I know many friends and opponents from my summer in Virginia who have gotten professional contracts.

“The American game is more physical, there are many players in collegiate and NPSL who are well developed physically and excel aerobically. In England, physicality revolves around winning duels on the floor and the air.”

Now he’s back, Clark’s looking for more of an opportunity to play in the English league system after signing at step 7 for a few months last year.

“I think there are lots of good people and services to help players. With the level of finances at these clubs though, these are often hard to find, meaning the more people you know the better.

“My strategy to find a team at the level, I would like has been putting myself out there on social media and emailing local clubs at that level.”

Unlike Clark though, Darren Foxley, 26, has spent a long time up and down the levels of the English league system, with one club in particular capturing his heart.

Since 2016, Foxley has been at Bishop Stortford on three different occasions. He played 184 times and scored 40 goals over his time with The Blues, but after a difficult season for Bishop Stortford, he’s decided to move on again.

“It was a tough decision to move on, I’ve made friends for life there. Especially knowing the manager for a long amount of time, you build up a special relationship with him. Ultimately, I felt it was the right time to start a new adventure.”

Bishop Stortford had one of the most difficult seasons of any non-league club last year. After getting promoted in 2022/23, they were promptly put in the Vanarama National League North.

This meant that the club from Hertfordshire, a club just 28 miles from London, had to travel all the way up and down the country to try and play their games. Playing games along the northwest coast, to Newcastle, Middlesborough, Durham.

Ultimately, this was impossible for a group of semi-professional players who had to be off to work the day after or before games.

“Last year was very difficult as every away game was at least 2 hours, the longer ones were 6 to 7 hours.

“The club did put on hotel stays but we had to leave early Friday so a lot of the boys were forced to take half days at work and it did affect work schedules as the games were miles away.”

Bishop Stortford finished bottom of the table in the end, 15 points off of Gloucester City one spot ahead of them, and Foxley hopes to get revenge, wishing to play at the Step 2 level again next year.

“Non-League is relatively small so when you play well, clubs are either watching or sending someone to watch you. You play well and you build a better reputation for yourself.

“When the season finishes, and word of mouth gets around, you can be in contact with a new club as easily as them messaging you and calling you up.

However, that’s not just the only way for players to find new clubs nowadays. Over the last few years, accounts such as Free Agents FC are making it easier and easier for new players to find a match.

“Recently, the has been a lot more support for players trying to find a club. These twitter pages that promote footballers to the whole football world on twitter really gives clubs a chance to look at your stats and, hopefully, take a chance on you.”

Non-league football is never glamorous, and with thousands of players fighting for spots down at the bottom of the pyramid, waiting and hoping for that call is always going to be nervy.

Where am I going to play? Will I have to move? Relocate at work?

But at the end of the day for most, they’re just happy to play football anywhere and everywhere, and, eventually, you’ll find a place.

Foxley added, “Any advice I could give young footballers in non-league is keep going and keep performing to the best of your ability.

“You never know who is out there watching.”

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

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