Ben Burgess column: Tough to make friends for life in football

Ben Burgess
Ben Burgess
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I was fortunate enough to commentate on Blackpool’s highly entertaining victory over Hartlepool last week.

It was by no means a vintage display from Gary Bowyer’s men but they hung in there when they were under pressure and in the end it was two substitutes who made the difference.

Kyle Vassell produced the vital winning goal and Jordan Flores had a great impact, with his composure and flair on the ball.

Now they’re in the play-offs it will be a different kind of pressure for the players to deal with in the upcoming fixtures, but I’ve got total belief that they will finish in the top seven.

A friend of mine, Michael Flynn, was recently promoted to manager of Newport County.

I played with Flynny for a couple of years at Blackpool and always got on well with him. So what has this got do with anything?

Well, I thought I should give him a ring to congratulate him but I didn’t because I haven’t actually spoken to him for about six years. Then I thought he’d be getting congratulatory texts and calls from everyone and he may just think I’m only getting in touch now he’s made it into management. The result was that I didn’t ring him after all.

That dilemma is pretty much what happened with most of the friendships I formed in football.

Before you start accusing me of being fickle and a rubbish friend, I am still in regular contact with my two best friends from infant school.

As far as football goes, though, there are only really two or three people I stay in regular contact with.

This I put down to a variety of reasons that I will discuss.

In my time at Blackpool I made some great friends and our team spirit was brilliant, but players move on. We sign for different clubs and then have new teammates to forge relationships with.

In one way, it does seem quite sad that these friendships that seemed so strong at the time fade almost as quickly.

I played for more than 10 teams over a period of 14 years, so that’s an awful lot of different relationships to build and maintain.

I don’t think this is just because I’m miserable, which I’m not.

I think from speaking to other players this is just how things work.

People will always have a tight-knit group of friends who ill be constant throughout their lives.

Once you leave football, then you realise even more who the real friends are.

Suddenly you are out of the game and all the banter and stories you shared in the changing room are not really relevant to your life any more.

Changing rooms can be pretty intense places and I was fortunate that I always managed to get on with most players.

There were always some who seemed to have no interest in making friendships or even in being amiable. I probably socialised a little too much with teammates during my career, but through these nights out and team bonding, real team spirit was built.

Some players just point-blank refused to join in.

It wasn’t about drink – it could have been go-karting, paintball or even just going for a meal midweek.

These divisions often happen when clubs move through the leagues and large numbers of new players sign all at once.

Suddenly the dynamics of the changing room begin to evolve and personalities clash.

The best and most successful teams add just a few players at a time to their squad and a lot of background checks are done on a players’ personality to make sure they would fit in with the other squad members. Joey Barton’s move to Glasgow Rangers was a prime example of a player whose personality didn’t fit with the rest of the squad and ultimately Mark Warburton paid the biggest price for that decision.