By Jonathan Greening
Jonathan Greening’s career spans playing professional footballer for clubs including York City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, West Bromwich Albion, Fulham and Nottingham Forest. He captained many of these teams.
He now coaches and plays semi-professionally in Northern England. A friend of Mr. Perfect ambassador Nick Montgomery, Jonno read Nick’s reflections on his career and thought it could be a good outlet to express his own feelings on what on paper is the “perfect” life. A big thank you to Nick for encouraging this blog.
It is an absolute privilege to have someone that has achieved as much as Jonno has, to open up and detail his struggle with life after the highest level of football.
Jonno has never written a blog and assures me this may be his first and last! Although I am sure we can persuade him to change that.
Is football just a game? For me? Absolutely not. It IS my life and continues to be so.
I have always struggled to process what goes in my mind and how to express those feelings and emotions. So writing them down is particularly hard and confronting. Like many men I keep things locked down inside and deal with them on my own. But maybe this is the best way to communicate them.
I have been retired from professional football now for nearly 3 years. To be brutally honest, it does not get any easier and I do not have the answers as to why.
Coaching began from as soon as I retired from playing. I possess every coaching badge going except the UEFA Pro Licence, which I am beginning in May.
At Nottingham Forest I was Assistant Manager to a great guy called Charlie McParland. He taught me everything he knew in a year. At York City I coached the Under 18’s and currently I am coaching at i2i International Soccer Academy, also in York.
Does all of this make me happy? Yes and No.
When I am out I'm out coaching and passing my knowledge onto the young players I could not be happier. But instantly as I come off the pitch and get into my car, the emptiness takes over, a strange feeling of sadness.
I miss everything about being a footballer. The routine of training each and every day. Being in a changing room with over 20 players and experiencing the banter that comes with it.
I miss playing in massive stadiums. I miss testing myself against the best players in the world. I miss the highs of playing well and winning games but strangely I miss the lows too; losing games and playing poorly but trying to dig deep within to bounce back. Believe me, sometimes you have to reach so deep it takes everything out of you.
I worked for these experiences from an early age. Growing up in Scarborough, family or friends will tell you I never stopped playing. At school, at the park, in the streets, with adults, two games on a Saturday, two games on a Sunday. I breathed it.
At just 14 years old I was scouted by Ricky Spragia of York City. I knew even knew at that early age I had to work even hard to make it professional.
Technically I was talented but I was incredibly skinny and lacked stamina. A YTS (Youth Training Scheme) followed but my first year was tough. I struggled, became home sick and lacked game time, probably due to not being ready physically.
But this meant I dug deeper. In my second year the manager Derek Bell gave me the Captain’s armband and with this came the confidence I desperately needed.
I was playing every single game and enjoying every minute. Soon York City manager Alan Little gave me my break and a chance to play in the first-team. I could not believe it.
The dream continued and after 15 first-team games I had a shocker against Fulham at home, right before my birthday. I saw the inevitable rollicking coming from the Gaffer coming as he pulled me into his office.
“Would you like to go to train with Manchester United next week?” Surely he was joking? As it would turn out, I was on my way for four days training with their first-team.
At the end of the sessions Alex Ferguson pulled me to one-side and congratulated me on my performance. Just three weeks later I was an official Manchester United player. The biggest cliché possible, but it was a dream come true.
Three years at the biggest club in the world made me. Not only was I part of a ‘The Treble” and winning English Premier League titles, but I played and learned daily from the likes of Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, the Nevilles, Denis Irwin and many more. Not to mention the World-class coaches.
I learned discipline and how to train properly. The standards were high and these help you stay at the top and have a good career. Looking back it is frightening to think how talented these players were but more impressive was their work rate, especially in training.
For the rest of my career I tried to always keep these high standards. I tried to be the best trainer. I always did extra, was always on time and always had respect for the coaches.
This career had everything. Being part of squads in finals for the Carling Cup, FA Cup, Europa League, Champions League, Charity Shield, Super Cup and Play-off Final. Being a Premier League Winner, a Championship Winner, being part of the “Great Escape” team, in the England Under 18s and 21s squads and once earning a place in the full England team squad. I have also been relegated twice.
So why do I feel sadness? I miss the match-day adrenaline. I miss the training everyday. I miss my teammates. I even miss my managers and coaches and the countless great people behind the scenes at all the clubs I have played for.
My love for football is still there. I am still playing semi-professional even though I have “retired” three times!
I know I have had a great life to have experienced what all kids dream of. But that feeling of missing these experiences remains.
I thank everyone that was and has been a part of helping me become a professional footballer and of course my family and friends for their love and support
To all of those out there still playing, enjoy every single minute.