Falkirk fan Callum Erskine is enjoying being back in football, and watching the Bairns for free – after seeing his football career unravel before it really began.
The goalkeeper was on the books at Bury until May this year, part of a successful youth set-up and hoping for a long career in the game, when well-publicised money problems at the Shakers led to him being released and the club expelled from the English Football League earlier this season.
Now Erskine is back at his hometown club, trying to rediscover his love for the game and confidence in it.
“It was dream move. People think ‘it’s only Bury’ but the facilities were up there with Celtic, Rangers, Hearts here and then it would be Bury,” he told The Falkirk Herald. “They’d be top four or five in Scotland for facilities and the youth team was brilliant. It would beat any youth team in Scotland and you saw that from the moves the players have made.”
They were forced to leave though as the club went to the wall.
Erskine went on: “It was a massive shock when it all started happening to me because you go from an academy player into full-time football and for every footballer, the dream is to play full time - especially down in England. Our training ground was Man City’s old training ground so the facilities were unbelievable, and the first year was brilliant. I was living the dream and then the second year it all turned into a nightmare.
“The experience sickened me a wee bit and I had to come away from football for a month or two to take stock and rediscover my love for it again because it wasn’t a nice experience. That’s what I’m doing at Falkirk.
“I was on a college course as part of my scholarship and in class three days a week. Last September they told me they couldn’t afford to have me stay down there the full week. But there were times I had to because the wages were late and I couldn’t afford to come home. It was tough going. I’ve got the grades now for university but I’m staying in football for now.
“I’m a Falkirk fan so it’s great being in at the club, watching the games for free instead of buying a season ticket and being around the guys. It’s the best atmosphere in a changing room I’ve experienced.”
That’s a relief and a lift for Erskine after witnessing the worst of football – but perhaps surprisingly he doesn’t pin blame on the current chairman Steve Dale who was heavily criticised as the club lurched into crisis in August.
“There were first team players struggling. They’d sit down and say they were not playing unless they were paid. Then the wages suddenly appeared. It’s not as if they didnt have the money they were just choosing not to deliver.
“The guys had mortgages and Stephen Dawson was quite famously on Talksport about it. But you’re on 2k a week and you buy a house according to your wage – but then only half comes in... it is difficult. Add a car, kids, wife - it’s difficult.
“I actually don’t think it was all the current chairman either – he’s suffered a bit as a result because there was a lot of money and big contracts going out from the owners before him.
“The wages were first late last November. Then I was released in May but it was earlier that I started to notice things deteriorating. At the end of the first year I went up to Dundee to train and spent time with Carlisle and it hit home then that there were money problems and they were trying to ship players out to avoid paying wages and trying to get money in for them and save.
“When I was up at Dundee I’d still say Bury’s facilities were better but where there had been protein shakes after training – that all got cut. Meals went downhill – first it was Michelin star, nutritious food, then it got lower and lower and it became just frozen chicken. Everything deteriorated. The training ground did and they couldn’t keep the maintenance up.
“Under the circumstances the players did unbelievably well to get promoted, but it was obvious there were problems. There were good players there, our youth team was one of the best in England – we were in the quarter finals of Youth Cups and things so it wasn’t half bad. It was a very, very good side and the coaches were brilliant as well.
“They kept our spirits up and some of my team-mates got big moves to Leicester, Brentford and West Brom.
“I’d love to join them but it’s more difficult for a goalie with only one position in every team. I’ve been messed about by a few teams but I’m in Falkirk for fitness. My agent’s working for me, but I’d love to stay at Falkirk.
“I started here aged eight. It’s my hometown club and I’d love to sign here but I don’t think it will work like that. The squad was already set in the summer.
“I’m maybe going to have to move to England or abroad but for now I’m enjoying being in at the club and seeing the guys close up – without having to buy a season ticket!”