“It plays with your head, there’s just a long period of uncertainty. If anyone says they’re not worried, or they’re not upset about it they wouldn’t be being honest with you.”

Three EFL footballers open up about what it is like to be without a club
Three EFL footballers open up about what it is like to be without a club

MK Dons goalkeeper Michael Kelly was one of hundreds of professional footballers out of contract last June.

He had just won promotion with Carlisle to League One at Wembley. The next day the manager, Paul Simpson met him at the team hotel.

“He said it wasn’t an easy subject and that he wasn’t going to keep me,” Kelly told BBC Look East.

“I was shocked. The night before was the best of my life. Getting promoted on the steps of Wembley, it’s what you dream of as a kid. Now you’re trying to process what to do next.”

Kelly spent over three months looking for a new club before joining MK Dons in September.

“I kept wondering, when am I going to get a phone call? I’ve just got promoted. I should look good. But you have to wait. The toughest part is seeing other players get the call,” the 27-year-old added.

“My girlfriend and family were on top of me the whole time asking me to ring this person, message this guy, go onto Linkedin and look at this person.

“You have got to hold yourself accountable.

“You can run all you want and give all you want but personally being around a group, with the guys, they’re the hardest moments to replicate. I don’t mind going for runs but it’s very, very difficult to keep going.

“You can have a bad day, which can spiral into two or three bad days when you wonder, why am I bothering? It’s about just getting out there and doing something.”

Last summer, Kelly took part in a three day ‘Out of Contract Training Camp’ run by the Professional Footballer’s Association. It helps out-of-work players maintain their physical and mental fitness.

“I’m driven, I have self-belief but it’s a dog-eat-dog game. Some people might get lost by that,” Kelly said.

“The biggest disservice I could have done was give up and walk away, but now I am back, playing football, enjoying myself. We’re doing well in the league and let’s see where it takes us.”

‘The phone didn’t ring’

Three EFL footballers open up about what it is like to be without a club
Three EFL footballers open up about what it is like to be without a club

Centre-back Jordan Willis spent over five months without a club after his contract expired at Wycombe Wanderers last summer. He finally joined Northampton Town at the end of October.

“This summer was a bit tougher and the phone didn’t ring,” the 29-year-old said.

“You message people, you get some blue ticks from WhatsApp, but the lowest point is not hearing back.

“You are searching for purpose. You lose the sense of being a footballer.

“To have that back is amazing. Crossing that white line and running out onto the pitch again is amazing.”

Willis has been joined at the League One Cobblers by fellow defender Liam Moore.

Moore started his career with Leicester City and had loan spells at Bradford City, Brentford and Bristol City before joining Reading in 2016 and going on to make 234 appearances.

But his five-year contract at the Royals ended last season after he suffered a serious knee injury.

He eventually joined Northampton on 13 February.

“Trying to get a job after being out for so long is high risk,” Moore said.

“It took longer than I hoped. You can’t afford to fall behind, yet you can’t over train in case you get the call.

“It was massively emotional when I played my first game for Northampton. It was a whirlwind and a big step for me.

“I’m an impatient guy. I want things yesterday.

“The spell without football has taught me patience. It’s taught me more about the meaning of life, and I now see the game in a different light.”

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