Stephen Ireland is the group admin
A group of unemployed Premier League stars organise secret football matches via a WhatsApp group in order to stay sharp for potential new clubs coming in.
The list of players is quite extensive and has some huge names, including former internationals, Premier League winners, and even a European Cup winner.
The group is a mix of players who are retired and just want to stay fit and those who are left without a club but don’t want to be found wanting if one became available.
Danny Simpson, Danny Drinkwater, Joleon Lescott, Nedum Onuoha, John O’Shea and even Ravel Morrison have all played in these secret matches.
Stephen Ireland is the group admin and is quick to throw you out of the group if you haven’t paid your losers penalty.
In an interview with The Telegraph, former Premier League winner Danny Simpson explains the function of the group.
He said: “People realised I wasn’t playing, and I think if you’re out of contract, someone will end up trying to recruit you.
“You get kicked out if you haven’t paid your loser’s fee, though!”
Pitches are hired, referees too, losers cover the cost, and it all happens in daylight with people walking by completely unaware – although Simpson doesn’t reveal the exact location.
“I miss being around the lads every day,” Simpson added. “I’ve not been quiet about that. I do miss walking out on a Saturday but mainly… well, if you’re around 20 lads every day for 20 years, that’s hard to replace.”
“It’s one thing being fit in terms of treadmill runs, box-to-box-sprints, but then there’s being football fit.”
Simpson also sometimes trains with Leicester Under-23s. “Some of them probably watched me win the league as kids!” he jokes. “But not everyone has that option. Some leave their clubs messily, and some find it embarrassing to go back. We’re human at the end of the day.
“One of the hardest things, I found, was when your mates go back to pre-season and you’re sitting on your own at home waiting for your phone to ring. Waiting for your next opportunity can be tough.
“This is somewhere where everyone can be together in the same boat, where lads have a similar footballing morning to when contracted. Then when they’re ready to get into a club, there would be data to show the fitness coach.
“I’ve always had my ‘demons’, so to speak, like most people. When you’re playing and you’re so busy – you’re training, you’ve got mates around you and games to focus on – you can put them to the back of your head.
“You don’t have time. You’re just riding this wave. When it all stops, that’s when you think.”
Simpson cites his 2019 departure from Leicester as a tipping point: “That’s when it hit me. “They were my family, my home. That was when I really started to struggle with it.
“It was tough to even watch them when I first left. They were my boys. When you’ve enjoyed something so high with everyone – not just the players, the staff too – replacing that is very hard.
“And then you start drinking more. You think you’re fine but you’re not really. You’re pretending but you’re actually not happy. I was like ‘I’m one of the lads’ so I would put it on even more.
Addiction is broached. “I think we’re all addicts,” Simpson suggests. “Coffee, drinks, drugs, phones. It doesn’t matter what it is – it’s knowing what you’re addicted to and recognising it. I know I’m all or nothing.
“I’m not retired.If someone needs a right-back, I have to be ready. Maybe that is my last hurrah.”
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