Colin Stoner talks to a realistic man ready for a new career
Rob Betts might be no longer a full-time footballer but he is still playing with a smile on his face.
Lining up for Racing Club Warwick is an inter-galactic distance away from spending six years with Coventry City and then spells with Rochdale, Kidderminster Harriers and Hereford United.
At the age of 23 the midfielder accepts the dream of being a professional footballer will remain simply that. But he has had his opportunity and, refreshingly honest about the highs and lows of football's roller-coaster, he now has to look beyond the day-to-day whirl of training and playing.
"I've got to start another career now and think of what to do with the rest of my life," said Betts, who has a wife and two children to look after. "I don't know anything but football but I've been in touch with the PFA for advice on different courses at colleges.
"But I don't regret it. I have had the chance that every kid wants and you can't keep thinking what if. You can only do your best."
However, Betts is not alone in finding the reality of football is far from a champagne and fast cars lifestyle. The all-action player had arrived at Coventry as one to watch at the age of 16 when he was lured away from hometown club Doncaster Rovers, sparking a compensation row.
But it is a sign of the the professional game that only three of the 14 players in his youth age group with Coventry are still playing in the pro ranks. Craig Pead is on loan at Walsall, Gary McSheffrey is still at Highfield Road while Calum Davenport made a £1.1 million move to Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season and is now on loan at Southampton. The rest have been largely forgotten.
"Football is all about opinions. Sometimes the manager likes you, sometimes he doesn't and that's where your fate is decided," he said.
But Betts still has plenty of memories from his days at Highfield Road.
Having featured in two FA Youth Cup finals, he was handed him his first team debut by Gordon Strachan as a substitute against West Ham United in April 2000, and he went on to make 17 senior appearances, mostly under Roland Nilsson. Another highlight was bagging his first goal, a penalty in the Sky Blues' 8-0 League Cup romp against Rushden & Diamonds in October 2002.
Having been released by City in the summer of 2003, he joined Rochdale but then returned to the Midlands with Kidderminster, only for manager Ian Britton to be sacked a month later. He only started one game for successor Jan Molby before leaving in March 2004 to play a part in Hereford's push for promotion in the Conference.
The Leamington-based player then went to Marcus Law's Warwick when one of his pals from Coventry, Tom Cudworth, invited him to training last summer. After a couple of games, Forest Green snapped him up but after a managerial change he opted to return to the Travel Factory Alliance side.
"It's just a case of getting my boots on and playing," said Betts. "I'm enjoying it, I enjoy the banter of the lads more than anything else.
"Racing Club Warwick had been struggling for years but Marcus has turned things around. I knew him from working at the Coventry academy and though he is quite young to be a manager he knows what he wants."