Andrew MacLean discusses being a young foreign player chasing a contract in British football. From trials with Fulham and Norwich City, through to a deal with Hamilton Academical, Andrew reveals it's not exactly all glamour and hype.
Before I signed my first contract with Hamilton Academical, I had already experienced the turbulent and emotional roller coaster that occurs when trialing at a professional football club.
After being rejected by the Victorian Institute of Sport in 2008, I decided to take part in the ICC Challenge Cup in Singapore with a Victorian select side. Coming up against the national academies of Qatar, Singapore and Malaysia provided me with a stage to showcase my abilities and fortunately, I was recognized by a scout working for Fulham FC who subsequently offered me a two-week trial.
My naivety created high hopes, however, soon after I arrived in London, the reality of being a 15-year old on his own and 10,000 miles away from home began to sink in.
For the next two weeks, I endured three grueling beep tests and double sessions every day which included training with the under 18's in the morning, back home for a sleep in the afternoon and then returning to the New Malden complex to train with the Under 16's at night.
By the end of my trial, I was told my fitness and athletic ability was not suffice to Fulham's standards but I was buoyed with their satisfaction in my technical ability. Luckily with some help from agent Mick Beard, I had found myself at Norwich City for a two-day trial and game.
My time at Norwich was a stark contrast to Fulham as I enjoyed training with my own age group and ironically I was lined up to start against Fulham's under 16's at their New Malden complex that weekend.
My first game in England was an amazing experience with the pace, strength and skill far superior to what I had been a part of in Australia. Despite winning the match 4-0, it turned out to be another inauspicious event in my trip as Norwich informed me that I was not required above the centre-backs that they already had at the club.
Next I found myself at Colchester United, where my trial was finished on the first day as I severely strained ligaments in my ankle. Despite the club allowing me to take a break to get myself right, I struggled on my return as the five-week journey had taken its toll on my body and mind.
I returned home and began playing in the Victorian Premier League Under 21 competition with Richmond until I returned to the UK in 2009, this time venturing further north to Heart of Midlothian and Dundee United.
Training at Hearts was a great experience and challenge as their under 19's side at the time was one of the best in the country. The club rejected me, largely due to questions over my athleticism and I set my sights on the following week in Dundee.
My week at United was prosperous and the club had offered me a chance to return to Scotland for a month's trial later on in the year so I could compete in matches and give them an extended period to make a decision.
Initially, I was excited by the prospect and instantly booked the flights to return when I arrived back in Australia. Despite getting such a great opportunity, I decided a week before my scheduled departure that I would not be able to cope with the sacrifices that I had to make if I were to move over to Dundee.
Thankfully, I didn't live to regret that decision as my final return to the UK for trials proved to be the most successful. I arrived in Glasgow as an 18-year old in July, prepared to give football one last proper shot before committing myself to university.
After an unsuccessful trial match with Greenock Morton, my family friend and Celtic FC legend Pat McCluskey arranged through his friend Joe Carvell to have my best mate and I play in a trial game for Hamilton Academical. I impressed enough in the match for the first team manager, Billy Reid to invite me to play in a game the following week against Dunfermline reserves.
The trial expanded to three weeks where I played games against several youth and reserve teams including Celtic, St Mirren and lastly Rangers, which after a solid performance at Murray Park ensured the club that I was worthy of a one-year deal.
At the beginning, the experience of being involved in a professional footballing set up was incomprehensible; I was waking up every morning and going to do my job of playing football which was a gratifying feeling despite the fact that I spent half the day mopping the stadium floors and cleaning the first team player's boots.
It was all part of the experience and it made me appreciate training with the first team regularly and taking part in Scottish FA Youth Cup and SFL Reserve League games week in week out.
However, as the infamous Scottish winter rolled around and with my best mate moving back to Australia, homesickness becoming a torturous dilemma. I became extremely weary of my situation and I decided to ask the club for my release in December and fortunately it was granted as I returned home the following week.
It was an unforgettable five or so months at Hamilton and I'm grateful that they gave me the opportunity to live a portion of my life as a professional footballer.