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Big interview: Ryan-Zico Black

Ryan-Zico Black is the first to admit his name is more memorable than his career in football.

But the nearly-man of non-league still expected his life story to attract a modicum of interest when he sat down to write it.

Not so in the celebrity world of sports books.

A year on from first putting finger to keyboard on the 'alternative' autobiography of a footballer, the ex-Morecambe star is having to come to terms with the harsh reality that there will be no big royalty cheques coming his way – in fact, he will have to pay to get his work in print!

"I just thought it was a case of writing a book and then automatically getting it published," said the winger, who now plies his trade with Lancaster City in the UniBond League while, at the age of 26, still clinging on to a fast-fading dream that one-day he could yet make the grade.

"Silly me. It doesn't work out like that. The start-up costs when you self-publish are expensive and I don't have that sort of money."

Black, named after Brazilian legend Zico, knows there would have been no problem at all finding an opening if he had done what he flirted with on more than one occasion and made the breakthrough into the professional game. After all, with Wayne Rooney ready to pocket close on 1m from Harper Collins for the first of five volumes on his life – all 21 years of it – football books can be pretty lucrative.

Sadly, not Black's, even though there is every chance it could turn out a darn sight more interesting than the standard tripe trotted out by the game's millionaire superstars. "This is the other side of the story," he said. "The reality that millions of kids will one day have to face.

"Not everyone makes the grade as a pro footballer. In fact, most people don't.

"My tale is one of disappointments, hard knocks and missed opportunities. It's a story of not being in the right place at the right time, and about making the wrong choices.

"And I think it's far more relevant than a lot of books on the shelves."

Black is convinced that, had he not chosen the wrong path at so many crossroads in his career, he too could have had the big house, the flash cars and the lifestyle.

But, being brought up in a football outpost like Guernsey, the odds were stacked against him from the start. And he always seemed to be playing catch-up after that.

As a schoolboy he played for Southampton and then Bournemouth. At 17 he moved full-time to England to chase a professional contract, but he hit rejection at every step of the way.

Jim Harvey at Morecambe saw something he liked and took him on and there were five happy years with the then Conference side.

During that spell he was called up to the Northern Ireland Under-18s and Under-21s squads – his father was an Ulsterman.

From there is was off to Northwich Victoria, Glenavon in the Irish Premier League, a first spell with Lancaster, a short but interesting stay under Paul Gascoigne at Kettering, and then on to Barrow, before returning to Giant Axe.

"You could say I've been around a bit on the non-league scene," said Black.

"I've seen a lot and done a lot. I've had some great times and a few not-so-great.

"But I think I've learned enough about the game and the knocks it can give you for my life story to be of help to youngsters starting out.

"They all dream of making it as a footballer, just as I did. Yet most of them are just heading for a massive fall.

"It doesn't always happen and they have to be ready for the

disappointment.

"I had to go through it more than once. I wrote to almost every Football League club in the country when I was released by Bournemouth, and out of about 60 or 70 letters, I only got two or three replies. And

nothing came of those either."

Black grew up in the Channel Islands where he says coaching for youngsters was not of the same standard as in England.

He believes he might have made it to the professional game if he had been able to benefit from the sort of Centre of Excellence and Academy tuition that kids get from an early age with professional clubs here.

And his book traces how he fought to catch up, pleading for trials with clubs and joining forces with former Preston North End trainee Scott

Bradford to scour the country searching for an opening.

"The reason I decided to write it was because there didn't seem to be any sort of books which gave the other side of the story, from the player who didn't make it," he said.

"It's different because it doesn't deal with success and the glamour of life as a footballer. It is the reverse.

"We all take decisions, make choices and go down different roads. But they aren't always the right ones.

"When I was a kid, I set out with the intention of becoming a professional. But when I was released by Bournemouth I had to move to England on my own to try and pursue my dream.

"Luckily, I got a contract at Morecambe and I stayed there for a while.

"I've got to say I have enjoyed my time in non-league football. I was also lucky enough to play for Northern Ireland at Under-18s and Under-21s levels. I didn't think I would ever achieve that.

"But I didn't make it into the professional game and that has been a bit of a harsh lesson for me. I'm 26 now and maybe it's too late for me now. The chances of that happening are pretty slim.

"There were times when I was in the Conference and playing well that I thought I was in with a chance of a move into the league, but it didn't work out.

"I went to Northwich and, soon after, the manager got sacked. That's how it seemed to happen for me.

"The thing is, you get your chances and if you don't grab them, then they are gone.

"At Morecambe, I had a great chance to score against Ipswich in the FA Cup and I took a touch instead of hitting it first-time. If that had gone in, with Match of the Day and the rest, who knows?

"In my debut for Northern Ireland Under-18s in Kiev I got a chance with my first touch and I miskicked it. The ball still went over the line, but a defender booted it out and the linesman said it was no goal. Just my luck.

"It's all about getting that little piece of luck. It's all about being in the right place at the right time. And it's all about making the right choices when they face you.

"For me, that was the biggest thing, the decision-making. I think I made some wrong ones, looking back.

"But hindsight is easy – you shouldn't beat yourself up about things that are over and done with now.

"You can't bring them back.

"To be honest, I wouldn't change many things in my life because I've had a fantastic time and I have met some great people playing non-league football.

"I only spent a shot time playing for Gazza at Kettering, yet I learned things from him. Things like having self-belief.

"He told me you have to believe you are the best player on the pitch when you go out there. To be fair, he was, most of the time he played.

"But it's all about having confidence in your own ability and he certainly had that.

"Those pieces of advice are priceless and they should be shared.

"That's one of the reasons I have written the book, because I want to pass these experiences to youngsters starting out.

Looking back, maybe if I had known what I know now, I would have made some different decisions, and who knows where I would have been right now?"

 
 
 

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