Danny Rose’s remarkable CV detailing five career promotions had suddenly been downgraded to not worth the paper it was written on, an ever-familiar fate for the older professional.
Ahead of the National League club’s 2021-22 campaign, the central midfielder was declared surplus to requirements, sentenced to train with the kids for the remainder of his contracted 12 months.
Despite having appeared in promotion seasons with Pompey, Northampton, Oxford United, Swindon and Newport County, the 33-year-old’s new-found availability failed to stir interest in clubs.
More than five weeks into the campaign, Rose opted to fire off hopeful texts to a number of non-league managers offering his services.
His prayers were answered, or should that be messages, with the novel approach taking him to National League North side Darlington – and revitalising his career
‘Most players want to finish their careers on their terms, I didn’t want to end it at Grimsby having been relegated and training with the kids for the final year on my contract,’ he told The News.
‘Being with the kids upon returning for pre-season was a bit like Kal Naismith under Paul Cook and Gary Roberts under Kenny Jackett – and I wanted to carry on playing.
‘I had signed for Grimsby in a two-year deal, moved up to a lovely area, and was looking forward to working with Ian Holloway, a fellow Bristolian who wanted to play an exciting brand of football.
‘But it just didn’t work out like that, there was a lot going on upstairs, promises not kept, the ownership of the club changed and Holloway left just before Christmas in 2020, with Paul Hurst coming in.
‘I played a fair bit under Hurst but, when it got to the summer, he wanted to go in a different direction, with different players, using a different club budget. I was informed I wasn’t part of his plans going forward.
‘That’s fine, obviously we’d just been relegated, so players get the blame. We’re also part of the problem, despite the season being difficult for a number of reasons, I accept that.
‘In fairness, I’ve also known players have it a lot worse than I did at Grimsby. I would have loved to train with the first-team, getting that intensity. Instead I was with 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, so really how much was I going to get out of it?
‘I ended up doing more stuff by myself, knowing that to carry on playing at a decent level I couldn’t risk blowing up after one game and getting injured. I needed to do stuff that your future self is going to thank you for.
‘But I found it really difficult to get out on loan. A lot of clubs were after young players they can develop and try to sell on, those younger players are also cheap.
‘It wasn’t until late September that clubs now realised they needed a bit of experience. They hadn’t started the season great or whatever, so I started to get into conversations.’
Darlington would be Rose’s destination, joining on loan in October 2021, initially until the New Year.
The following day, a substitute outing in a 1-0 victory over Hereford in National League North heralded his Quakers entrance.
It represented Rose’s first appearance for six-and-a-half months, previously featuring for Grimsby in a 1-1 League Two draw with Walsall in March 2021.
And it was he who had driven that career-saving switch to County Durham.
He added: ‘I wanted to play, just to play. I can still do a job in League Two, but that wasn’t going to happen, so geographically I looked around the National League, which was the same division as Grimsby.
‘There was FC Halifax Town, who were full-time and an hour and 40 minutes away, while, in the division below, Darlington were on the cusp in terms of distance. Really there are only a handful of clubs around the area.
‘So I reached out to the managers – and sent a text.
‘I didn’t know Alun Armstrong at Darlington, I’d never met him, although was aware of him playing in the Premier League for Ipswich.
‘A young lad called Joey Hope had been released from Grimsby that summer after his year’s pro and subsequently signed for Darlington, so I asked him for the manager’s number.
‘When I contacted Alun, he texted me almost instantaneously, it must have been within 30 minutes. He said if I could improve the squad then 100 per cent he would be interested in signing me.
‘I went training – and after one session they wanted me on loan until January.
‘There were a couple of other clubs I reached out to by texting their managers. One was York, then managed by Steve Watson, who played in National League North and were full-time. He read the message, but I didn’t get a response.
‘He was later sacked and appointed at Chester. We would play them at our place in February, winning 2-1, and I remember trying to find him after the game to shake his hand, but he ducked and dived to avoid it.
‘I wanted to make a point. I know he’ll remember that text, managers don’t forget. At least tell me you don’t want a midfielder, give me the courtesy.
‘My agent also got in touch with Boston United, who had a lot of players, a ridiculously big squad, so that wasn’t possible. At least they responded and said “No”.
‘I suppose some footballers wouldn’t have texted around managers to find a new club, but I still wanted to play. I was prepared to do a bit of travelling if that was the case, while I considered dipping into part-time because it would be a loan and might not be long-term.
‘I’ve ended up with a fantastic club in Darlington. It’s a mixture of talented young players, some of which have lost their way a bit and I see myself in a lot of them.
‘I was at Manchester United as a kid, turning pro, sitting on the bench for the first-team, then, a year later, was a substitute at Newport County in Conference South. Lads have gone on similar journeys.
‘It had been 12 years earlier when I was in Conference South with Newport, so it’s not a culture shock to me. Every player at this level is there for a reason, whether they are aged 22 and released from a top club or aged 34 and coming towards the end of their career.
‘I played the majority of the games once I arrived, although after missing out on the play-offs we did tail off a bit, but there’s scope and potential to challenge next season. As coach now, I get to help on both sides.’
Darlington finished 13th in National North last season, 10 points adrift of Boston in the final play-off spot of seventh.
Rose’s travelling to matches and training involves a one-hour drive to York from his Humberston home in Lincolnshire, where he then meets several Leeds-based team-mates to car share for the remaining journey to Darlington.
Of his 25 appearances last term, 21 were starts, signalling his accomplishment in turning around a career in danger of fading away at Blundell Park.
Indeed, such was the significance of his impact, at the season’s end Rose earned a permanent switch to Darlington upon the expiry of his Grimsby contract.
The 12-month arrangement also includes first-team coaching duties, another reason for the Uefa A Licence qualified coach to extend his Quakers stay.
Rose said: ‘As player-coach, that will take me to 35, then I’ll see what happens after that.
‘I had a conversation with the Darlington manager about how I can help in certain areas, I still have a couple years of playing in me, but coaching’s the next step, it feels natural and organic to take.
‘Beyond playing, I want to be a coach, I love the game too much to not stay involved at whatever level.
‘This will be my first involvement in a first-team. I did plenty of coaching with Pompey’s Academy, working with the under-15s and 16s with Shaun North, while had my own academy down there for a while.
‘I’ve always had an eye on it, trying to remember things that Paul Cook did in sessions, even Kenny Jackett, such as why he let the players go and enjoy themselves in pre-season, there’s a reason.
‘You cherry pick all the little things – I like that or I don’t like that. Cookie would let Noel Hunt take some of the sessions while he watched, then got involved in the shape. There are things like that to take on board.
‘I still love playing, of course. You’re in the middle of a training session, you receive the ball, play a little one-two, it’s a moment I get so much enjoyment out of, even at the age of 34.
‘In the last year, I’ve also qualified to work as a pension advisor with Bespoke Financial Health, dealing in insurance policy, injury protection and income protection.
‘A route we’re going down as a company is helping semi-pro and non-league players, protecting their income, so, should there be an injury, you are covered.
‘Although commitments such as that are on the side, number one will be coaching.’
Now in the twilight of his career, there may yet be more playing success for the likeable Rose, whose tally of five promotions is already hugely impressive.
Presently topping the list is Pompey’s 2016-17 League Two title triumph under Paul Cook during the midfielder’s maiden Fratton Park campaign.
His time in League One with the Blues, however, was cruelly disrupted by breaking his left leg in a drop-ball challenge with Northampton’s John-Joe O’Toole in December 2017.
By the time his Pompey career ended in January 2019 following a free transfer switch to Swindon, he had totalled 64 games and five goals during two-and-a-half years on the south coast.
‘Looking back, that Pompey season is head and shoulders above any success I’ve had,’ added Rose.
‘The experience, the scale of celebration afterwards, the fans, the group of players with that chemistry, there was nothing like it at Swindon, Newport, Fleetwood and Northampton.
‘The following season, before my injury, I remember thinking “This isn’t going to last forever” so decided to have a little moment to take it all in before games.
‘You warm-up, return to the Fratton Park dressing room, come back out, do the hand shake with the opposition, with the crowd clapping in time with the music – and then I’d stop to savour it before kick-off.
‘I would look around at the fans, my family, my kids there watching me. I knew it wasn’t going to last forever.
‘At 29 was I going to play in the Championship? Probably not. Maybe, but it’s unlikely. So is it really going to get better than this?
‘At that moment, I couldn’t ask for any more. I was taking it in, soaking it up, being grateful for that moment, being in that environment at that moment. Fantastic.
‘But my football career isn't over just yet!’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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