Published: 09:00, 12 May 2020
| Updated: 09:20, 12 May 2020
Ebbsfleet United’s departed captain Jack King starts a new chapter in his life this week as he returns to the building site.
With the uncertainty over when non-league football will resume again, now was the right time for King to start a new career, one he has been working towards for some time. Having that plan B in his life is something he feels all footballers should have.
King, 34, announced his retirement earlier this month and said: “With the league so uncertain and with a lot of clubs tightening their purse strings it is going to be tough for a lot of footballers out there.
“In the lower leagues you are not earning the sort of money so you can have time off, the majority of footballers at this level live month to month and it is not easy. I have experienced that in football.
“People see the Premier League and the Championship players earning thousands a week but it’s not like that in League 1 and 2 and the National League. It is going to be tough for a lot of players and I do feel for them but I have always said to everyone I have spoken to, just make sure you have got a back up, because you never know what it going to happen. If you have nothing it is going to be tough.
“You never know what could happen, you are only always one game or one training session from your career ending. Touch wood I have been lucky with injuries. I only had one major one that affected me, but it can end any time.
“I was lucky that my dad had his business running and he has done well with it. I have always had that fall back which I am grateful for.”
The family business, run by his dad and uncle, is one King has often turned to. During his part-time playing days he would help out and he would be back learning the trade in the groundwork business during the off-season too.
Keeping a hand in for all of those years means he’s now confident to start a new job full-time.
He said: “It is the start of a fairly new beginning but it is something I have always had an eye on, it hasn’t come out of the blue, it was just about when the time was right and I felt that the end of this season was the right time.
“My dad and uncle own it together, they are both getting further down the line, they both want to put their feet up a bit more now and so it is just the right time really for me to move on and start working and for them to take a bit more of a back seat.
“My dad has been doing it since he left school at about the age of 18, he’s earned his rest.”
The project he’s now working on is to develop high-end housing near to his home in Oxford.
“There is quite a bit for me to learn,” he said.
“Things change and I haven’t done it for the last eight or nine years now and I will be getting my hands dirty to start with.”
Fleet boss Kevin Watson tried to get his skipper to change his mind on retirement but the decision was made and he wasn’t budging.
He said: “It is uncertain times for everyone but it has probably pushed me more the other way because it is probably more uncertain times for football clubs than it is for the building game. It is probably an ideal time in that sense.
“We might not be seeing non-league football until 2021 and especially for out of contract players it is tough, nobody is going to be signing players when they don’t know what is going to be happening with the seasons.
“The gaffer said he would really like me at the club and if something pops up to let him know, which was obviously nice to hear. I had a good relationship with the gaffer, we spoke pretty openly which was good, but I thought the timing was right and once you make a decision like that, it is best to stick with it.”
King admits it’s been a rollercoaster two years with Fleet, skippering a side who have been making headlines for what’s been happening off the field as much as on it.
Just over a year ago was the infamous game against Wrexham where the team refused to warm up in protest over unpaid wages. They played the game though, were 3-0 up at the break, and won 4-2.
It was a tense day and King recalled it.
“There was never a danger of us not playing,” he said. “That would have been in breach of our contracts.
“We were fully aware of our rights and what we could and couldn’t do but we felt at the time that we needed to make a stand and that’s what we went with. It worked out well!
“I have never experienced anything like it. I was captain on the day and I remember the gaffer saying, ‘get yourselves out and warm up’, I said ‘gaffer, we’re not going out.’ It wasn’t the kind of conversation I would like again in a work place but he understood. He was in the same situation as us and it was difficult times for everyone.
“It got cleared up and sorted and we moved on. These things happen.
“When I came into the club I was pretty blind. I spoke to Matty Godden (former Fleet player now at Coventry) and he sang the praises of the club. I had a good relationship with Daryl McMahon (the former Fleet boss who signed him) and I got good reports.
“We had a few problems off the pitch last season which were well documented so it has been tough in that sense and it was certainly a rollercoaster. We were at the right end of the league and challenging for play-offs last year and then this year we started poorly and been playing catch-up ever since.
“But we were heading in the right direction and picking up points, we were looking more solid, looking more competitive in games and the season ended at the wrong time for us, it was looking like we could have clawed our way out of it.
“I thought, along with everyone in the squad, that we were only heading one way and would get ourselves out of it.”
The National League season has been brought to a close and clubs are now waiting on whether promotion, relegation or play-offs will take place. Fleet are in a precarious position and chief exec Damian Irvine said last week he hopes their fate won't be decided on "minute mathematics".
King believes they have the right man in charge of the team, however, whatever happens.
He said: “I had a really good relationship with the gaffer (Kevin Watson) and he has been great since he came in (replacing Gary Hill as manager, initially as caretaker, before being taken on permanently in November).
“He came in with energy and enthusiasm and brought that into the training and the team and being his first senior role in management he really blended well with the lads. I don’t think any of the lads would have a bad word to say about him, he has done well.
“We had a good changing room and a good set of lads all pulling in the right direction and that always helps. The lads embraced the manager and were giving their all for him. I certainly back the gaffer to do well, hopefully he can kick on and continue next year and really push them up."
Mr Irvine confirmed last week to the KM that Watson remains in charge of the team.
For King, it's now a new beginning, and he said: “I am going to miss the lads, I will miss the changing room environment, the banter and keeping fit every day and to get paid to do that is something I will always be grateful for but I won’t miss the emotional side of it, the ups and downs, when you lose it is all doom and gloom and when you win it’s top of the world.
“But I don’t think I will realise how much I miss it though until it actually happens. Time will tell on that one.”
More by this authorLuke Cawdell
This website and its associated newspaper are members of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO)