'As players, we have been dumped on the side of the road' - Bury captain Stephen Dawson on shock of expulsion
In the 16 years since he left his home in Dublin to become a professional footballer in England, Stephen Dawson has always had somewhere to go in the mornings. The usual routine, out the door and off to training, something he took for granted.
Now, Dawson is technically an ex-footballer as he has no team to play for. His club, Bury FC, have been killed off, and removed from the game by the English Football League due to massive debts, 134 years of history wiped clean.
Owed months of back wages by Bury, and with his contract for the rest of this season worthless, it's hit him hard, hurt his soul as well as his wallet.
"I have debts, my house is going up for sale," Dawson admits.
"I had a very vocal argument with the chairman on radio about this a while back. I'm not on social media or anything like that but people needed to know exactly what was going on.
"And it didn't help as I still need to sell my house. If I have no income I can't afford to keep up the mortgage. I can't ring the mortgage provider and say, 'Listen, the football club I played for are gone, is it ok if I don't pay you for a few months?'
"As it stands, I fear I could lose the house. Players at Bury, we're not millionaires.
"Its been physically and mentally very tough," he adds.
"Bury FC was the heart of the town. I have seen grown men cry, they are still in shock.
"This all happened not for the want of prayers, I am a religious man but there is only so much praying you can do when your prayers are not answered."
After leaving Leicester City in 2005, Dawson's career was played out away from the spotlight, though he was a popular figure at his clubs such as Mansfield, Bury (his first spell), Orient, Barnsley, Rochdale and Scunthorpe.
The Irish papers (like this one) only became interested in Dawson when his teams went on an FA Cup run, like in 2011 when his Orient side held Arsenal to a 1-1 draw.
So it was unusual for Dawson (33) to make the national media in England, as he did recently with a bitter radio debate with Bury owner Steve Dale.
Dawson had rejoined Bury in 2017, one of a batch of players lured by lucrative contract offers from the then owner which would, ultimately, prove worthless.
Dale, the controversial businessman, who bought the debt-ridden club for £1 only last December but was unable to pay players and staff within four months, mocked Dawson, live on air, for the player's claim that unpaid wages left him struggling to feed his family and that he feared losing his house.
Dawson could not mask his contempt for Dale while on talksport and that feeling remains in place, though Dawson says the out-of-work players also feel anger towards the football authorities who cleared Dale's takeover.
"We had an owner who bought the club for one pound, didn't pay people for seven months and then demanded more money for the club? That's what happened in the end, where was the Fit and Proper test there?" he says.
The PFA contributed towards wages last season, a good campaign on the field for the club as Bury, with Dawson as one of four Irish players, won promotion to League One.
But problems deepened over the summer, Bury were unable to start the new season and last month they were kicked out of football, players unpaid for a long time now.
"We got one full payment in the last six months. In that time I have had to pay my mortgage, pay for my car, provide for my kids," he explains. "People think footballers are loaded and don't need to work.
"I have loved being a footballer, I have played at good levels, played in the Championship, played with and against great players, had cup runs, I got a lot out of the game.
"But when you go six months without income it's hard to take."
Aside from his (unpaid) team-mates, Dawson feels for the club's fans. "It's their town, their club, Bury FC is their lives. I think you need to play for a club like this to realise how much it means to the town, to the people."
The Premier League appears to be in another world from Bury FC but Dawson says they help sustain the Premier League.
"Clubs like Bury keep English football alive. Glenn Whelan was here on loan as a young player and that helped him in his career," Dawson says.
"Look at Harry Kane, I played with Harry at Orient when he was on loan (2011), that was his first loan spell away from Spurs, it was part of his development in becoming one of the best players in the world.
"If there's no Bury, no Orient, where will the likes of a young Harry Kane get games?
"There is so much money in the Premier League and even a bit more TV money fed down the chain could secure some of the lower league clubs."
Dawson appreciated an offer from Rochdale's Irish-born manager Brian Barry-Murphy, a former team-mate, to train at their facility so he can stay in shape, but even though Dawson is a free agent and technically able to sign for another club, offers are thin on the ground as the season has started.
One option is to quit playing and try to find a coaching job.
"I have been over here for 15 years, my wife is English so my life is here," he says, ruling out a return home to Dublin.
"If being a footballer is coming to an end then I can deal with that. I have played over 600 games in England and I can play more, I want to keep going but I might have to move into coaching to get work.
"We have been dumped at the side of the road and we are waiting for the lawyers to come and tell us what's happening. There is more in my legs but I have been dealt a blow, and if I need to stop playing so be it. But I need to go out and earn a living for my family."