Jordan Green didn’t see himself playing full-time football again after leaving Barnsley, but a spell in Sunday league football brought back the winger’s love for the game
Image: Rob Avis)
In January 2021, Jordan Green was calling time on his Barnsley career, having fallen out of love with football to the point that he was left wondering whether he’d ever play the game full-time again.
The London-born winger had spent time at Bournemouth under Eddie Howe, training with the first team when future England internationals Tyrone Mings and Callum Wilson were on the Cherries’ books, but he was ready to walk away from professional football altogether shortly before his 26th birthday.
A Championship debut for Barnsley had been a just reward for years spent working his way up in the lower-leagues after leaving Bournemouth, but a managerial change and a couple of injury-hit loan spells had left him forgetting what it was like to enjoy his football.
However, after rediscovering his love for the game through Sunday league football, Green is on the comeback trail.
“You start questioning ‘what am I doing this for?’” Green says, reflecting on a two-year period in which he started just 13 league games.
“But when you’re not playing games it’s easy to not think about how it feels to be playing.”
He had offers from EFL clubs after leaving Oakwell, but decided not to rush back in, spending time away from the professional game assessing his options and, as he puts it, “just chilling”.
It was at this point that Green was invited to join SE Dons, a Sunday league team based in south-east London, and the lack of pressure reminded him why he fell in love with football to begin with.
“I think the SE Dons spell, just me being back on the pitch playing, it just kind of brought me back to the feeling of ‘wow, this is how it feels to play’,” he explains.
“It was literally just carefree football, I was turning up on a Sunday and just enjoying myself.
“It was no restrictions, it’s just freedom. Basically just back to how you feel when you’re a kid playing football.
“So slowly but surely I just found my love back for the game, and thought to myself I believe in my talent enough that I can still push higher, so I wanted to play again full-time.”
A year on from leaving Barnsley, he’s back in the pyramid with National League South side Dulwich Hamlet, helping the London team launch a promotion push, and he’s enjoying his football in a way which didn’t seem possible 12 months ago.
Dulwich have a few players with league experience in their ranks this season: midfielder Michael Timlin has more than 300 league games under his belt for the likes of Swindon Town and Southend United, while forward Reise Alassani is back in south-east London after a spell with Coventry City in League One and midfielder James Dayton arrived from Leyton Orient over the summer.
The non-league side have also brought through players who have gone on to play top-level football, with Brentford and Jamaica centre-back Ethan Pinnock one of the more prominent examples.
Green’s case is different from most others, though. This is a man who was working night shifts at Waitrose and playing in the Southern League for Banbury United before moving to Bournemouth as a 20-year-old, while the Sunday league experience adds another layer to his career.
SE Dons aren’t the same as most Sunday league sides – there’s football league experience in the squad, with former Arsenal and Charlton youngster Zak Ansah also on board, and Green points to the quality and professionalism which saw them win their league last season.
“There’s two or three boys [at SE Dons] who have played at a higher level, but you find a lot of the time that in and around London there are boys that are just good at football, they never really got to a level but they can play,” he says.
“People would come to a game and say ‘that looked like a Saturday game’ – they don’t watch the games and think it’s a Sunday league game, it’s far from that, it doesn’t look anything like that at all.”
Green says he opted for Dulwich ahead of teams in the division above because he “wanted someone who believed in me,” and his performances this season point to a player who is enjoying his football.
After scoring in an impressive pre-season win against Brentford B while on trial with the club, he signed permanently in August and already had five goals to his name by the turn of the year.
He has been impressed by the quality in the squad, but not surprised, having played at all levels of the game. Indeed, he believes he has teammates with zero league experience who are already technically better than those who he has played with or against at higher levels.
“A lot of the time in football, a lot of boys have the same ability but it just comes down to mental state,” he says.
“It’s just about learning the game and stuff like that – it’s more the mental side. when they get that down they’ll be flying,”
He’s confident of promotion this season, saying “If we come together it’s definitely possible”. Dulwich have spent much of the season in the play-off places and are well on track to record their best campaign since coming up to the National League South in 2018.
Green’s main piece of advice to any non-league players with goals of playing higher is to look at others to have achieved it and recognise it’s always possible.
Whether it’s Green himself moving from Banbury to Bournemouth as a youngster or Wolves defender Max Kilman earning calls for England recognition three-and-a-half years after playing in the National League, there continues to be a route.
“There’s definitely a path,” he says.
“If you want it enough then it’s there for everyone, but in my head it’s about what you’re doing off the pitch, what you’re doing when no one is looking. That’s a massive part.
“It’s easier to do well when everything is set out for you and you have a professional club, but at this level it’s what you do when no one’s looking and you know you could be doing something else easily.”