'You feel like you lose your identity': Paul Anderson on what it's like to be a free agent in the middle of a pandemic

It's one of those days I'll never forget, the noise and the feeling that goal gave me. We genuinely thought we were going to go on and do it.

Paul Anderson, former Ipswich Town player

It was one of the most famous Ipswich Town goals of recent years.

Trailing their big rivals Norwich City 1-0 in the first leg of the Championship play-off semi-final, the ball fell to Paul Anderson in the box.

Norwich's Martin Olsson stuck out a desperate leg to try and deny him, but Anderson couldn't miss. Cue pandemonium at Portman Road.

At that precise moment in time Anderson must have felt on top of the world, but five years on, he finds himself without a club.

Having just helped Northampton Town win promotion at Wembley in the League Two play-off final in June, a couple of days later Anderson was told he was surplus to requirements.

Paul Anderson scores for Ipswich Town against Norwich City in 2015. Credit: PA

"You go from the elation of playing at Wembley, winning at Wembley, getting promoted, to two days later actually not having a job,' Anderson told ITV News Anglia.

"You feel like you lose your identity a little bit and purpose. It's a bit of a rollercoaster that you think 'Oh, there's an option here for me' and then they close the door on you."

Paul's situation is far from unique.

According to the Professional Footballers' Association, 863 players were released as free agents at the end of last season.

That number in itself isn't unusual, but with lower league clubs in particular facing incredible financial challenges because of the pandemic, there's far fewer openings available.

  • Watch an extended interview with Paul Anderson

With squad sizes getting smaller and clubs reluctant to stretch themselves in the transfer market, it means players without contracts are finding it increasingly difficult to get back in.

"My advice for any player that hasn't got a contract at the moment, if they do manage to get offered one, would be to take it," agent Dougie Keen said.

"I think it's that grave a situation out there. I think that if you get an opportunity to carry on doing something that you love and enjoy, and you get offered a contract, my advice to any player would be to take that."

Paul Anderson with the League Two play-off final trophy at Wembley in June. Credit: Paul Anderson/Twitter

As for Paul, he's keeping himself mentally and physically sharp for when the right opportunity does eventually come up.

Aside from running drills and ball work, he's also been helping his dad Phil who runs a fencing company in the Midlands.

"I've been working with a friend of mine and my dad who've got a fencing business," said Anderson.

"It's physically draining, quite hard work, so I'm using that as a bit of training and also giving them a bit of a helping hand when they're having to dig holes and put fences up around fields."

Paul Anderson talks to ITV News Anglia's Andy Ward. Credit: ITV News Anglia

However, it's football that remains Paul's true love and he's not prepared to give it up just yet.

At the age of just 32, and having made nearly 400 senior appearances, he still feels like he's got plenty to offer.

"It feels like it's sort of getting to that time where I'm going to have to start working towards something else, and I don't want to give football up and this moment in time," he said.

"So, I'll keep working, I'll keep positive and when the right thing comes up, I'll take that chance and I can go and prove a few people wrong."