FOR most Premier League teams the qualifying rounds of the Europa League are just an inconvenience.
The idea of being forced to bring an end to their holiday in Dubai earlier than expected and return to pre-season training in June is enough to bring a top-flight footballer out in a cold sweat.
But for players lower down the leagues, the chance to experience a glimpse into the life of a professional sportsman is worth a significant amount of sacrifice.
Take time off work? Leave your new wife? Give up precious moments with a young child?
Consider it done – and without a single hesitation.
Airbus player Lee Owens headed to Haugesund, Norway, on his second successive campaign of Europa League action.
Despite not being a full-time professional, the overseas trip meant leaving young daughter Lucille, who is less than four-months-old.
“It’s horrible leaving her,” explained the 28-year-old.
“It’s tough but I’d rather be doing it than not. I’m 28 and there isn’t long left in the tank! When I stop playing, then will be family time.”
Having an understanding partner is also a must for semi-professional footballers, especially Ian Kearney’s wife Michelle.
The Airbus captain scheduled his wedding and honeymoon for last month to make sure it was out of the way in time for the Europa League trip to Norway.
“I scheduled the wedding around football,” he said.
“Summer holidays are around football and the missus can go mad a little bit – but we have May and June to get everything in. It’s how it has always been and as long as she gets her two or three weeks away, she’s happy.”
Not content with juggling a marriage and football, Kearney has two jobs to work into his busy schedule.
“Chaos,” said the Ikea sales manager and gym owner.
“I’m the type who doesn’t want to let people down so first thing I did when I was back from my honeymoon was juggle my work rota around Europe.
“I’ve been away for three-and-a-half weeks and had to come to Norway for two days – so I had to work either side of it.”
While both Owens and Kearney control their work schedules to some degree, left-back Matty McGinn has been forced to go cap-in-hand to the man who pays his wages asking for time off.
An electrician on Chester-based soap Hollyoaks, McGinn can’t pick and choose the hours he works.
“It helps when the boss is a mate – so it wasn’t too bad. But normally you have to give a few weeks notice,” he said.
“Norway was all a bit at a drop-of-a-hat but it wasn’t a problem as the lads in work are made up I’m playing in the Europa League.”
On combining his job and football commitments, McGinn continued: “They are 12 hour days and can be quite demanding.
“The lads I work with are all great lads though so whenever it comes to time off for training or whatever, they always get me an early finish.
“Sometimes though I leave for work at 7.20am and then I just go straight from there to meet the lads and we head to training.
“If you've had a hard day, sometimes you just want to go home to bed. They are long days – but I enjoy it.”
McGinn has won the Conference North title in each of the last two years with Chester (2012/13) and AFC Telford (2013/14).
The chance for him to rub shoulders with professional footballers in the Conference Premier was there but work commitments meant the 31-year-old was forced to move on.
Instead of rueing his missed opportunities, McGinn said: “The Conference Premier is very demanding and it would take up a lot of your time.
“Maybe if I was in my early 20s I’d jump at the chance but I’m 31 now and my job is the priority.”
Striker Chris Budrys, scorer of Airbus’s first ever European goal, had perhaps the most difficult task when it came to getting the best part of a week off work.
As a PE teacher at Thistley Hough High School in Stoke, he was left thanking his supportive employers for granting him permission to head to Norway for Airbus’ big game last night.
“The school has been really supportive,” he said. “They are always asking how I get on.
“I’m quite lucky because some schools can be a bit harsh –so it’s great to have my school’s support.
“The kids can’t get time off – their parents would get fined – so it’s good to be working for such a good school.
“They understand just how big these kind of games are, how much I play football and how much I love football – so they are great.”
Full-time club Haugesund will have spent the week recovering from Sunday’s league defeat to Rosenborg and preparing for the visit of Airbus.
No such luxury for Budrys and his team mates.
The striker added: “I was working until 5pm on Tuesday, then had to train. I got back home at 11.30pm.
“I was then up at 5am to fly to Norway – so it has been hectic.”
Do any of them complain about the hand they’ve been dealt? No.
“I wouldn’t change it for anything,” said Owens, while McGinn said: “This is my first trip and I never thought I would be able to say ‘I’ve played in the Europa League’. I am made up to be able to put that on my CV.”
Skipper Kearney added: “I wouldn’t change anything because as soon as you get a night off or a day off, you start twiddling your thumbs.
“It is chaos and mad busy but that is my choice."
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