Inigo Calderon has a tale to tell. It is one of sacrifice, self-discipline, ambition, hard work and pride.In the summer of 2008, Calderon was 26 and a regular for his hometown club of Alaves in Spain, but instead of signing a new contract, he left to try his luck in English football.
Trouble was, he didn’t have a club to go to and not a single trial lined up. Arriving in early September, he left his family behind, stayed in downbeat hostels and kept himself fit any way he could.
It was while watching his friend Andrea Orlandi play for Swansea one day that his luck changed. Sat near to him was an English football agent Jeff Macklin, who had made the opposite journey to try and make it as a player in Spain. He recognised Calderon as the young player who had offered him help in Alaves and decided to return the favour.
Even so, it took Calderon another four months – and trials at Swansea, Gillingham and Norwich - before Brighton offered him a contract in January 2009.
While this tale may be largely unknown by football fans, it has inspired the long-term young unemployed in the Want to Work and the Get Ready To Work programmes run in Brighton to which Calderon contributes his time.
The 33-year-old draws on his own experiences in the talks he presents to jobseekers. Modestly, he says he does it for himself as much as for others.
“I like the Want to Work programme for selfish reasons,” says Calderon. “It’s a good opportunity for me in the future because in Spain there are also a lot of people trying to find a job.
“I was six months without a football team and I came here to England to find a job. I had to do the same things as these people do when they apply for a job.
“I came to the UK with nothing. Since I was a kid I wanted to come here because of the passion there is in English football. I had finished my contract in Spain and I thought it was the perfect moment to come here but it was really hard to get even a trial.
“I had to keep myself fit. No-one knew if I was running every day or not, so it was a personal fight with myself.
“That’s what I try to tell everybody on the Want to Work programme - that when you are trying to find a job, you have to do it every single day. As soon as you miss one day of your classes or of getting fit for the job, you are losing against yourself. It’s the game you have to play and it’s not easy.
“I can see myself in their position. They thought that a football career was too easy. But when you see that someone has been away from their family for six months in really, really bad hostels and wasting a lot of money - because you have to invest in yourself if you want to achieve something – they could feel a connection with me and I felt part of them at that moment.
“The preparation for getting a football contract is the same as trying to get a job. You have to do a good interview – or trial. You have to be motivated, have confidence in yourself and show that you are the special one they have to take. In football, you have to do that in every single game and every training session.
“I think the people on the programme can see how proud I am of what I have achieved – to still be at this club seven years on after going those six months without - when I am doing the presentation. Because it’s not like it fell down from the sky for me.”
Calderon’s commitment to the people of Brighton does not stop at the Want to Work programme, which is why he is a worthy recipient of the Sky Bet Football League Unsung Hero of the Month award for October.
He is a regular visitor to hospices in Sussex - he raised £2,500 for a local hospice last summer by completing a mini-triathlon – and he helps with the education of young professionals in Brighton’s academy.
“They have teachers here and I support them, but to be honest I’m the one who ends up asking a lot of questions in the lessons,” adds Calderon, a qualified teacher with a degree in Sports Science and a Masters in Sports Psychology.
“When you’re older you want to learn more than when you were a kid. You really want to know things and that’s the way you should study. But when you’re 16 you don’t care. You just want to pass exams and forget about how you have been learning.
“It shouldn’t be exceptional for players to study. I don’t know why in England you have to choose either to be a footballer or to study. I did both things in Spain. I went to university in the morning and trained in the afternoon. I don’t understand why it can’t be like that in England too because the chances of getting a professional contract are so small.
“It’s hard to go to the hospices but they give you such a good perspective on everything, especially if you are thinking you are unlucky because you have lost a game or because you are on the bench.
“You meet parents who know that their kids are going to die soon, but they are the happiest people in the whole building and that inspires you a lot. When my kids are older I would like to take them there because it’s a good life lesson.”
Because of his dedication, ‘Calde’ has become one of Sussex’s own during his seven seasons at the club. Gary Townsend, Chief Operating Officer of the Albion In The Community charity, endorses that view.
He said: “We’re lucky that a lot of players do a lot for us but Calde stands out. He does all kinds of things, from promotional work for the charity to stadium visits to help fans to lose weight. He turns up at awards ceremonies and quite uniquely he has also delivered Sports Psychology lectures to some of our BTech students.
“He is a great example of a player who wants to give something back to the community. He doesn’t just talk about it, he’s actually out there trying to make a difference. He’s a great role model and a perfect example to young players coming through.”
Humbled by the Unsung Hero award, Calderon doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. He sees using your status as a footballer to improve the lives of those in your local community is a given and would like to see the game’s global superstars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do more in that regard.
“I don’t consider myself as a hero at all. The real heroes in this story should be the top players because I think they have real power to change things.
“If they just said one day that you have to eat a red apple, then 80% of the kids in the world are going to start eating red apples. They could use their power to change things and to do things for the benefit of human beings, instead of just trying to get more and more money with advertising.
“I feel bad about it because I don’t have any power to change things. Maybe if I have a chat with 20 kids and one of them listens to me and changes something in his life to be a better person I am more than happy but these guys, Messi and Ronaldo, they could change the world if they want and they are not doing it. I feel they should do more.
“It doesn’t need to be in their contracts. At the end of the day, they are going to earn the same money. If they want to advertise underwear they can still get millions and millions but at the same time they could say something about peace, or they could tell kids: ‘Please listen to your parents’ or ‘Be good in school’, something simple like that, because society needs that now.
“For me the real heroes should be the ones who save lives, doctors who save the life of a child with cancer.
“Unfortunately the world is such that footballers are the heroes, so I think they should say: ‘Okay I am Messi and I want to change things and do something good for the world.’”