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Where are they now? Brentford Youth team – Class of 2007

What happens when you are released as an 18-year-old and feel like your world has ended?

I’ve always been fascinated by the different journeys people go on after being dedicated to playing football for so long. The two years that are spent as a youth team player are often the best two years of your life. You leave school and it’s your first real taste of independence and a big couple of years in adulthood. For us we were now living our dream and were now being paid to play full-time football (Even if it was a minimal amount). I absolutely loved it. Back then it was brutal at times and a tough environment, but the bond you share with your fellow teammates is nothing like I have ever witnessed before. Two of the players were best men at my wedding and I had over ten of them with me on the day. We still have a Christmas get together after all these years and made memories in those two years together to last a lifetime.

I used to be incredibly narrow minded and only saw success as becoming a professional footballer. I look at some of these lads now and what they have gone on to achieve in other fields and feel incredibly proud. Youth team players all over the country will have their decisions soon and I just wanted to show them that success can come in so many different forms. Just because you may not make it as a professional and feel like your world has ended, doesn’t mean you cannot bounce back, whether that is in or out of football. During this blog I am going to show some of the journeys my ex-teammates went on and what they are up to now, I’m sure a few of them will surprise you!

Brentford FC Youth Team 2007-2009

*Images may appear slightly distorted when viewing on a mobile device

Robin Nicholls – Assistant Academy Manager at Southampton FC (@RobinNicholls)

After being released aged 18, Robin decided to leave home and was accepted to Bath University where he studied for a sports performance degree. Whilst at Bath, Robin continued to play football for Weymouth in the national league south. He also played for the University and maintained training full time. During his time at Bath he was also named ‘Head of sports recruitment’ where he would visit professional clubs and encourage players being released to apply for the University. After three years he graduated with a first class honours degree. He then faced a tough decision at the end of the three years. His performances in non-league had been spotted by league one club Bristol Rovers, but Robin had applied to continue his education in the USA on a scholarship in San Antonio and chose to persue the latter. He flew to Texas and studied for a degree in sports management and also played for the University soccer team, where he helped them reach a top 5 ranking across the USA. After completing his masters degree Robin was asked to become assistant manager of the mens soccer team. He was also playing in the third tier of American soccer with Corinthians FC. After returning to the UK, he began working in a restaurant whilst looking for the right opportunity, which soon came when Southampton FC recognised his credentials. Having been at Southampton for three years, he has progressed to assistant academy manager and is set for a big future. He is also still playing at a good level with AFC Totton. Robin is one of the most intelligent, dedicated people i know and someone i always go to for advice. A great friend as well as a great player, he has had some incredible life experiences after being released from Brentford. (middle row, far right)

Stephen Hendry – International Model & Business owner (@whoiselijah)

Stephen James as he is now known to most people, was released as an 18 year old by Brentford. After being released he had spells playing football abroad in Cyprus and Greece before being scouted by a modelling agency whilst in Barcelona. With over 2.4 million followers on Instagram and best known for his tattoos, he is now one of the most famous male models on the planet. Has modeled for Calvin Klein, Diesel, GQ amongst others. He also owns a barber & tattoo shop called ‘Elijah’ in Barcelona. Was a very talented winger with plenty of flair in our youth team and looked at one stage a player that would break through and go on to have a professional career. A Scotland U’18 international but struggled with injuries. Wasn’t afraid of being different and always did his own thing. Once remember him being sent home by first team manager Terry Butcher for wearing an Argentina shirt with Maradonna on the back… Terry Butcher was in the England side on the receiving end of the famous ‘hand of God’ incident. (Middle row, far left)

Thomas Duffy – Business owner (@Greenblades)

After being released aged 18, Tom went travelling and spent time in Africa and Asia. On his return to England he returned to Brentford and became assistant kit man, after having a brilliant relationship with kit man Dave Carter, who is sadly no longer with us. Tom carried on playing football for Kingstonion and most notably Hanwell Town where he also began working as a groundsman. After completing his level 3 in turf management he set up his own business, before taking a job as groundsman for Arsenal FC. Tom left Arsenal in 2017 to focus on his own business and now runs a successful company called GreenBlades. Still a very close friend of mine and my centre back partner in the youth team. (Bottom row, far left)

Lewis Ferrell – Semi-Professional footballer & Business owner (@ThinkSportLTD)

Signed a one-year professional contract with Brentford before being released aged 19. After this he carried on playing full time football with Hayes & Yeading United in the National League and then on to a successful non league career with the likes of Staines Town, Hampton & Richmond, Farnborough and currently Biggleswade Town. In 2015 he set up a sports coaching business called Think Sport in Hertfordshire & Bedfordshire. Now has a team of over 14 members of staff working in 16 primary schools. Also runs a grassroots football club which has created a pathway for players to join academy football. Signed as a right back from Stevenage and became a massive part of the group. He was Best man at my wedding, which says a lot about the bond we made during those youth team days. (Middle row, third from left)

Lloyd Anderson – Semi professional footballer & London Underground Authorised Person

Lloyd made his debut for Brentford whilst still a 17 year old as a substitute in a televised FA Cup game. Despite being in numerous squads as a youth team player, he wasn’t offered a professional contract and was released. After Brentford Lloyd continued playing in non-league for Dagenham & Redbridge, Bromley, Aveley and most recently Grays Athletic and began working as a painter & decorator (Which he said he hated every minute of). After a year of this Lloyd began working on the London Underground and has done numerous courses to become qualified to be a senior member of the London Underground staff and an authorised person. Lloyd was our number one and the hero in our youth cup run, when he scored and then saved a penalty in a sudden death shoot-out. In my opinion deserved a professional contract after making his first team debut at such a young age. Big, commanding keeper and another player who has become a top friend over the years. (Middle row, fourth from right)

Charlie Allen – Semi-Professional footballer & Account Lead (@CharlieAllen)

Charlie was released aged 18 and dropped into non-league football with Dagenham & Redbridge and Billericay Town before bouncing back and becoming a professional for Notts County. After spending a season at Notts County, he joined Gillingham, where he won the league 2 title. After two seasons with Gillingham he dropped back into non league with Margate and began to explore other interests. He began modelling for sports brands and also exploring travelling. He took a break from football and has worked at a Skiing resort as well as Ocean beach club in Ibiza (which came in handy on my stag do). Now back in England and playing semi-professionally for Cray Wanderers, he works as an account lead for recruitment firm Spencer Ogden. Charlie loved a tackle and was a very outgoing lad. Bounced back really well in football after being released and also explored lots of different avenues. (Bottom row, third from right)

Bilal Butt – England 6-aside international & business owner (@KB.Academy)

After being released aged 18 Bilal fell out of love with football and wanted to take time out. After a while he decided to get back involved in football but didn’t find non league 11 aside football enjoyable, so he began to play a lot of 5-aside football with friends and fell back in love with the game. After playing in local tournaments he was spotted and asked to represent England. He has gone on to represent the country in tournaments all around the world including Dubai, Brazil and South Africa. Now runs his own football academy in west London and has built the business up over the last three years. Bilal was extremely laid back but was a very good player. Technically very good and did a lot that other centre backs couldn’t do which suits him in small sided games. (Bottom row, second from right)

Ricky Valentine – TV Producer (@RickyValentine)

Having been at Brentford since the age of 11, Ricky was a player Brentford highlighted as a standout at a young age and a potential first team player. During a tackle aged 16 Ricky suffered a horrific injury when he tore has cartilage in his knee. Despite this he had shown enough in his previous years to be offered a scholarship. Having started being injured he came back to full fitness but it was another bad tackle and the injury reoccurred. Having been massively unlucky he was released at 18 and had a realisation that his future may not be in football. After leaving Brentford Ricky became a ‘runner’ at the BBC. He had seen a lot of people struggle in the job and he was starting at the bottom but felt his grounding in football made him capable of dealing with tough environments and big bosses. Ricky progressed quickly and became a researcher, assistant producer, DV director and has now been promoted to producer director where he also operates cameras. Ricky has worked in the TV industry for 10 years now on shows such as X-factor, Dancing on ice and the Late Late show with James Corden, to name a few. Ricky was a massive talent but one of the unluckiest players with injury i have seen. A real good centre back and another who is still a very good friend of mine.(Bottom row, third from left)

Lewis Ochoa – Personal Trainer & Disability Carer

Made his professional debut for Brentford aged 17 but was released within 6 months of this, still aged 17. After spending time at Wycombe Wanderers he went into non-league football with Maidenhead United. Lewis became a personal trainer aged 19 and went on to have spells with Harrow Borough and Hanwell Town before moving to Australia to play at state level with Altona City. Still residing in Australia he works at a disability care home as well as an instructor at F45 boot camps in Melbourne. Lewis was joint best man at my wedding and we have been best mates since we met aged 15. I can honestly say he was the best player we had and should have gone on to have a long career in the professional game. A central midfielder who was technically very gifted. Still hard to work out how he was released so young after making his debut for the club aged 17, but definitely would have benefited from having an U’23 set up and time to develop. (Top row, far left)

Adam Bernard – Singer/Actor (@AdamJBernard)

Adam was slightly older than our group but was kept on as a third year scholar. Released by the club just after turning 18, he then went into non league football with the likes of Maidenhead United and Marlow Town. Adam had a second passion which was performing arts. He studied drama, starred on the x-factor and appeared on TV show ‘Doctors’ before becoming a star in the west end. Won a Laurence Olivier Award for best supporting actor for his performance in Dreamgirls. A right winger in his youth team days. He Was always forced by players and staff to stand up in front of the group and show off his singing voice, no matter how reluctant he would be. (Absent for team photo)

Tom Davis – Recruitment Consultant (@TomDavis)

Came to the club from Stevenage but left Brentford as an 18 year old. Tom had spells in non-league with Hitchin Town, Potters Bar and Harlow Town but became frustrated at a lack of playing time being a young player in non-league and began work in retail. After retail Tom went on to become a bar manager and then a plumber. (Its a running joke that he changes career like the weather) Tom is now a successful recruitment officer working in London. A top striker at youth level at Brentford and is to this day one of my best friends. Was only at the club for one season but the boys absolutely loved him when he signed and was a big part in our youth cup success that season. (Middle row, third from right)

George Davis – Transport Manager

George was another who fell out of love with the game after failing to earn a professional contract at Brentford. His time at the club was hampered by injury and he stopped playing after being released. He began earning a living soon after in the waste industry and worked for Westminster Council. After 5 years without touching a football, he joined Hanwell Town, where a number of ex Brentford youth team players were playing their football. The club went on to win the Spartan South Premier league in 2014. George left Hanwell Town on a high and is now transport manager for a skip company. George was a technical midfielder who was signed by Brentford after being released by Watford. Was one of the stars of pre-season when he featured regularly for the first team but struggled with injury after that. One of the funniest lads we had in the team and a real good friend. (Middle row, second from the left)

Ryan Blake – Carpenter & working in the family business as a fencer

A northern Ireland U’21 international and signed a professional contract with Brentford aged 17 and made his league debut as an 18 year old. Was loaned out to Woking and Ebbsfleet in non-league before being released aged 20. He then signed a permanent deal with Ebbsfleet in the National league. After spells at Chertsey Town and Kingstonion, he fell out of love with football and says years of expectation and pressure had taken its toll. Now wanted to focus on his next stage in life, he completed a course in carpentry and is now working in his dads business where he is a fencer. Someone i still speak to and a great lad. A Brentford fan which made it even better for him when he made his debut in league 1 for the club. Very good left back and could run all day. (Middle row, fourth from left)

Darren Sarll – Yeovil Town Manager (@DarrenSarll)

Unbelievably he was only 25 years old when he became our youth team manager during the second year of our scholarship. After three years at Brentford he went on to head up the academy at Rotherham United before being named Head of youth at Stevenage. After being promoted to first team coach, Darren took over as caretaker manager before being named permanent first team manager in 2016. After saving the club from relegation, he took Stevenage to finishing 2 points outside of the playoffs in the following season before leaving the club in 2018. After going back into the academy set up at Watford, he became manager of Yeovil Town in 2019. A tough task master but one of the best coaches i worked with. As a team we had our fair share of tough days and plenty of highs and lows in that period but I feel a lot of the boys would have benefited from the club having an U’23 set up and being coached by him for another couple of years. Times were different then and if you weren’t ready to step in to the first team aged 18, you were let go. Personally did a lot for me during my playing days and we ended up working together again at Stevenage almost 10 years after those youth team days. (Bottom row, Middle)

The main purpose of this was to show young lads that success comes in lots of different forms. There are a million different pathways for players young and old and i wanted to highlight some of the different routes that my group took. All of these lads would have gone through tough times and would be willing to share any advice or tips to what has helped them over the years. I think its important for players to see evidence of life after football and the transferable skills you have as footballers that can be used in other industries. The best thing for me is that we have managed to stay such a close group after all these years and although not everyone went on to have a professional career, football brought us all together.

Thank you for reading.

Fraser Franks

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Retirement or rebirth? Don’t let football trap you.

Retirement or rebirth? It all depends how you choose to frame it. My biggest bit of advice to current players is don’t let the game of football trap you. We all get told to ‘stick to what you know’ ‘stick to what you are good at’. Anyone that is reading this that is a current professional footballer is clearly good at football. Nobody makes it to a professional level without being good. Simple.

But far too many feel an obligation to stay in football beyond retirement. I was one of these for sure, but it all comes down to our beliefs and the way things have always been done. My attitude to retirement was that it was negative. That I’d never find a ‘job’ that I loved like that. That I’d never be able to earn the same money. That it was all downhill from there. That I’d have to get into ‘the real world’. But what if you completely reframe retirement?

Instead of retirement, it’s a rebirth. A chance to create a completely new life for yourself. One where you can earn more money than when you played. One where you can gain more freedom, more enjoyment, a new purpose, you can travel, explore, and not worry about when the next contract is coming and where you’ll be moving the family. There is nothing I’m selling or promoting here, but these things do exist. I just had no idea when I played because my whole world was football.

So many of us fall into the same trap. Fearing getting older. Fearing the end of our careers. We’ll go and do our UEFA B License even though most of us don’t want to become coaches. We’ll look into becoming an agent or a scout and we’ll limit all of our options into football. There is nothing wrong with that. I still do a lot of work within football. But the world is so much bigger than the EFL… we forget that when we are so consumed.

It’s all we’ve ever known, so we feel we can’t step outside of that. We didn’t go to university or gain qualifications like a lot of our friends outside football. We worry about being ‘forgotten’ in the football world. I’ll be brutally honest, some of the most unhappy people I have ever come across are football coaches. Not all of them, there are some brilliant coaches that are great people. But there are so many that are deeply unhappy. They constantly live in fear of losing their jobs and relocating their family. A lot of these coaches are former players that never resolved some of the traumas in their own careers. They most likely panicked at the end of their career and felt they had to go into coaching because there was nothing else, they were really qualified to do. They project their fears and insecurities onto players. How many coaches have completely forgotten the feelings they had as a player? Shouting and screaming on the touchline, belittling players, treating them poorly… most of these coaches had this done to them as players and they are simply repeating the cycle. A lot don’t know how to deal with their own emotions, let alone a player they are coaching. SO many are under so much stress and fear that they look for external ways to escape. Alcohol and gambling are prime examples. I have suffered my own battle with alcoholism and see it in so many.

I was made to feel so guilty by people within the game for not becoming a coach. I did my UEFA B License at the age of 25 and felt that was what I’d do after football. Upon retirement people said ‘you’ve got to be a coach’ ‘You’ve got to stay in the game’. Truth is, being on the grass putting out cones was the last place I wanted to be. At that point in time though, I’d have taken absolute peanuts in any coaching role, just to feel a bit secure for the future. That’s how most people feel and how so many fall back into roles at football clubs.

There weren’t many players I came across that loved football as much as me. I was obsessed. I was so narrow minded though, that I rarely paid attention to anything else. I played, watched, listened, and read football. I didn’t take much interest in any other walks of life. I wouldn’t have had a clue the opportunities that were out there, the money that could be made and the experiences that could be had in other walks of life.

My advice to footballers is start looking outside of football. Don’t fall into the trap of bobbling along for the rest of your life after retirement in a coaching role that doesn’t pay well, where you never feel secure, where your heart isn’t really in it, but you feel you have no other choice. There is so much more out there, and these businesses and industries are desperate for ex athletes. They know that you’ve overcome failure, fears, competition on a daily basis for years. That you are resilient , disciplined and have an elite mindset. So many people take jobs within football clubs because of their ego. It feels nice to be attached to a famous football club. But I’ve met some of these staff members that work in first teams and academies, that work every hour under the sun, that don’t spend time with family, that don’t get paid as much as they should and that are made to feel like they should be grateful for having a job in football.

I still love the game and work within the game. But it isn’t my everything. Start looking to create a different identity. I never wanted to be that 50-year-old bloke that still went on about his average football career as if it was the most interesting thing about him still. I see so many of these people. Constantly posting about the glory days. They still try and cling on to that ego which is the worst thing! I’ve been at games and been introduced to people and they genuinely take offense if you don’t recognise them for being a footballer in the championship 20 years ago. The world is much bigger than your own!

We all love football, and we can all still be a part of it. If you love coaching, become a coach. If there is another element of the game you have a huge passion for, go for it. But if you are doing it out of fear and worry about stepping away from the game, start exploring the wider world. We are all consumed and in a bubble, but the world is bloody massive and full of opportunity. Listen to podcasts, read books, speak to as many people as you can from all types of backgrounds, learn about yourself, write down your core values and align your behaviors with them, go to events, put your ego to the side and enjoy the rest of your footballing career. Start to picture retirement as a rebirth. You will likely be in your 30’s and still so young. Football ages people like nothing else. You are seen as ancient if you are 35 but in any other walk of life you are a young pup still.

When you do retire, don’t fall into the trap of being sloppy. Keep training, keep eating well, keep in shape, keep yourself young. It’s all too easy to believe in what society tells us. That it’s all downhill, that you’ll get fat, that you’ll have less energy… Bollocks.

I’m in better shape physically and mentally than I ever was when I played. I’ve spoken to ex-players that are earning 10x what they did when they played in league 2. Some that are travelling, that have businesses, that have freedom. Life isn’t downhill in retirement; it can be even better in so many ways. Just start becoming curious and make your own mind up. Don’t let the trap of believing you are only a footballer define you. You are so much more than that. Use every last drop of knowledge and experience that you can gain from football, but don’t discount the other areas of the world where you can apply all of those experiences. All those battles and struggles you go through on a daily basis are absolute gold dust. Embrace them.

Thank you

Fraser Franks

Academy football in the media

I’ve wanted to write this for some time but have always refrained, but continuously see stories in the press about academy football and how players are used as commodities, are mistreated and left on the scrapheap after being in an academy system. There are lots of statistics out there and I saw another today that prompted this, stating that 97% of players never make the grade and to become Premier League players, and many others never going on to play any kind of professional football. The reality is football is the most played sport in the world and the Premier League is (at present) the best league in the world by quite some distance. There is a clear and harsh reality that not everyone will get to fulfil that ambition of becoming a Premier League footballer. One of the first things to say is that this needs to be laid on as clear as possible to any parent when they sign their papers up for their son to join an academy. Your son has not made it by signing for an under 9 team. They are a million miles away from becoming a first team player. They may wear the same kit, but it does not make them a Premier League footballer. Let the kid dream and let them give it absolutely everything they’ve got, but also be realistic and keep them grounded. Look at it this way; your child is getting top coaching, at great facilities, he’s off the streets, he’s being active, he’s mixing with friends, he’s developing character, he’s competing, learning, and all of this is for free. If he wasn’t at an academy, you would probably be paying for all of this. Don’t look at it as he’s going to be a first team player at that club, but instead on the journey. Then if he is good enough, he will find his level and possibly even develop a professional career for himself at some level. If he isn’t and things don’t go the way he had hoped it will be tough, he will have to become resilient, he will need support, but he will have so many valuable life experiences and unbelievable learning that he wouldn’t have got anywhere else. One thing I would change about the academy system is the age that young players are taken out of school at. I don’t believe a 12 year old boy should be leaving his school and almost becoming a mini professional. They may get extra training and top education privately, but I worry about what it does mentally.

It’s a tough and brutal industry and I know things haven’t been perfect by any means. I know lots of players that have been let go and never thought about again. Players that have had a hard time, players that were released too soon and players that feel like their world has ended. There have been members of staff that have been bullies and plenty that have had zero emotional intelligence. But I have also seen some of the unbelievable work that takes place at academies and how well these boys are supported on and off the field and after they leave a club. There aren’t many other industries or sports that offer that same level. I see a lot of ex-players talk that in the media or on social media have no idea of the changes that have been made over the last 20 years. They have been out of the game for a number of years and haven’t seen the changes.

One thing that does really annoy me though, is the lack of accountability some people have. Players and parents that blame the rest of the world for their son not becoming a professional footballer. One former player in particular that I actually played with at one point has been very vocal in the media speaking of his mistreatment. This lad was lazy, had a poor attitude, didn’t want to listen, thought he had already made it, and was released by a Premier League club in his late teens. He has since come out and blamed everybody but himself. For some that’s the easier option. To tell themselves this story and make excuses instead of facing up to the truth.

I was released by Chelsea after spending 7 years in the academy. I was never the best player, never going to become a first team player, but I worked my nuts off, tried to learn as much as possible and get as far as I could. When I was released, the club arranged a trial for me at another club but I was unsuccessful. I then took ownership and sent letters out to every single academy in the country and tried to get a trial. My mum phoned a friend who’s son played for Brentford and asked him to speak to the manager. I managed to get a trial and ended up going on to sign a professional contract there. Other lads that got released sat at home waiting for the phone to ring. Their ego got in the way. They thought asking for a trial at a League 1 club was beneath them. The parents had this ego as well. Many of these lads were much better players than I was, but ended up blaming the coaches and the club for everything that happened after that. They blamed their future behaviour on the club for releasing them. I have since seen players that were disruptive, lazy and disrespectful whilst at a football club, come out and blame the football club for not offering them enough help. Newspapers and social media pile on and support this narrative. When you read these articles about ex academy players just be mindful that it isn’t always the full story. I’m never judgemental with these stories. I’m empathetic to the journey and how hard it can be. But when you know people personally that are portraying a very different narrative in the press, it is difficult to keep accepting.

I agree that lots have had it tough over the years, coach education needs continuous improving and more can always be done, but academies can be great places. Football clubs will want to help good people. I was released by Chelsea over 15 years ago. I built great relationships with members of staff there and always gave my best whilst I was at the club. There are people at the club that I am still in contact with at the club now. They have also introduced me to new members of staff. A lot of staff members at the club are players that were released as academy players. In 2019 when I retired, I was invited back into the training ground. I was sent of courses free of charge, allowed to shadow members of staff and learn from some top people, I was introduced to people in other industries, and the club sent an U23 team to play against my former club Newport County in a testimonial match for me to help my family through a difficult period. Chelsea never once publicised this or shouted it from the rooftops. Clubs get tarnished with the same brush and deemed nothing more than a place that chews up and spits out young boys. But there are lots of stories that people don’t see.

I just wanted to post this as I continuously see headlines and articles about academy football and professional football that are one sided and uninformed. The whole world knows how tough it is to become a Premier League footballer. It is the dream of most young children. It is difficult when if feels like that dream is taken away. It has been difficult for me not having football anymore. But those experiences I wouldn’t change for the world. It has taught me so many lessons that I can take with me for life.

Fraser Franks

Money In Football: Keeping Up Appearances

This is an area I have been meaning to write about for a long time and it is also a very taboo subject in football, in particular the level that I played at. I saw a tweet this week from Rob Swaine, a non-league footballer who I had played against over the years, saying that for the last 3 years he had been driving around in a big expensive car and had the biggest relief when he got rid of it yesterday. I was going to write a tweet and reply but there are so many areas that I wanted to touch on, that I thought I would write it in a blog.

For some reason in society, and particularly in football, we have to be seen to keep up with the rest of the crowd and to try to prove how well we are doing by buying materialistic things that we can barely afford (in some cases can’t afford). You’ve got to try and prove to friends, or on social media, that you are doing well by upholding this typical footballer lifestyle which includes the flash car, the expensive watch, the designer clothes, the £500 trainers and the holidays to Marbella and Dubai. I don’t want to sound like a moaning ex footballer or by any means want to tell people how to spend their money, but I did just want to give some advice to people based on my experiences, particularly during these uncertain times when football and the rest of the world is in a place it has never been before. 

Cars

I signed my first professional contract at the age of 18 for Brentford, in League One. I went into that office and was told the best news of my life at that time, that I was going to become a professional. I was called in to see the gaffer and I was alone and had no agent at the time and was offered a non-negotiable £150 per week in 2009, I absolutely jumped at the chance. All of my mates outside of football assumed I was on massive money now I was a professional and I let them believe it and probably tried to pretend I was at times on the occasional night out.

Money had never been a motivation for me at that young age though. I was living at home and had little outgoings apart from my phone bill and my little Volkswagen Polo. That car was my first taste of independence and I absolutely loved it, within a couple of years I had paid it off and my insurance was going down every year. It had nothing fancy and a dent in the side, but that car took me everywhere over the years. I kept that car until the age of 23, I had been at AFC Wimbledon and then dropped into non-league with Welling United but I had now been bought by Luton Town and I was on the most money I had been on in my career, by a considerable amount.

I signed for Luton Town and they had some big personalities and were paying experienced players big money for the level. That came with a few egos and on my first day I honestly remember a player saying ‘You’re gonna have to get rid of that now you are at a proper club’. I laughed along but I did actually feel a little bit inferior to some of the other lads and was a little bit embarrassed about my little polo. I had come through non-league and some of these lads had played at the highest level earlier in their careers and I felt like I needed to be taken a bit more seriously. I decided to get a brand-new Mercedes on finance and felt like the man… for about 2 weeks.

It was an expensive car and I could barely afford it with all of my other outgoings. The only way I could afford it was by agreeing to only do around 8,000 miles a year. I had started to date my now wife, who lived in Blackpool… so those miles were done within about 3 months! 

I was never advised on money by anyone in football, whether it was coaches, managers, agents and it just seemed like a subject that is unspoken in football. The fact is 99% of players try to act as if they are on more money than they are! 

But having this car became such a weight on my shoulders and I started to realise that I had got myself into a deal that I couldn’t get out of and that I was going to lose a lot of money. I was constantly worried about how many miles I was doing, I was spending a lot of money every month in payments and I didn’t even enjoy driving it. I had never been interested in cars and the only reason I got it was purely to keep up with team mates, look impressive and just do what all the other footballers did. I had moved to Stevenage a couple of years after having the car and was now on less money than I had been which made it even harder. The day I managed to get rid of that car was such a relief and even though I’d lost money on it, I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. I have seen first hand a former Premier League player who had entered into a car agreement with huge monthly payments, and was now playing in League 2, have his car repossessed at the training ground. He was still trying to live this lavish lifestyle and no longer had the same income and was paying the price.

I came through the academy at Chelsea. One of my ex teammates had a Range Rover as his first car at the age of 18. As well as paying a silly amount for the car he was paying over £7,000 a year on car insurance. He is now in the Football League and massively regrets some of his decisions and how much money he wasted as a young player.

The older I got and more comfortable I was in my own skin, I did not care what people thought, particularly teammates. I was at Stevenage and I can still remember everyone laughing in the car park when I turned up in a Fiat 500, but I did not care one bit. After a couple of weeks and after I had explained how much I was paying for it, I had people asking me where they could get one. 

As I said, these things often come with experience and during my time at Stevenage I became one of the more established players and I didn’t feel the need to have to impress young players or my mates with materialistic things. The club captain at Stevenage drove an old Ford Fiesta and the top earner at the club drove a Ford Focus. They’d got to the stage in their life where they had families and more important things to spend their money on. It’s a short career and hopefully most people have a realisation of that and start to see that you don’t need to waste money on luxuries all the time. If you’ve got the money and you can be certain you will carry on earning that for years to come, then it’s a lovely position and go ahead, but I would urge anyone who isn’t in such a privileged and secure position to think twice about buying a fancy car just for status and to look as if you are doing well.

Credit Cards

Credit cards is an area that I can really relate to. I was in my early 20’s at Luton Town, when I was told that my chances for a mortgage would increase if I was to apply for a credit card. Most footballers typically rent for the majority of their career due to the uncertainty of where you will be located and the majority of times you are on a short contract. I applied for the credit card without any knowledge or understanding and stated my wage and my occupation and couldn’t believe it when a card was posted to me with an interest free balance of £15,000. I come from a family with not much money and grew up on a council estate. I had no advice on what do with money from anyone in or out of football, whether that was an agent or member of staff at the club, nothing. 

I received that credit card and immediately thought that I could do things that I had never really been able to and simply pay it back over the coming months. I went on holidays, I treated some of my family and friends, went on nights out and also shortly after met my girlfriend, who would later become my wife. I met her and initially tried to give it the biggun! I would try to take her out to fancy restaurants, nice hotels, buy her gifts and again just think that I would pay it back slowly but surely and it would be no problem. At this time there was no internet banking, I didn’t check my balance and was completely oblivious to how much I was spending. My wife, like me, comes from a really humble background and often just wanted to stay home. But it would be me that would be trying to impress and take her out. I remember I was at Luton and not really in the side and unhappy there and going out with her to nice places was often my escape. After a while I got a letter through the door saying that I had spent over £12,000 of the balance and was due to start paying interest soon. I had a massive sinking feeling and a realisation that I’d been living beyond my means and spending more than I was earning. It caused me sleepless nights and so much anxiety and I had got to an age where I was a lot more mature and realised that all of these materialistic things meant nothing to me. It did affect my football at times and I’d be even more devastated if I was on the bench for a game because it meant I wouldn’t be earning my appearance fee or win bonus, which was all money I needed to repay my debt. It took me until nearly the end of my career to slowly but surely clear that debt and it was the biggest relief when I did manage to. Any extra money that I was making in bonuses was going straight towards paying for my mistakes as a young lad rather than being saved for the future. I know first hand that a lot of players were in a lot more debt than I was and I felt I was lucky that I learned my lesson quickly. 

My biggest frustration is when I see lads who I know full well are up to their eyeballs in debt but cannot help themselves when it comes to trying to impress and keep up the act that they must live the footballer lifestyle. I know a player who could not get accepted as a tenant for a flat due to how poor his credit rating was and how much debt he was in, so he had to have a member of staff at the football club do it in their name. But this player would still turn up to training in a Range Rover and would always have the most expensive designer clothes and trainers on, be spending fortunes on nights out and going away to Dubai in the summer. From the outside he looked like he was very comfortable and had a load of money but in reality he was struggling more than anyone.

All of these things often come with experience and maturity but I just feel the subject needs to be spoken about more and the earlier the better.

Clothes, Holidays and nights out

Talking of designer clothes and trips to Dubai… another big bug bear of mine!

I have absolutely no problem and again I have been guilty of some of these things myself in my youth, so I completely understand it. But continuously I see players, especially in the lower leagues or in an u23 set up buying £500+ Balenciaga trainers, Givenchy T shirts, ‘Off white’ I think is the latest trend… (I’m getting old) but some of these lads are on £250 a week. I know full well some have little outgoings, but I’ve also seen lads who are renting flats or living in digs and cannot afford to buy a decent dinner at night and would take home leftover food from training so they could save money but then would turn up to training in a £500 pair of trainers!

Holidays and nights out are again things I have been part of. Trips to Marbella when I was paying £20 for a bottle of beer when I was on £300 a week, just so I could do what the other footballers do. Don’t get me wrong I’ve got some unbelievable memories from some of these days but I ended up paying for these holidays over a course of years, just to be seen as living like a footballer. I much preferred my £150 all in trip to Malia in 2008.

Nights out are a big part of football, again particularly in the lower leagues. It’s great for camaraderie and although I’m massive on players being professional and doing the right things, there is a time and a place where It is needed and is good for the team.

These nights out will always consist of the word ‘Table’. For those that don’t know, the infamous table is usually a tiny little table in a VIP area of the club, where you have about 12 lads paying 10 times over the odds for a few sips of Vodka. Again, I’m not saying I haven’t been a Greygoose W***** on multiple occasions over the years, and I’ve loved a lot of these nights out as my ex teammates will know. My issue comes with players who do this on an almost weekly basis and again live beyond their means to try and look impressive to people they don’t even know. These are the nights where all the designer gear comes out, people who couldn’t afford to pay a £5 fine in training suddenly have the money to pay for a £200 bottle of vodka and again it’s all to keep up this image of being a footballer and being seen to earn more money than you actually do. You do often have to go through some of these experiences to come out the other side differently but some players do not grow out of this which is why I feel as though it can be seen as a laugh and enjoying yourself but doing it on a regular basis will have an impact on your football as well as your bank balance. 

U23 players

My biggest worry with the way football has gone over the past 5-6 years is the u23 system at big clubs. I think it can be great and it is something I think would have benefitted me in my teenage years. It allows a little bit more time for extra development and a chance for some of the late bloomers to improve. The biggest issue I feel is, through no fault of their own, they are often put on big contracts and earn sums of money which often doesn’t reflect their ability. Don’t get me wrong some of the players will go on and become Premier League stars, but the vast majority will filter down the leagues and often into non-league. Some of these lads will become League 2 players but would have been earning double or even triple the amount that they would get in League 2 and at an age where they haven’t fully matured. They are all of us sudden on £5,000 a week, get used to earning that kind of money and would have spending habits that go along with it and a sudden new lifestyle to uphold. 

I have seen some unbelievable young people and players come through the u23 system and since retiring have seen some of the incredible work that goes on behind the scenes at that level but a lot of the time some players aren’t willing to take advice on board until it’s too late. In a lot of cases these lads would come on loan to a League 2 club and would be the negative stereotypical u23 Premier League player. They would turn up in a big 4×4, Gucci on from head to toe, washbag under the arm and massive ego to go with it. The lads that I have seen turn up with this attitude more often than not don’t have the ability to back this up. They come in and struggle to adjust to the level, stroll around in training and walk around the training ground turning their nose up because the facilities aren’t what they are used to. This happens so often and everyone in the lower leagues would have come across at least one of these players, but these players are usually let go by the u23 team after a couple of years and then are suddenly thrown into the real world. They are no longer on big money and have cars to pay for as well as trying to keep up this Premier League lifestyle to put on a front to the rest of the world and particularly on places like Instagram. It’s scary how many of these players are not even playing football a few years later. Conversely as I said before there have been some great young players from u23 level that have come in, got their head down, mixed with the boys and had the right mentality and are now forging good careers for themselves in the professional game.

If a club is willing to pay these lads a large sum of money then it’s understandable that they take it. We all would. But it often affects a player’s hunger and drive and allows them to be sucked into a certain type of lifestyle. Their first contract as a professional, and before they have played a professional game, is often the biggest of their career: which is crazy. I’d love to see a Premier League rule introduced so that a percentage of an u23 players wage is put aside and given to them when they are 25 and more mature and appreciative of it. Some of these lads come from nothing and do not know what to do when they come into money, something I can relate to. They also struggle when that money isn’t coming in anymore.

Conclusion

For me this is all about culture and also the people around young professionals. Players are getting better and better education at the clubs they play at but there’s lots that players can do, from top to bottom, to remove the peer pressure of a spend spend spend football environment. I love hearing stories that come from training grounds where senior pros pull young players aside when they turn up to train in the first team in a big flash car. It’s about surrounding yourself with good people who want the best for you.

I look back at how miserable and anxious I was driving around in that flash car and how relieved and happy I was in my little Fiat 500. It’s a short career and I’d just urge players to live within their means. Be mentally strong enough to make decisions for yourself – not for others. Don’t feel as if you need to prove anything to anyone with how you spend your money. If you haven’t been advised on money then try to seek help from your club or the right people.

I’m not a hypocrite, I’ve made these mistakes and have had a good time making them on occasions. I’m not a financial advisor or selling anything. I’m just trying to pass on a tiny bit of my experience and as I always say, if one person sees this and it can help them in any way, then it was worthwhile opening up and writing about this. 

Thanks for reading

Stay Safe

Fraser Franks

Retirement of footballers & sports people: More needs to be done

This was my last moment in professional football. The next day i was taken into hospital and later down the line forced to retire.

I’ve been thinking about opening up on a few aspects of retirement of footballers and sports people for a while now and after seeing the tragic events of an ex player taking his own life on new year’s eve and also speaking to other ex-players who have really struggled, I thought I would share some of my thoughts and experiences.
It’s been almost 9 months since I was forced into early retirement at the age of 28. Since then there have been some massive lows and some massive highs. Without the birth of my daughter and having such an amazing wife and family, I really fear for where I would be right now. I had always worried about retirement and that day when I’d have to go into a new job and give up my dream. All I’d ever wanted to do was play football and I was fortunate enough to achieve that as a professional. When you are solely focussed and driven on becoming a footballer, it felt like it would all be downhill once I’d have to give that up. But with the average UK male living up to the age of 80, we aren’t even half way through our lives (hopefully) and we need to not be defined all of our lives as ‘the footballer’ and realise there is a lot more after the game and plenty of life to live.
For me, one of the biggest struggles for a retiring footballer is identity. You’ve always been known as the footballer. Every person you’d been introduced to, friends, family, when socialising, you are seen as the footballer. People’s ears prick up when they hear the word ‘footballer’ and to most people you suddenly become interesting. You’ve had a routine since you were a kid which led up to a game on a Saturday. Your body was conditioned, you felt fit every day, you were achieving what you’d wanted to as a child and, in your head, this was what your life had built up to. So when that is taken away what do you do? The routine and everything you had ever done since the age of 9 has gone. You don’t have a wake up time, you have to make an effort to stay in shape, you have only ever thought of one thing you wanted to be and now you can no longer do it, so what is next?


There aren’t many careers that have a time frame like the ones in sport. I’ve seen friends who didn’t quite make it as footballers and transitioned into new jobs at a young age, whilst still living at home without bills or outgoings and are now on the upward curve and gaining promotions in secure jobs that they can carry on doing until they are in their 60’s. I know full well these lads looked at me and would trade places in an instant to have fulfilled their dream of being a professional, but likewise I also envied that they had already made a transition and were becoming successful in various different fields and had no time frame or ticking clock as to when they would need to retire and start again.
Having to transition into a completely new role and new career at the age of (in most cases) 35 years old is another reason that retired footballers struggle so much both mentally and financially. As I stated before, a lot of my friends made the transition when they were released at 18. At the age of 35, you have families to provide for, bills to pay, rent and mortgages to pay as well as losing your identity as a footballer and having to start at the bottom as something else. It’s a lot of pressure and I have felt that personally.
It’s a scary, lonely place. I always focussed everything into football. I trained, ate right, went home and rested, didn’t have a huge social life, watched and analysed football, got out of the housework because I was knackered from training and went to bed visualising football. If I was to try and prepare for life after football it would hamper my focus on the ‘here and now’ and I wouldn’t be able to play to my full potential. This was my outlook as a player. I did have a vision that I could just become a coach after football, so I went and did my coaching badges one summer and thought that was me sorted for after football. Never really did much coaching, didn’t know if I enjoyed it or was any good, didn’t look into how much a coach makes, just assumed that was me sorted. For some people this is the route forward but at the point I retired I didn’t get the coaching buzz and didn’t have a real passion for getting out on the grass and putting on a session.


The early stages I sulked. I thought it was unfair. I had days where I would be lazy, eat rubbish, enjoy a few beers now as I wouldn’t have to be in training the next day but luckily, I’ve got a strong wife who didn’t let me get away with this for too long and started to realise what I want to do next with my life, but I can see so clearly how players spiral. That odd day turns into 2 or 3, that beer turns into 6 or 7 and slowly you get down and resent your friends who are still out there doing what you want to. The bankruptcy and divorce stats are mind blowing when you look at retired footballers. The Daily Mail did a study and claim 33% of footballers are divorced within the first year of retirement, which must ring huge alarm bells and must tell us that something isn’t right in the industry and how more needs to be done to help players. With 40% of players also declared bankrupt within the first 5 years of retirement. I still have a lot of days where I overthink, question myself, feel anxious and lost and I feel like I’m one of the luckier ones, there are people out that that need help and guidance.
I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts with retired footballers who have struggled with mental health, gambling, drink and money problems (Undr the cosh is one I would recommend). So many of the issues are a common theme. No idea what to do next, get lazy, get fat, depression, no help or program to help transition you, spend savings within a year or so, chase the buzz of football with gambling and drink and even more in some cases, until eventually your wife has had enough and you end up divorced or bankrupt or both. The statistics of these cases are absolutely ridiculous, so I don’t understand why more isn’t being done to help.


Ego and pride are another thing that is a barrier and mentally tough to deal with. One week you are playing in front of tens or thousands of people and the next you are looking on job websites and not being qualified enough for 90% of the roles you would want. One week people are asking for autographs and a year later you are the forgotten man. I’ve seen a former Championship player absolutely ridiculed on twitter for now working as a delivery driver for UPS. It infuriated me, he’s no longer earning his living playing in front of thousands and on TV every week and is now delivering parcels to people that used to cheer his name. He will have a family to provide for and my utmost respect.
Managers, Governing bodies, clubs all need to come together and take a serious look at the situation. We are adults yes, we have done what most people dream of, we should be planning for our futures but when a club or manager usually sees that it is taken as a lack of focus or a lack of interest and you should ‘eat, sleep football’. We need to change this mentality and allow players to develop themselves outside of the football bubble. I recently turned 29. I’ve never had a job interview, I wouldn’t know how to take holiday if I worked outside of football, I had never been made to stand up and speak in public, I had no idea what opportunities I could do outside of football and not been educated and exposed to a lot that I should have been. We need to understand how much ex players have to offer after football.
I really don’t want to sound like footballers have such a struggle and we need help more than others. I know full well people have bigger problems than I do and I’m extremely mindful of that and that I have been fortunate to do what I have done (through hard work). But help is needed. There are a lot of retired players that have spoken about being suicidal and feeling worthless and feeling like they have nothing to offer anymore. The problem isn’t just a financial one as I said before, its an identity one. I have spoken to a Premier League footballer who is going through some of the same struggles as an ex league 2 footballer. He may not have the financial burden but has plenty of others.
Players need to talk. Both former and current and break the stigmas. It’s a male dominant, alpha male environment with so many outdated issues which need addressing. Retirement being just one of those. It’s a mentally draining career, with extreme highs and equally as many extreme lows. You can go from hero to zero in a matter of days very quickly and from the outside people don’t always see how brutal the game can be mentally at times.With this post I just wanted to share some of my experiences and thoughts and If I can relate to or help one person by writing this then I’d be happy. It’s taken me a good 8 months to find my real passion and my calling for my future and that is player care within football. To help young players suffering with the mental side of the game, to help them prepare for life after football, to expose them to different things, to push them out of comfort zones, to be a good male role model in someone’s life, to be someone to talk to at all times and to help create good human beings. If that helps someone go on to maximise their footballing potential and make it as a professional then perfect, but if not, hopefully you’ve helped improve a human in some way so that they can lead the best life possible. It’s now up to me to work as hard as I can to do that and be ready for any opportunity that I may be able to take within the game.
Equally I’d also like to help with the senior players in some way and continue developing people no matter what the age, particularly players coming to the end of a career. Hopefully things like this post can raise awareness of the help I feel is needed and I’d be happy to be part of helping the process for others in any way I may be able to.The last thing I wanted to do was share a few tips which helped me. Everyone has different needs, and this won’t be for everyone, but again if it helps one person in my position then I am happy.


Things that helped me:
Get up!
 – Don’t lay in, set an alarm even if you have nothing planned and get up early.

Exercise – You’ve been an athlete ever since you can remember, it keeps you mentally fit as well as physically. I’ve found getting up and getting to the gym early or going for a jog early sets me up for the day. Allow yourself days off and rest after a long career but don’t become lazy.

Be Busy! – Pester people, use any contacts that you have made and seek opportunities. Don’t worry about being seen as ‘busy’ or a pain in the arse, it’s your life. Go and see people face to face and find out if there is any way they can help.


Limit the boozing – Enjoy a beer, you’ve been disciplined for years. But don’t let it escalate. It’s so easy to do and I’ve been guilty on a couple of occasions, but it usually only ever results in being unproductive or making poor decisions after you’ve had a drink.


Enjoy family time – Appreciate time at home. I’ve missed countless birthdays, weddings, family get togethers since the age of 16. This is the first Christmas I’ve had in 13 years where I’ve not had a game on Boxing Day or been in training Christmas day, so enjoy those moments.


Get help if struggling – Men in general but particularly in sport where you are taught to be strong and show no signs of weakness. This is so outdated and something we need to change before more unfortunate incidents occur. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and not having to be robots. There are governing bodies out that that can do more but there are still some great work and help out there that can ease the mental struggles, which you can contact.


Thank you
Fraser Franks