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.