Everyone dreams of being a footballer. You get paid a fortune to play the game you love and then retire in your 30s to spend the rest of your life on the beach in the sun. Or do you? For the majority of former professional footballers, the reality is very different. In Retired, Alan Gernon explores the issues that face footballers after their playing days. He also looks to examine what can be done to improve these outcomes and help former players transition seamlessly to the rest of their lives.
The average wage for a Premier League footballer these days is over £60,000 a week, yet stats from charity XPRO suggest two in five of these players will be bankrupt within five years of retiring. One significant reason for this, with Gernon dedicating a whole chapter to it, is divorce. PFA stats suggest 75 per cent of ex-footballers are divorced within three years of hanging up their boots, meaning half their net worth can disappear overnight after court proceedings. It is thought that many relationships end as players struggle to come to terms with the change in their lives and additional time on their hands, meaning they can become more difficult to live with. In some cases, perhaps the player’s wife was only attracted to them by the lavish lifestyle of a top-level footballer, and so when the money stops coming in, they soon lose interest. The financial issues that plague a lot of former footballers, however, are simply down to financial mismanagement. Sadly, it is still rare for footballers to prepare for life after the game as many feel as though it will never end. Investment schemes gone wrong, such as the one Marcus Bent discusses in Match Fit, have stung a number of players.
Clearly then, footballers need a helping hand with these issues to help them avoid financial oblivion despite their often more-than-healthy career earnings. Alan Gernon speaks to former PFA chairman Pat Nevin to garner his thoughts on the issue. Nevin’s advice is for players to keep any investments simple, as you can’t be scammed by something that you actually understand. A key theme within the book is the importance of being prepared for what life after professional football will bring. Often, the sport promotes a laser focus on just the next game, not allowing you to think further ahead than this. Many top-level professionals feel invincible throughout their careers or just assume that another contract will always be on the table for them. Especially in the lower leagues, where earnings do not give much of a financial buffer at all, this is not always the case. Gernon dedicates a chapter to players who look to stay in the game after retiring, seeking out jobs in coaching, for example. In Match Fit, I look predominantly at the importance of education in other areas as only a small percentage of players can stay in the game. Gernon himself acknowledges this, noting that there are 60,000 former professional footballers in the country and only 92 professional clubs. Robbie Simpson’s company Life After Professional Sport (LAPS) is a good example of a platform that seeks to use transferrable soft skills that the majority of footballers have, such as adaptability and the ability to work under pressure, to help them find work after they have retired from playing.
There is plenty to get your teeth into in Retired other than just the financial side of things. Gernon is knowledgeable on the topic of mental health, and his extensive research helps guide several useful policy suggestions, hence Nial Quinn describing Retired as ‘the most important football book in a long time.’ Gernon continued his writing career with The Transfer Market: The Inside Stories in 2018, which also received strong reviews. Retired is a great read if you want to challenge your default assumption that professional footballers are set for life once they leave the game.
About Johnnie Lowery
Johnnie is a football writer. His first book, Six Added Minutes, was written while he was at university and published in November 2019. With strong reviews from the likes of Jeremy Vine and Jacqui Oatley, it is selling well online. His second book, Match Fit, explores mental health in football. It looks to raise mental health awareness and is inspired by Lowery’s own struggles as a teenager, when he did not understand why he was feeling down.