The PFA Charity’s annual conference provides the platform for members to start thinking about, and planning for, a life after football. Here’s the full lowdown on this year’s event
At first glance, the 40 or so men milling around a meeting room on the first floor of a hotel might pass as delegates at just another sales conference on just another Monday morning. But a closer look at the assembled throng, and more than a smattering of muscle fit t-shirts, zero fade haircuts and sleeve tattoos alongside the shirts and ties, hints at a different conference crowd than that usually seen at the Leicester Marriott.
However, sales is the name of the game here today – for footballers looking to sell themselves to managers whose focus is on overheads rather than overhead kicks, balance sheets rather than clean sheets.
Whatever signals the end for a player, the sense of dread at what lies beyond the hanging up of boots is universal. But through its combination of motivational guest speakers, a range of companies eager to offer employment opportunities to former players, advice from specialists on issues ranging from coaching opportunities to CV writing and an expert team from the PFA Charity’s Education department, the Making the Transition event more than takes the edge off whatever apprehension exists in the room. It offers hope - real, practical hope – of new beginnings.
Don Goodman, striker turned respected TV pundit, is as upbeat and engaging in the way he introduces and oversees the day as he is in analysing live action on Sky Sports. Yet, for all the advice and support that will be delivered later in the day, the key message from both “the Don” and the seminar’s first speaker – Paul McVeigh – is that the greatest assistance a player will receive after retirement comes from within.
Having identified the dawn of what he calls the “hire and fire” culture when his professional playing days ended in 2003, Goodman shunned the idea of coaching and management – “I value my hair too much!”
But while he was fortunate in that he had a clear idea what he wanted to go into, a man who now comes across as being as confident as he is likeable leaned on the PFA for both emotional and practical support.
“They paid a large chunk of my college fees for me to qualify as a nutritionist and personal trainer, and I created a personal training academy,” says Goodman. “But just because that came together as well as it did doesn’t mean I didn’t find that time immediately before and after the end of my playing career scary.
“I had the fear at times – I think every player does other than the very small minority of those who are financially secure for life when they hang up their boots. You’re talking about lads who have often been in professional academies since they were 7 or 8 years old and didn’t think about an alternative career at any point during their school days, let alone when they got to working age. Then there are others that are much, much younger and just finding out that they might not actually have a professional career at all.
“Events like this underline the incredible level of support made available by the PFA Charity and all its various associates for players of all ages who are facing up to life beyond football.”
But Goodman admits that no outside assistance can make a difference for those players who don’t help themselves.
“The temptation when you know the career you’ve dreamed of is coming to an end is to curl up and feel sorry for yourself. But there is less and less reason now for players to stay stuck in that mindset. Looking around this room, it’s not just the various companies, recruiters, experts and the PFA team here who offer reasons to be positive, there are players here who are an inspiration in themselves – not least when it comes to putting football in perspective.”
Goodman is right – there are motivational stories all around the room. The men he mentions include two for whom perspective comes from beating cancer, another forced to suddenly retire at 23 because of a previously undiagnosed heart condition and one who has put a spell in prison behind him to forge a career as a football agent.
And the message delivered by former Norwich and Northern Ireland winger Paul McVeigh is that every player should be future-proofing themselves from an early age - not least emotionally – against football’s fickle fortunes.
McVeigh’s insightful talk – ‘High Performing Mind’ – draws nods all over the room as he focuses on how psychology can shape a player’s present and future – for better or worse. It explores how players can maximise performance on the pitch and their potential beyond it by realising that they – not managers or pundits and certainly not the kangaroo court of social media – are the only people fit to judge them.
One of the first steps in creating that psychology, McVeigh argues, is for players to pursue what he calls a “dual career” by using their downtime to study or train for another vocation from their mid-teens onwards.
The positivity McVeigh leaves behind is taken into the next session, a speed dating- style exercise where the players “work” the room, speaking with the varied range of would-be employers, career advisors and reps from different PFA Charity departments – including, for those still quietly battling apprehension about post-football life, Player Welfare.
There is also plenty of networking practice at lunch, which is followed by a talk from the charismatic Jan Telensky, a larger than life character with an even bigger ambition: to offer a career to hundreds of ex-players via a unique builders’ academy solely for former footballers.
“Players don’t realise how useful the skills that they have – skills of communication, leadership and working in a team environment – can be for them in the world of work outside football,” says Jan Telensky.
“Building and development companies need leaders, team players and, above all, tactics and strategy – and who knows more about tactics and strategies than footballers?”
Derek Redmond then rounds off the day in the same way McVeigh started it – discussing the issue of psychology. Redmond explains how his supposedly darkest hour and the death knell for his athletics career – when a torn hamstring in the 400m semi-final at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics saw him limp around the track, famously helped by his father – became the cornerstone of a career as a world-renowned motivational speaker.
Redmond charts the emotional journey that saw him go from being so psychologically wedded to a sporting life that he turned to professional basketball and international rugby after injury curtailed his sprinting career, to such a respected motivational speaker that his theory on how sportspeople can thrive beyond sport – ‘Seven Degrees In Transition’ – is respected worldwide.
All that is left is to wonder whether the players attending the seminar will remember its key messages. McVeigh has high hopes.
“I would say that if they have been at this type of conference they’re going to be more towards the proactive end of the scale in terms of planning for the future,” he says. “Most importantly, I’d like to think they can take the messages away and influence those players who not only don’t know what they want to do beyond football but don’t know how to start the process of looking into it.
“Without that type of influence, those players are thinking: ‘What am I going to do? I don’t know… so I’m not going to do anything about it.’ And that’s when players create, and then get stuck in, a kind of inertia.”
“Just imagine if the guys that attend this event today go away and each persuade a player or two to snap out of that mindset.”
LIFE AND CAREER
You would imagine that those players would start thinking like Don Goodman – now more widely known for being the voice of the Championship than a much-feared striker.
“Yes, football is a fantastic career,” says a man who once traded solely in goals.“But it shouldn’t be your only career. It needn’t even be your best career. And it certainly shouldn’t be your whole life.”
Transition is a process not a moment in time. The PFA Charity can help you begin the process now with group workshops or one-to-one guidance on request. Contact the PFA Charity's Assistant Director of Education, Oshor Williams for details.