Eric Brown reviews a book tracing the lives of more than 200 retired footballers and reveals how employment opportunities exploded as media outlets mushroomed...
BY ERIC BROWN
For years, footballers faced bleak futures once their bodies could no longer cope with the rigours of the top-grade game.
In their early to mid-30s, stars who attracted thousands of spectators through turnstiles each week found themselves cast aside by clubs who no longer cared.
Half their working lives still lay ahead but what to do? Few of the players cruelly limited to £20-a-week accumulated savings significant enough to buy or establish businesses. Tom Finney was an exception with his plumbing business.
There was income to be made from transfer signing-on fees but not for all. Players obtained low-paid jobs at their sympathetic clubs like trainer, assistant groundsman or office dogsbody.
There may have been an autobiography or perhaps a local newspaper column for a select few.
Many more became insurance agents, some worked in bookmakers or pubs or traded on their names as car salesmen. The choice was limited. Some of the most intelligent had the vision to look ahead, choosing to drop down into part-time football while running pubs, cafes or shops. This meant two incomes and a total wage packet far exceeding that £20 weekly.
Gradually though, footballers emerged from serfdom blinking into the light of multiple post-retirement opportunities.
Author Tony Rickson’s extensive research has enabled him to write of fascinating lives after football in ‘Kicking On: How Footballers Win the Post-Retirement Game of Life’.
Dave Whelan (Blackburn Rovers) and Francis Lee (Manchester City) were such successful businessmen that they were able to leap from pitch to boardroom, and then ended up as chairmen at their respective clubs.
Chelsea striker Didier Drogba’s passionate televised speech in 2005 helped bring peace to an Ivorian civil war raging for three years. As a result, he was appointed a UN goodwill ambassador. Later, he set up the Didier Drogba Foundation and linked up with U2’s Bono to help the fight against AIDS.
He also became vice president of the international Peace and Sport organisation. Drogba was awarded an honorary degree for his contribution to the growth of football and restoration of stability in his native Ivory Coast.
An even greater achievement came the way of George Weah, one of the world’s top strikers at Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan. The trained switchboard operator switched to politics and ended up President of his native Liberia. Liverpool’s Titi Camara became sports minister of Guinea.
On a more humble note, postman seems to have been a popular post-football choice, with England’s Peter Bonetti, Neil Webb and Kevin Hector all delivering the goods. Maybe the job was popular as it leaves time for golf later in the day.
Willie Young, a formidable centre-half with Spurs and Arsenal, became a dog kennel manager, while Doncaster Rovers’ Charlie Williams wowed punters of northern clubs with his stand-up comedy act.
That reminds me of my own favourite retired footballer’s tale, not in the book. Colin Grainger, a winger with Sunderland and Sheffield United, scored twice on his England debut against Brazil but turned to singing after being persuaded by Nat Lofthouse to serenade dressing-room team-mates.
Grainger discovered he was good at it and made a couple of records before finding himself on the same theatre bill as a quartet of Liverpool musicians of whom he’d never heard. The Beatles were at that stage being paid £50 between them for their appearance.
Grainger kept singing after retiring from football, regularly pocketing three times his football wage for delivering about six songs a weekend.
Impressive CVs were established by Terry Venables and Jimmy Hill after they hung up their boots. Venables, who played at every level for England, managed several London clubs then England. Oh, and he also owned and ran a London private members club and a hotel in Spain, made a few records and co-wrote a series of detective novels, later televised.
This example of multi-tasking can surely only be matched by Hill. A former Fulham inside forward of modest ability, he headed a successful PFA campaign to ditch the maximum wage, managed Coventry City where he established England’s first all-seat top-flight ground and became a successful broadcaster, anchoring BBC TV’s Match of the Day for many years.
I once had the chance to admire the cool and professional Hill up close. Invited to the studio, I sat just off-camera as Hill effortlessly did his stuff on MOTD.
A sudden increase in television and radio stations plus blogs, websites and all the rest of modern media opened floodgates of opportunities for ex-footballers, who are now wanted men as pundits.
Jimmy Greaves and Ian St John established an entertaining partnership in the ITV programme ‘On the Ball’ while more recently Dion Dublin, once of Cambridge United, Coventry, Aston Villa and Manchester United is a regular on-screen in different guises. He not only pops up on football programmes but also on ‘Homes Under The Hammer’ and ‘Celebrity Masterchef’. And he’s the only former footballer in the entire book credited with inventing a musical instrument – a sort of box drum called the Dube. He also became a director of Cambridge United.
Rickson, who worked for the South London Press, Cambridge Evening News and several weekly Kent newspapers, unearthed several unusual ex-player occupations but surely none stranger than that undertaken by former Newcastle striker Tino Asprilla, who returned to his native Colombia and established a condom business. It seems guava flavour was a best-selling line.
During the pandemic, Asprilla went on radio to announce his stock was available at half price – as he couldn’t use all of it himself.
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