Gregor Robertson on planning for his future after football
Since the day I began my career in professional football, I have been told time and time again how it is a short career, which will fly by, and of the importance of planning for the future. Every young player starting out in the game dreams and often believes that they will play at the highest level, and have a long and successful career earning a fortune in the process. Unfortunately, only a few realise their ultimate ambition, and most fail to make the grade in the professional ranks. However, some do go on to earn a good living playing the sport and doing the job they love, but are still left with the quandary of what to do when they must inevitably hang up their boots. I would count myself among them.
I am in my first year of studying for a degree in sports media and journalism at Staffordshire University. The course is run in conjunction with the PFA, and is studied mainly via on-line distance learning. I can study from home in my spare time, meaning no distraction or interference with football, which will always be my primary focus. We learn about TV, radio and written journalism, as well as editing, and the role of the media in sport. As part of the course I am doing some work with the Crewe Alexandra press department, website and match day programme with Rob Wilson and James Beckett - experience I am very grateful for.
After years of thinking about doing various different courses and never actually taking the plunge, I find myself studying for the first time since my days at the Nottingham Forest Academy, now more than ten years ago. Football academies put their scholars and young professionals on college courses to provide them with a qualification, with the majority unfortunately destined to fall out of the game. It is from this early age that the short and uncertain nature of a football career is made clear to you.
I remember sitting down with the Education Officer at Forest when I first joined, and discussing the different courses on offer and talking about financial planning. I remember being encouraged to continue with further education even after becoming involved with the first team. And I even remember having my enforced savings account checked throughout the year, to make sure the pre-agreed amount of my wages was being saved monthly!
Some of the lads who had been dipping in a bit too often would face a mad rush to transfer their money between each others accounts before they got their balance slips out! Academies encourage young footballers to prepare, but few take on board this advice when they are young.
Many supporters believe that all footballers earn extortionate salaries, and can look forward to retiring at 35 to play golf every day. The reality is that while most earn a good living, it is also a much more insecure career than most, which can come to an end quite abruptly. Although already well aware of this, suffering two career-threatening injuries in the past few years also reinforced my need to plan for the future.
A broken leg and a ruptured achilles gave me plenty of time to think about life after football, whilst making me realise how lucky we are to call it our ‘job’. Although we ‘work’ weekends, public holidays, and at Christmas time, nonetheless we are often finished our working day by the early afternoon. And while it is a job that can be mentally as well as physically demanding, and sometimes tougher than it may appear from the outside, we often have spare time that most would probably admit could be put to better use.
The aim of any player should always be to work hard and make the most of their career in football, but looking ahead at the same time doesn’t affect that. It is only the stars at the top end of the Premier League who can retire with the luxury of a comfortable financial future, but even this group will need a focus when they begin the next chapter of their life. I remember a conversation with a friend of mine who has had a successful career in the premier league, about his plans for the future.
I presumed he would not have to worry when his playing days were over, but he made it clear that you are a long time ‘retired’, and that he would need to continue to earn to pay bills and support his family. Many like him, will turn to business when they finish playing, but it could improve you’re skills and chances of success by studying this area.
Many others will try to make the move into coaching, and again, moving up the ladder of coaching qualifications while still playing will only help your chances of success in a very competitive field. The PFA provide invaluable financial help and advice to its members. They run practical and academic courses across the country, or simply provide support in your own chosen area of learning. In my opinion, it would be foolish not to utilise these benefits, whatever your situation may be.
At 29, I hope that with a bit of luck I have a good number of years left playing the game in me, but as I am often reminded by all the lads here, I’m not getting any younger! None of us know what the future holds though, whatever stage of our career we are at, and I wish I had begun my studies years ago. Crewe is a club renowned for its Academy and producing talented young footballers, and I am sure they will all be told to plan for their future, just as I was. While most of the young players here will have a good career in football - many of them at a very high level I am sure - I would encourage any of them to take the advice we are all given, and think about their future. Because as we have often been told, we are a long time ‘retired’.
By Gregor Robertson