How footballers win after retirement

BY Tony Rickson

15th Sep 2023 Lifestyle

4 min read

How footballers win after retirement
In his new book, Kicking On! How Footballers Win the Post-Retirement Game of Life, Tony Rickson reveals the successful, positive and inspiring second careers footballers choose after retiring
Many footballers struggle when they leave the Beautiful Game for retirement in their mid-thirties, with stories that are sad or even tragic. However, in his new book Tony RIckson reveals the footballers who have thrived after retirement, whether it's by setting up charities, helping others cope, creating multi-million-pound businesses or going into media, politics or back into the football world. 

Kicking On! is proof that a successful football career can be just the start of a fulfilling life. The extract below touches on just a few of the 200 former players with inspiring, feel-good retirement stories to tell. 

Giving others a sporting chance

Tony Adams book "Addicted"
Retirement can be tough and stressful, but so many ex-footballers have taken up the challenge head-on and impressively made the most of their lives.
Tony Adams set up a charitable foundation more than 20 years ago called Sporting Chance—and said it’s one of his greatest achievements. He’s wrong. Despite all the trophies he won while captaining Arsenal during a highly successful 22-year career at his only club, and all the times he played for England, it is his greatest achievement. Not just one of them.
"Tony Adams's Sporting Chance treats and supports sports professionals suffering gambling, drink or drug problems"
As Adams admits in his memorable book, Addicted, he suffered from alcoholism and drug abuse while still a professional footballer. Setting up Sporting Chance was his response, and ever since it’s treated and supported sports professionals suffering gambling, drink or drug problems. The charity’s offer is: “We understand that it takes courage to ask for help, either during or following a career in sport, so when you’re ready to reach out, we’re ready for you.”

Dancing into a new way of life

Since retiring from playing in 2002, Adams, who has a statue in his honour outside the Arsenal ground, has managed and coached in several countries alongside his charity work.
He told The Sun: “What happened in my life with alcohol makes me feel sad but also grateful that I found a way out of it. I’ve had highs and lows, in and out of football, given up playing and gone into coaching and management. I’ve not had a drink through any of it. My self-esteem has come back and I am all right.”
The self-assessment as “all right” also applied to his 2022 appearance in TV’s Strictly Come Dancing, when Adams showed an admirable ability to laugh at himself.

Planning for something new after football

A painter, a scientist, a sculptor, an inventor—and quite a few other things as well. If football internationals had been played in the 15th or 16th centuries, Leonardo da Vinci would surely have been captain of the Italy team. Apart from all those other varied talents, he was also a philosopher. And his words will resonate with many a retired footballer. “People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
Performance psychologist Katie Warriner helps players prepare for life after retirement. She told theprofessionalplayer.com: “They often think, ‘If I’m no longer a footballer, then who am I?’ We try to show that it’s not a flaw to plan for life after football, but a big step forward. The strengths you have as a footballer—such as discipline, confidence and resilience—can help you excel in life.”

Charities benefit from great business initiative

Steve Harper in his days as Newcastle United goalkeeper
So step forward Steve Harper. As if being Newcastle United’s longest-serving player ever wasn’t enough, the former goalkeeper became busier than ever after retiring from football at the age of 41. He graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a master’s degree in sports directorship and also qualified as a football referee. Sticking with football, he worked in Newcastle’s academy and then became the club’s first-team goalkeeping coach as well as doing some occasional punditry work.
Beyond that, he and two friends set up an underwear company called Oddballs, which has been massively successful since its launch in 2014. The trio of mates were at a pub quiz when the discussion turned to ideas for a business venture. They wanted something that was going to prove a worthwhile investment but also had a charity element to it. So they came up with the idea of selling distinctive and unusual underwear and at the same time raising awareness of men’s cancer by giving a percentage from the sale of every pair of pants to testicular cancer charities.
"Steve Harper's business Oddballs has become a very successful and raised over three-quarters of a million pounds for charities"
And they’ve been as good as their word—in fact, probably exceeding their wildest dreams at the same time. Oddballs has become a very successful business and raised over three-quarters of a million pounds for charities. On top of colourful men’s and women’s underwear, they’ve added sportswear, clothing and accessories to their product list and set up partnerships with England football and rugby, as well as some of the biggest sporting bodies and teams across the world.
What a blueprint for a retired professional footballer. A great and innovative idea for a very successful business venture that also provides vital support for important charities. It was the playwright George Bernard Shaw who once put into words what Oddballs put into practice: “Don’t wait for the right opportunity. Create it!”

Remarkable response to dreaded diagnosis

Former England international Geoff Thomas
Meanwhile, many newly retired players have simply thrown themselves straight into charity efforts, often for very personal reasons.
It was only a year after packing up football in 2002 that England international Geoff Thomas was given the dreaded diagnosis that he had chronic myeloid leukaemia, a cancer of the white blood cells. The former Crystal Palace and Wolves midfielder was only 38 when he was told he might have just months to live.
Thomas’s treatment included a stem cell transplant but he bravely made a remarkable recovery. His impressive response was to go all out to raise money for cancer charities, and his dedication was honoured by being awarded an MBE in recognition of the millions of pounds he’s raised.
"Geoff Thomas rode the iconic and challenging Tour de France course to raise money and awareness for the fight against leukaemia"
Only two years after first being told about his cancer, Thomas judged himself fit enough to cycle the whole of the Tour de France route just days before the race itself. That was a challenging 2,200-mile journey and just the first of quite a few times that he rode the iconic and challenging course to raise money and awareness. On one of the occasions, his team was accompanied for two of the stages by another cancer survivor, former Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
Thomas told the BBC how simply tackling the route was a massive feat. “As a footballer there is a certain amount of skill involved, which you can get by on in 90 minutes. But in cycling it’s about sheer lungs and heart really.”
Kicking On! How Footballers Win the Post-Retirement Game of Life by Tony Rickson (Pitch Publishing) is available now

Banner photo: Statue of Tony Adams outside Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. Credit: Ronnie Macdonald
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