For those who live outside the bubble of the game, the life of a professional footballer probably looks as close to perfection as possible. Especially for those players who are established at Premier League level. Now, before you think I’m going to contradict all of the above: don’t worry, I’m not. It can be a great life for all those involved but there are certain sacrifices that have to be made to not only stay at that level but to even have a chance of rising to such heights in the first place.
It involves having absolutely no work-life balance at all….and from a very early age.
That means that if anyone truly wants to be a professional footballer then, from their early teens onwards, they don’t so much look for a work-life balance as live a work-work one!! All your mates are going off to pub and clubs, they’ve got girlfriends, they’re booking lads holidays and having a great time. Their life is their own.
That isn’t the case for the aspiring footballer. Their lives belong, body and soul, to their clubs. If I was at any Premier League club’s Academy talking to a young lad today and if football isn’t the only thing that matters to him then he may as well pack it all in now and get a job. A professional footballers life revolves around the game 24/7. Your working life is a constant round of being told what to do, when to do it and why, as well as where to be and at what time. You’re even expected to share a room with someone (who normally snores and stinks!) when you work away from home.
So your life really does begin again once you’ve retired as a player. Suddenly you have a lot of time on your hands. That was one of the things that struck me when I reached my 40thBirthday earlier this year. I’m still working hard to ensure my business develops. Nothing has changed there, the quest for success has never been stronger. But, after almost of a lifetime spent answering to men in tracksuits and making sure that whatever I did outside of football didn’t breach the terms of my contract, it had dawned on me that the only person I had to answer to in terms of my work now was myself!!
This meant that I could focus on building up that all important ‘work-life’ balance, something that, in truth, I’d never really had before. I didn’t even have it much in the years that followed my retiring as a player as I then put all of my time and efforts into my study, continuing, in a way, to live only to work and following, perversely, that way of life that was so characteristic of the 1980’s. That was the decade where people prided themselves on sleeping at their desks and following Gordon Gecko’s mantra that “lunch is for wimps”.
Thankfully, times have changed since then and people are much more aware of the importance of bringing a little bit of balance into their lives and doing things that are nothing to do with their work. I’ve recently taken up lessons in self defence, something that I had wanted to do for a long time yet a pursuit that most certainly would have been forbidden under the terms of any football contract I ever signed. I’ve also taken up golf and am re-learning to play the guitar.
Devotees of golf will know that it is more than ‘just’ a game. It’s a social occasion, an opportunity to spend time with friends and to enjoy their company whilst being engaged in a little competitive rivalry at the same time. So golf ticks a lot of boxes! Whilst playing the guitar is more about me and the instrument and forming a relationship with it through a mix of discipline and creativity. It’s perfect for when I just want some time for myself.
“Life begins at 40” is very much a throwaway line these days….. a cliché. Yet, for all that, I determined that is exactly what I would look to do when I reached that milestone and I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. I hope you’re able to find time to bring some of that balance into your life. Unless, that is, you are an aspiring professional footballer. Rest assured, if you are, the wait will be worth it and all the more satisfying when it comes.