By Mark Roberts
I think every young boy grows up dreaming of one day becoming a professional footballer. I can guarantee that every player in our squad will have been no different.
The moment that you pull on the shirt of your favourite team as a kid you are convinced that you will one day be joining your heroes running out in front of your adoring fans. You envisage scoring the winner in the cup final a million times over in your bedroom and you believe the world is at your feet.
You set your sights high and you dream big.
Every Fleetwood Town player has shown the dedication and desire to beat the odds and make his dreams his own reality. I remember earlier in the season when the Gaffer said to us all that there is no such thing as a bad professional footballer. He was right. Of course there are those that are more accomplished but becoming a professional footballer at any level is an achievement in itself.
It takes a certain character to succeed in our industry. As a player there will be the greatest of highs and the lowest of lows. Each player will have suffered his fair share of heartbreak along the way and had to sacrifice more than any ever thought possible when he pictured living out his childhood fantasies.
It is the greatest job on earth but in our unpredictable world there is one thing that is for certain. One day it has to end.
With the advancements in modern training methods and the introduction of sports science there is a far greater opportunity for players to prolong their careers. Just look at Ryan Giggs still pulling the strings for Manchester United at the ripe old age of 40. We could have no better role models at Fleetwood than the men in charge of us. The Gaffer, Graham Alexander, was the oldest Premier League debutant at the age of 37 and Assistant Manager, Chris Lucketti, made his top level bow at 36.
It goes to show that anything is possible if you have the belief and determination to match your ability. And never, ever give up on your dream.
It maybe 30, 35 or 40 but one day the curtain will come down on your playing career and your boots will get hung up for the very last time.
So what next?
Well that’s a question that many professional footballers are at a loss to answer. Some will not know where to start. Others won’t know how to cope. It’s not simply a question of what to do in terms of a future career and finding a way to pay the bills, it is filling the void that no longer being a footballer leaves behind.
Depression, divorce and debt are all of a sudden the day to day realities some ex players have to deal with. Some won’t be able to. It can be a lonely and scary place where the former pro feels lost and without a direction to turn.
That is why education is so important to any footballer out there, regardless of age, status or ability. There are opportunities available out there to any individual who wants to maximise their potential and be the master of their fate. The PFA is a wonderful organisation which provides tremendous support to every one of its members in terms of finance and advice.
I would suggest to any current or former player who wants to develop themselves off the pitch to take action because the help is there. I am one player who has taken advantage of what the PFA has to offer but I am not alone.
I am pleased to say that our squad at Fleetwood is one of the most productive and proactive I have come across in my time in the game.
I myself have a degree in Professional Sports Writing and Broadcasting which was a course I completed on a distance learning basis. Yes, it was hard work but applying the discipline I have developed during my football career was a tremendous place to start. Graduating from Staffordshire University in my cap and gown was one of the proudest moments of my life.
My degree was one of the bespoke courses designed by the PFA specifically for professional footballers. But there are other choices and two members of our dressing room are working towards their own degrees in different fields. Steven Jordan is on the first year of his physiotherapy degree and fitness coach, Youl Mawene, is close to completing his degree in Sports Science.
Then there is Jamille Matt whose route to professional football was a journey that combined both being a full time student alongside playing non-league football. He studied at Wolverhampton University for a degree in Counselling Psychology and now harbours ambitions of adding to that in the field of Sports Psychology.
But studying for a degree is not the only option out there. Further education may not be every footballer’s cup of tea. Some players may want something more practical on their CV and some will see a future life in one of the trades. Jeff Hughes is a qualified civil engineer and Alan Goodall is in the process of becoming a qualified plumber.
Others may choose to continue working in a sporting environment and Liam Hogan is already a qualified personal trainer with club stalwart, Nathon Pond, also on a similar path. Then there will be players who have a more entrepreneurial eye and Dean Howell who is the founder of his own business, www.revolution-foods.com, fits that bill perfectly.
Many players will try to stay in the game and a large proportion of the squad will have completed their coaching badges at one time or another. As it happens a small group of us have just taken our first step on the coaching ladder. Jon Parkin, Stewart Murdoch, Jeff Hughes, Matty Blair and myself are part way through completing our Level 2 coaching certificate. I am one of the group who hopes to continue on to the next stage, the UEFA B licence, in the summer. That is the qualification our midfielder, Steven Schumacher, already has under his belt.
So I guess that provides a small insight into how the players at our club are looking after their future interests. There is those who will argue that it is a greater necessity for players in the lower leagues but I disagree. I have been putting my journalism degree to good use in recent weeks and writing a blog on this very subject. Whether you are a fully fledged international or a League Two player, the message is simple: ‘If you are doing nothing then do something!’
Multi-millionaire or not, retirement from football is a long, long time and regardless of money every player needs something else once his last ball has been kicked. I strongly believe that football should never define you as an individual, being able to offer more is vital whoever you might be.
Replacing football is without a question a tall order but by showing initiative during your career the opportunity is there to discover what it is you would like to do as an individual. Instead of falling into a career that leaves you full of regret you can work towards one that suits and inspires you in the same way that football does.
I have found developing myself away from football has helped me beyond measure in all aspects of my life and I will continue to do so for the remainder of my career. It is great to be part of a squad who shares the same desire to succeed on the pitch as they do off it.”