Tommo’s Ramble – Leaving the game

I was intrigued to read Jordan Seabright’s story recently, a young goalkeeper at Torquay United. Jordan has decided to quit the nation’s most loved game at the age of 20, to pursue a career as a car salesman. My initial reaction, not dissimilar to those I have since spoken to on the subject, was why? How could you?

Then I started to think more deeply on the subject, and tried to find some sense in this seemingly crazy decision.

Jordan has played 6 games this season at Torquay, who, after many years in the football league are now languishing in the lower half of the Vanarama conference. He started his short career with Poole Town before joining AFC Bournemouth in 2011. After one season at Bournemouth he moved on to Dagenham & Redbridge where he only played in 11 games over two seasons before signing for Torquay. Whilst I know and recognise the achievement of Jordan for getting as far as he has within the game, he is not exactly setting the football world alight at this stage in his career.

“I didn’t see myself being a Championship keeper or Premier League goalkeeper or League One to be honest” Jordan is quoted as saying.

So maybe he has made a wise choice after all. The general public is under the impression that all footballers earn enormous salaries and that the majority have commercial deals outside of football. The media goes wild reporting figures in the press when a Wayne Rooney or a John Terry sign their latest multi million pound contracts.

Look a little closer and you will see that this money does not filter down the leagues very far. In 2011 – 2012 the average 4th tier player in England earned £38,844 compared to the average U.K. workers salary of £34,112, so you see not too much different. The sting in the tail is the average Premier League salary for 2011 – 2012 was a cool £1.16 million!

Now the more surprising fact is this. The average 4th tier salary was actually higher in the 2003-2004 season. I kid you not. I was £42,472. So then salaries are actually decreasing in the lower levels of the professional ranks.

I also read recently, that according to Michael Kinsella, CEO of Onside Academy, that of all players affiliated with a professional club in this country at 16, only 2% are still employed by a professional club the age of 21. From 21 to 25 this is a further 2%. This demonstrates just how difficult it is to make the grade required as a professional footballer, moreover how it is nearly impossible to sustain.

There seems to be more advice given to professionals now on their ‘life after football’ with the PFA running transition workshops to offer help and advice to players at various stages of their career. In my opinion this hasn’t come soon enough and it is an area of football that has been neglected for far too long. This type of help and advice certainly didn’t exist during my time.

All things considered I still think that Jordan Seabright has made an unwise decision, I can understand it but still consider it, not brave but sad and a slight on the game that served me so well. I look back on my playing days with great fondness. What I didn’t gain while I was there in terms of advice and help I have certainly gained as a past professional.

Playing sport for a living is wonderful, very few are blessed with the opportunity. Jordan may not have climbed much higher up the ladder, he may not have had a very long and successful career yet I cannot help but think that he may well look back and wonder about his choice in years to come. He’s done a great job thus far as the above statistics attest and I hope he goes on to fulfil his new hopes in his new career.

Onto other things…

I noticed there was a demonstration a few weeks ago of Premier League fans complaining about ticket prices and my thoughts turned to recent initiatives in Scotland. Hamilton charged just 10p to gain entry to a recent game and welcomed a crowd of 5000 compared to the average of 3000. Obviously this does not make them a profit, probably a loss, but it was done to try and hook a new generation of fans with the ultimate aim of attracting lifelong fans who eventually will become season ticket holders. Few fans turn their back on the very first club they were taken to watch. The emotion of that first day has a knack of staying with you forever.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle offered ‘Pay what you can’ at a recent match. I thought maybe clubs could take this one stage further and steal an idea from a far too regularly shown budget supermarket TV advertising campaign and offer, wait for it, ‘pay what you think the game was worth’ when leaving the ground. Alternatively, the collection could be made during the game, perhaps inducing that embarrassed feeling when the collection plate comes around during your Sunday church service inducing you to dig deep. I am surely not the only one who puts more in than intended, just in case someone is watching me!

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