x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Footballers can go from top to rock bottom

Few people outside the game realise how tough 'normal' life can be when you have never been a part of it.

Dean Windass's confession about the difficulties he faced adjusting to life after football has brought back similar memories Andrew Cole has of his retirement.
Dean Windass's confession about the difficulties he faced adjusting to life after football has brought back similar memories Andrew Cole has of his retirement.

I was not surprised by what Dean Windass had to say at the weekend and it was very sad.

He is a former Premier League striker who said that he had tried to kill himself, that his marriage was in tatters and that drink was taking a toll.

But I still wasn't surprised. His story is not unfamiliar.

The reason? There really is nothing to prepare you for life when you stop playing football.

Few people outside the game realise how tough "normal" life can be when you have never been a part of it.

Maybe people in the army can relate. They spend 15 or 20 years with the same group of people, an organised life in a regiment.

They are told what to do and where to go. Every day is planned for them and their identity is shaped around their profession.

People want to know them because of what they do and not who they are.

And then it stops.

Suddenly you are at home alone.

You don't get paid, you don't keep fit and you don't know what to do with all your time.

It is the same for footballers.

I had a tough few months after retiring in 2008. I hated myself as I sat in front of a television staring at the print-out of the football results on a Saturday afternoon.

For years I had played a part in those results. Now I was sitting there like a sad former professional dwelling on former glories.

My wife sat me down one day.

"I have my routine," she said. "That's not going to change. You need to get one. I don't want you getting under my feet and sitting around all day. You need to start to rebuild your life."

She was so right.

I had lived the dream and it was every bit as good as I expected it to be, but I couldn't live the rest of my life on the basis of who I used to be.

I turned to golf and it helped fill a lot of the blanks.

It meant that I still got fresh air each morning and still had something competitive to focus on.

I had the camaraderie that I missed so much in the football dressing, too, the social aspect, but I couldn't spend all my time playing golf. I was only 38.

I decided to be positive and not feel sorry for myself. I did not want to be the former star who turns up on radio and television bemoaning what football had become and claiming everything used to be far better.

I spent more time with my children and watched them develop. I started thinking about other people rather than myself.

Footballers can be so selfish and self-centred that they do not realise what the people closest to them are actually doing with their lives.

Partners must help, too. A lot of wives bask in the reflected glory of their husband's success.

They love the lifestyle and think it never needs to change. It does.

I have heard horror stories where the wife decides that she doesn't love you, doesn't like being a former footballer's wife and demands a divorce.

They get half the player's money and the player is left high and dry with no real earning power.

Divorce rates for recently retired players are scandalously high.

Players need to plan, too. A lot of footballers fail to understand that football will not go on forever.

They spend money like they will always have it and don't make any provision for the future, both financially and emotionally.

They need a plan B for when they stop playing because they can't all be coaches or go into management - there's not enough jobs for that.

It is sad that Windass is going through what he is. I would not wish it on my worst enemy, but it is also good that he's prepared to talk about it and can get help before it's too late.

Maybe that will spur other footballers into getting help before suicide seems the only way out.

 

CUP OF NATIONS

On a lighter note I'll watch the African Cup of Nations closely on television over the next few weeks. There's always top games and fine players, both established names and emerging talents.

I played with footballers who were regulars in the competition and they used to return to England with great stories. And they felt refreshed after being with their compatriots back in Africa.

The competition has been established longer than the European championships and should get more respect from European clubs, who see it as a hindrance to their domestic programme. If that's their view, then don't buy African players.

 

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

 

sports@thenational.ae