Timely lesson not to give up football dream

28 Jun Timely lesson not to give up football dream

At a time where the revenue into the top of the game is getting more and more significant, and becomes such a focus of message in the media, it fuels the ambitions of many around the country strive to be one of football’s golden few. However, it is the story of football’s ‘forgotten majority’ that requires more exposure to ensure that the sport plays its role in developing a community that can have aspirations and dreams, whilst at the same time being transparent about challenges that require consideration.

The statistics show that there is a real need to focus on ‘alternative’ routes if the ‘dream’ does not become reality – the challenge is the need to raise the profile of this alternative routes and stories, and this is where Non League football plays a significant and positive part for many.


Topical example?


Over the last month Duncan Watmore has been representing England U20s in the Toulon tournament after having a really positive season for the Sunderland U21 group and being named Premier League Under 21 Player of the Season despite missing three months of the season with a broken leg. Having watched him twice this season (He was selected for my GB squad in 2013), he has really stepped on from his release from Manchester United aged 12 and his grounding in the Conference North with Altrincham. However, it is not the current football story that makes him, in my eyes different to many. Duncan whilst at Altrincham was completing a degree at Manchester University and when Sunderland came calling, his great support network, led by his father Ian ensured that he continued his studies as he transferred to Newcastle University – the possible reality of the future, was clear in the decision making.

His last month has been a really challenging one, which included balancing his final degree exams, and contributing to the U20 performance in Toulon. Whilst the story is not about the earnings of millions of pounds and living a lavish lifestyle, there is a significant message to inspire and develop the next generation here, around continuing with core parts of ‘normal’ life to ensure you future is in your own hands.

Rejection and transition are natural features of the football pathway but Duncan’s story shows that there are opportunities for progression whilst also planning for a future off the pitch.
Who are other examples?

There are a significant amount of players who have been ‘rejected’ and taken up a path in education (both Further Education & Higher Education) whilst regaining their ‘fire’ for the game outside the football league before going on to work in the industry, both on and off the field. Below are some examples that cross the industry:

  • Chris Jones (Harrow Borough FC / Loughborough University)
    Won the Premier League as one of Chelsea FC 1st Team Head of Fitness
  • Ben Purkiss (York City / Hereford Sheffield University)
    This season played for Walsall in the JPT final at Wembley
  • Gary Warren (Newport County FC / Bath University)
    Part of the most successful team in Inverness Caledonian Thistle History this season
  • Tony Strudwick (VS Rugby FC / Loughborough University)
    Head of Performance at Manchester United and England Senior squad
  • Tom Pett (Wealdstone FC / Middlesex University)
    Professional Footballer at Stevenage FC
  • David Accam (Evesham United / Hartpury College)
    Current Ghananian international and pro at Chicago Fire in the MLS
  • Alex Dyer (Wealdstone FC / Open University)
    Captain & Professional footballer at Swedish club Ostersunds FK
  • Joe Lolley (Kidderminster Harriers / University of Central Lancashire)
    Professional footballer at Huddersfield Town
  • Matt Smith (Chichester City FC / Hartpury College)
    Now at Bangkok Glass, Thai Premier League, Former Brisbane Roar Captain and Full International with Australia
  • Ben Smith (Crawley Town FC / Birmingham University)
    Author of ‘The Journeyman’ & Coach at Brighton & Hove Albion
  • Matt Smith (Solihull Moors / Manchester University)
    Professional Footballer at Fulham FC
  • David Syers (Osset Albion FC / Leeds University)
    Professional footballer at Scunthorpe United
  • Luke Graham (Hereford / Alfreton Staffordshire University)
    Head of Football Moulton College
  • Tom Champion (Dartford FC / Birmingham University)
    Released from Cambridge United and looking for next challenge
  • Jonathan McClaughlin (Harrogate Railway / Leeds Beckett University)
    Professional Footballer at Burton Albion FC
  • Bradley Pritchard (Nuneaton / Tamworth Loughborough University)
    Professional footballer at Leyton Orient FC
  • Dave Hunt (Loughborough Dynamo / Loughborough University)
    1st Team Physiotherapist Birmingham City
  • Chris Beardsley (Stevenage / Kettering Staffordshire University)
    Current pro at Mansfield Town and completing UEFA A License


It is worthy of note, that there are many high profile examples of athletes and coaches taking their education as an important part of their development or long term plan. They include Juan Mata (has two degrees), Simon Mignolet, Vincent Kompany, Kevin Phillips and Glen Johnson.

I am not for one minute suggesting that a degree pathway is the way for everyone, but what I do advocate is considering a clear plan for the future for football’s majority. The average lifespan of a professional footballer is 7 years, average salary in League 2 is approximately £49,000, what is critical is that the consideration for the future for the majority is really important. With the introduction of the U21 competition, the number of players that this affects significantly increases, putting the ‘supply and demand’ pressure on the system even higher.

Not making the grade and planning for the future has to now be at the forefront of the footballers tool kit, and there is no doubt that the football agencies are doing their best to support, but the challenge is, the numbers are vast, is it enough of a priority, because the statistics say that the overwhelming majority in the system as you read this today, will not be making a living out of the game for long enough or at all to secure their future.

It is time that the positive role models of the past and today, were given the limelight to explain the reality to the next generation, so that football can really doing its bit in supporting the forgotten majority to fulfil their potential.


Switch The Play



Over the last 15 years I have been lucky enough to be exposed to working in the education sector at the UKs Premier Sports Institution Loughborough University, learning and developing with and from some of the UKs best Coaches in various sports. I have had international coaching experience as Head Coach to the Great Britain Universities team (09 /11 & 13) and some great experiences in Non-League having managed at Loughborough Dynamo at the aged of 23 and held roles at Nuneaton Borough & Kettering Town. Throughout this time I have helped, advised, supported many players who have been rejected, taken a transition route or who have progressed through the industry…many of the stories are inspirational, as Duncan’s is for all sorts of different reasons.

The role of Switch the Play is to support telling these stories in order to challenge, develop and empower the current and next generation of athletes, coaches and support networks who have aspirations and ambitions for the future. We want to help people to fulfil their potential through and beyond sport and are committed to giving something back charitably to help make this a reality for more people.

Our first story of George Williams, who now is a pro at Barnsley. George tells the story of his rejection from MK Dons, the great advice and support he received and his journey through education at Loughborough University, playing at Step 5, moving to Worcester City and his progression back into full time football. A story that is full of success but I hope gives many of the next or current generation some clear messages around planning, education and the importance of those around them. George, is the first of many stories we will tell which will cover not just re-entry as an athlete but into many other areas of the industry and life, in the hope that we can help educate some people with some messages that will resonate with their current situation.

In coming months we will be launching products and services that will allow us and our significant network of experience in this area to raise the profile of being prepared for the future and having a toolkit to deal with rejection, transition or progression within the industry.