My first full football calendar year away from football and I’m still here.
Who knew there was life after football? God knows it’s taken me long enough to adjust after I stopped playing. Not that I’m fully recovered.
I imagine this what a recovering addict goes through, having to substitute my habit of playing football for a living by writing and talking about it. Football journalism as a kind of methadone, if you like.
I always feel the need to talk about retirement now and again because it feels like an ongoing process. Talking about it like this helps. Writing has always felt like therapy and being able to put words down like this even more so.
I’ve said before, there’s a part of me that wishes I went cold turkey and removed myself from football altogether. That might have consisted of some kind of surgery at the time of my official retirement from playing but would probably have been more beneficial to my well-being.
In a parallel world, I made that decision and I can see myself standing outside a log cabin in the middle of a wood deserted from other people for miles around.
As appealing as that lifestyle feels at times, the chances of me lasting more than a week in that environment are slim. I’d have to learn how to live without everything that made life so comfortable for me during my time as a footballer but maybe that’s exactly what we need on retirement. A crash course in survival.
As I grow older, ever distant from that past life, the fear grows that I’ll always be an ex-footballer and the need for therapy will be never ending. Perhaps making a career for myself where it’s more or less part of my job description only feeds that fear so I’ve only got myself to blame for that.
So here I am. Five years in to my rehabilitation and the usual end of season affective disorder that arrives with the fear of two months of football has been soothed by the upcoming World Cup. The only difference now is the fear of not having any football to watch is replaced by the anxiety of no work during the off-season, which is why I’m so grateful for the World Cup.
I’ve worked out that there are actually only 8 days free of football between the play-offs and England’s final warm-up game and the first game in Russia. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t managed to wangle a trip out there to work on it but I’m consoling myself with the fact I’ll be able to watch as many of the games as I want. Egypt against Saudi Arabia might not seem a mouthwatering encounter to you but I’ll be there watching their keepers, who are under the guidance of the goalkeeping guru that is Frans Hoek. There’s always an interest from somewhere, you see.
By the time the final is over on the 15th of July, clubs will already be weeks deep in to their preseason preparation, then we’re only 20 days away from the start of the EFL season and off we go again.
This all probably seems a bit contradictory, so you get the gist of the inner turmoil players go through after they finish. There will be plenty of footballers coming to the end of their careers now, some through choice, some through a decision forced on them through injury or lack of opportunity. They’ll be waking up to a new life, with something integral to who they are missing. Just like I did. Just like I still do. But if there’s one piece of advance I can give to them, it’s to reach out to whoever they can and talk about it. .
I’m not a qualified therapist but I know how much of a difference it can make to get some perspective back and talk to someone outside of your own head. And if you’re a friend of a footballer who has just retired, my advice to you is to pick up the phone and call them. Playing football is great, but it’s always good to talk.