Double cancer survivor who celebrated his recovery with the goal that kept Rochdale in League One in May.
Shouldn’t you still be celebrating your best footballing moment rather than looking seriously at the long term – especially after all you’ve been through in the last few years?
No, not at all! I would hope I’d have been here even if I hadn’t had good reason to consider a life without football. The onus should be on all players to come and learn about options and opportunities and see what’s what beyond the game. I took so much inspiration from listening to someone as positive as Paul McVeigh, and also from speaking to Oshor and others at the PFA, and it’s confirmed to me something that I really want to do, which is to use my story if I can to help and inspire others. Obviously, there are specific opportunities being discussed here today, but I think the most important thing to take away is that you can put the positive mindset that the guys here are discussing and displaying today to good use in any working environment – be it industry, corporate or whatever.
Are too many players locked inside the football bubble and can’t consider a world beyond that time when the bubble bursts?
Yes, ultimately, the quicker footballers can recognise that neither the critics nor the hangers-on who slap them on the back really matter, the quicker they can gain perspective, plan well for a future that possibly lies beyond the game and appreciate events like this. Don’t get me wrong – professional football is a fantastic life. But it does come to an end, there is life beyond it; that life can be great, and players just need to put something in place to take that step. Days like today offer a brilliant opportunity to do that. I’ll be leaving this event, going back to the lads at my club and saying to them: ‘Come on, it’s eight or nine hours out of one day, but it could change your life!’ Every current player would benefit from being here.
The ex-Torquay player was forced to retire in March, aged just 23, with a heart condition detected months after his sister received the same diagnosis.
You’ve just turned 24, what is it like to come to an event that looks at life beyond football?
It isn’t something I would have imagined being at a year ago. But I came here with the mindset that, okay I might be behind a fair number of people I left school with, but I’m ahead of a lot of players who are coming to the end of their careers and not thinking properly about their future.
Do you think the ability to work in a team is possibly the most important thing you’re going to take into your next career?
Yep, 100%. The social aspect of things – the ability to deal with people – means that when you go into another industry you have the experience of working under different managers and alongside different people and have dealt with things that are present in most workplaces – such as punctuality and following rules.
And in terms of working under pressure, there are few more intense pressures than football…
Yes. In some ways, professional football is a privileged workplace because there aren’t many other jobs where you sign a contract guaranteeing you work for the next however many years. But in other ways the pressures you get in other types of work aren’t as intense as they are on a footballer. Basically, if players can control the cycle of their emotions in another workplace like they have learned to do in football then they’re well equipped for the working world beyond the game.
Centre back released by Leeds in May 2018, now enrolled on a soccer scholarship at a US college.
Of all the delegates here, you’re the youngest. 18 seems incredibly young to be thinking about life-changing decisions…
At 18, I didn’t get offered professional terms by Leeds. So it was a case of answering the question ‘what do I do now?’ as quickly as possible. I got a few trials lined up in England but also arranged to go on tour to America with pass4soccer to look at the US college soccer option. And from that I quickly made the decision that was what I’d like to do – study and play football. So I’ve got all that organised and I’m going to UNC at Charlotte in North Carolina, which is a top university.
What have you taken from today?
One of the big things I’ve taken from today is that – as a footballer, and even at my age – you’ve got a range of contacts you never realised you had, whether that’s with fellow players who might go into an area of business you want to end up in, or through all the links that the PFA have with the world beyond football. It might be in a month or it might even be in 15 years, but there may come a moment when you pick up the phone to a contact you made on a day like this and it changes your life.
The ex-Burnley striker, cancer survivor and future high financier . . .
You’re already in the post-career stage that a lot of the players here today are only just starting to think about…
Yes, I was at Burnley but I was released in 2013, then played for Workington and was looking to sign for Barrow when I was diagnosed with leukaemia. And then life changed…
Most importantly, you beat the cancer but then it seems you made a quick turnaround in terms of your career focus?
Yes, the thing is that even when I started football at 16, I was interested in stock markets. So it was always a case of, if football didn’t work out, I wanted to have everything in place that would allow me to pursue my interest in the markets and finance as a career. That’s why as a scholar at Burnley I did A-levels in maths and economics. And when I was released by Burnley I did another A-level in further maths, which allowed me to go and study financial mathematics at university.
To what extent did the PFA help you with your diagnosis and your potential career change?
The PFA came into me at Burnley and made me aware that if football wasn’t to materialise there were qualifications that suited my skills. So I always knew the PFA were around, but in terms of the extent that they can get involved and support players I hadn’t really known that before my diagnosis. They’re an incredible organisation, accentuating the positives for every member and helping players and ex-pros deal with negatives.