Chris McCready is a former professional at Crewe Alexandra, Tranmere and Morecambe as well as a graduate in Science and Football BSc at Liverpool John Moores University. This is his first blog which gives an overview of his transition away from professional football.
My football started to get serious when I was selected and attended The FA National School at Lilleshall from age 14-16. From here, I signed a YTS at Crewe Alexandra and then was fortunate enough to sign pro at 18.
I had some great memories, and made some great friends, but my time at Crewe was really challenging due to a number of recurring injuries and not really playing consistently. I managed to get on top of it all through embracing sports science (although at the time I didn't know what that was!). I started working with Neil Roach, a sport psychologist specialising in injuries, and with the medical team we devised an individualised training programme. I continued to work with Neil over the next 10 years and the work we did from a performance and personal perspective has been a massive positive in my life.
Then, in 2006/07, I moved to Tranmere Rovers, managed to play a full season and really loved it.
Unfortunately my time there only lasted a season, but I was delighted to go back to Crewe as Steve Holland became manager. Again, it proved to be tough as we struggled in the league and Steve, who I really respected and enjoyed working with, unfortunately got sacked.
The thought of further education had always interested me, but with really having to fight for my career I convinced myself that I didn't have the time, patience or resources to do anything else other than be a footballer. However, as I got to 26, I seriously started to consider what I might like to study and why ... this was fuelled by the constant insecurity of my career and by deep down knowing that I was capable of doing more with my time and achieving something away from football.
So, after much searching, in 2008 I decided to take the Science and Football BSc at Liverpool John Moores University. This seemed a perfect fit, as although I didn't know where I wanted to go, I knew I would be interested in the content and that I would enjoy learning something new. I decided to enrol part-time as I wanted to get the most from the course and needed to see how I could cope with the level having not studied for so long. The only issue here was that the course would now take 6 years instead of 3.
Ultimately I got so much more from the experience being over a longer period. It was difficult at first, the first few lectures really were a struggle, but I had always been determined and managed to stay with it. One lecture really captured my imagination, it was about the different ways coaching practices are set-up and how these impact upon acquiring new skills. Basically, drill-type practices are not game-related and so it is difficult to transfer the skills. This all made so much sense to me, and from here I was hooked and couldn't get enough. Things became a bit more challenging soon afterwards ... I got married and our first daughter was born! I went from having every afternoon free, to dirty nappies and textbooks!
"Other than my personal life, the decision to study was the best decision I have made as an adult."
I ended up getting released from Crewe, and after a brief stint at Northampton Town, I spent the next 4 seasons at Morecambe F.C. My time there came to a close this summer, as I was released. All of a sudden I was staring the end of my career in the face. After lots of soul-searching and a few tears, I decided to retire at the age 32. In all honesty it just felt right and the decision was helped by me graduating from LJMU in July 2014. A world of possibilities seemed to open up and I wanted to do something else with my life.
Other than my personal life, the decision to study was the best decision I have made as an adult. Whereas before I was worried about the time it might take away from my career, it had the opposite effect and I felt that I played my best football whilst studying. It allowed me to switch focus and develop myself, not the footballer. I enjoyed learning new things and challenging myself in different ways and found that I could transfer my skills from one domain to another. It was hard work, but so rewarding and I managed to get 1st Class honours. I could see myself doing and enjoying other things and that took the pressure away from football. It was an amazing experience.
I can't speak highly enough of the programme- all of the staff at LJMU went above and beyond what was expected of them and were a huge part of my positive experience. The support I received from the PFA throughout, maintaining regular contact with Oshor especially, was also of great help. As was the financial support. I owe a sincere thanks to all who helped me at the PFA and LJMU, without their support it would have been hugely difficult
My advice to all players is to go for it, now! Don't wait and you don't need to see it as a Plan B exclusively. Find something that you are interested in away from football and see where it takes you. It will help to develop you as a person and a player.
The degree has changed my life. I didn't really know where I was going or what I was going to do post-football, but from 2009 onwards I knew that I had found my calling in sports (football) science. I'm passionate about player support as opposed to performance-enhancement at the moment. I have a year's funding from LJMU to complete an MPhil project. Through it I will look to further understand the identity formation, and levels of personal development, found within elite youth footballers. In short the attrition rate is over 90% and so I want to look at the current system from another angle. Not how many players are produced, but how this journey impacts on all of those engaged from well-being perspectives. I have recently started interviewing young players at various clubs. From here I will feedback the findings to the PFA, and other key stakeholders, and hope the project will help to inform the current support systems available to all players.
So that brings me to today. Thanks for reading my story and to finish.... I was earning more money as a 1st year professional footballer in 1999, but I have never been happier! There are endless opportunities to explore for us all ...
Making the Transition
We know that players are worried about the transition – the transition from being a full time footballer to undertaking new challenges in the next stage of your life, and we also know that you have to consider the future for you and your family over the long term.
But don’t be daunted! With help from the PFA you can start to map out your progression pathway whilst you’re playing and then begin to put it into effect before the time comes when someone else is making a decision on your future.
Find out more about a PFA funded workshop 'Making the Transition' which enables players to gain a greater understanding of the key transition issues affecting elite performers’ and encourages them to explore new challenges and opportunities. For more information: click here.