Darkness and Light: My Story is the heart-wrenching and soul-stirring autobiography of footballer and two-time cancer survivor, Joe Thompson.
His mother's battle with mental illness and father's descent into a life of drugs and crime saw him battle adversity from birth.
Football opened up a new world of opportunity when Manchester United signed him, aged nine. Joe spent six years living every boy's dream but was left devastated when the club released him at 16.
He bounced back to forge a career in the Football League, before his life was thrown into turmoil. At 23, he was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer. Six months of chemotherapy followed, which eventually rid his body of the disease.
He had been given a second chance at life, but three years later he was given the shock news that his cancer had returned. An 18-day stay in an isolation unit reduced him to skin and bone, but he vowed that he wouldn't be beaten. For a second time, Joe gave cancer the boot and he has since made an incredible return to professional football.
Joe Thompson was released by Tranmere Rovers after recovering from cancer in 2014. In this extract from his autobiography, Darkness & Light, he reveals the financial worries he faced and how the PFA helped him to get back on his feet.
I picked up the phone and called my agent to tell him the news. ‘Gaz, we’re f***ed mate,’ I said. ‘I know we are mate, but don’t worry, I’ll make a few calls and see what I can do,’ he replied. I was only 23 but it’s hard enough getting a new club if you’ve had a serious injury, never mind cancer. I had a good set of GCSEs behind me and a BTEC sports diploma, but that wasn’t going to be enough to get me a decent job if I didn’t play football again.
I began to think I’d end up stacking shelves at a supermarket and we’d have to sell our house to make ends meet if I didn’t pull my finger out. I started to do the sums in my head. I knew that I had my final pay packet in the bank and would receive some severance pay, which would buy me a bit of time, but realistically I had six to eight weeks to get something sorted or I’d be in the sh*t financially.
The PFA had been a huge help while I’d been out and had added another couple of hundred pounds to my pay packet every month to help pay for the cost of additional childcare when Chantelle was at work or visiting me in hospital. I knew I’d have to speak to them again for advice. I didn’t have any critical illness insurance, so I wouldn’t get a payout if I was forced to retire. Chantelle had also reduced the number of clients on her books because she needed to be at home looking after me, so she couldn’t support both of us on her wage alone.
I’d been in a privileged position financially and was probably earning more money than most people my age, but I wasn’t being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a week. I was on £1,200 a week, plus healthy bonuses if I was playing, which I obviously hadn’t been. It was a lot for someone my age, but at the same time I’d only been on good money for a few years. During that time I’d bought a car and saved up a deposit for a house, and had to provide for my first child. Although we’d been living comfortably, I didn’t have ten years of earnings behind me on Premier League money.
I now get why players lower down the leagues move for financial reasons because a footballer’s career is a short one and you don’t have the same opportunity to restock the pot once you’re retired. Someone in a normal job will be earning until they’re 60 or 65, whereas a player will often have to retrain for another career because he has no qualifications or experience to fall back on. Today’s players also don’t have access to their football pension until they’re 65. Luckily, I was in the last age group who could immediately tap into their pension at 35, but I’d only been a professional for five years, so I knew I wouldn’t have a huge sum of money to fall back on.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but looking back I wish I’d stashed some more money away for a rainy day or even invested in myself and studied for other qualifications away from the pitch. I tell young players to do that now, rather than wasting their money on pointless things like clothes and expensive trainers. Ollie Rathbone is my little project at Rochdale, he’s a good player and very smart and is always asking how he should invest his money.
I wish there were more young lads with their heads screwed on like him, but being financially savvy and learning new skills is easier said than done when you’re already trying to learn a trade and work your way up the football ladder. There was no point in me thinking what I could or should have done; these were the cards I’d been dealt and I had to get on with it.
You can purchase your copy of Darkness and Light: My Story by Joe Thompson with Alec Fenn on Amazon: click here