Born: 3 June 1977, Birkenhead, England
- 1996-97: Caernarfon Town
- 1997-98: Swansea City
- 1998-2001: Rochdale
- 2001-04: Barnsley
- 2004-12: Rochdale
- 2012-14: Bradford City
- 2014-15: Notts County
- 2015- : Southport
“Football is a difficult life and sometimes you need to speak to people. Being in care work is similar to football in that respect”
After a career spanning 600 games, ex-Bradford captain Gary Jones needed to find work but didn’t have qualifications. Proof that jumping straight into the job market can be the best route for some ex-pros, he started a new life as a support worker and hasn’t looked back…
What are you up to now?
I’m working at a company called Lifeways based on the Wirral in Merseyside as a support worker. I work with people who have a range of issues from mental health problems to disabilities. These are mental and physical challenges such as difficulty walking and speaking.
How did you get into that?
One of my friends was working in that field and I used to see him every day in the park working with service users. We got chatting and he said, ‘why don’t you come after you’ve finished your football and shadow me for a day?’ – and that’s where it all started.
What training did you need?
When I started with Lifeways I did a number of courses, such as personal care. I’m always doing courses because certain stipulations change over time – there is always new stuff to learn that needs refreshing.
It’s a big change from the world of football...
It was an eye-opener at first but like everything you grow into it. Every day is different to the previous one. I am happy with the change. I was in football for 20 years and keep my hand in with the media, working for the BBC, but I’ve never wanted to go into coaching and management. With football, one minute you’re up, the next you’re down. If you win on Saturday you are up, lose and you’re down again. It’s a constant battle and I don’t miss that.
How did you prepare for the end of your career?
I didn’t really plan ahead. I was playing until I was 40. Listen, it’s difficult – ask any footballer and they dread it. You’re doing the same thing for such a long time and football is so regimented. You get told what to eat and where to be at what time. When that finishes it’s like ‘what next?’ I did miss football when I finished – every footballer does. When you’re going into a completely different, challenging environment you focus on doing that and being the best at what you’re doing now. When you change occupation you pour your energies into that.
You didn’t go down the conventional education route.
I’m not very academic, I‘ve never been that way – classrooms were never my cup of tea. I sort of fell into football and that’s the way I went from football into something else.
You were a PFA delegate when you were playing, was that useful for planning ahead?
The PFA have been brilliant for me. They do so much work that doesn’t get publicised. I’m in constant contact with Osh [Williams, Assistant Director of Education at the PFA]. I’ve been to the seminars he does about life after football. I can’t speak highly enough of them – the PFA is a brilliant organisation. Gordon Taylor is getting it from all angles but from my point of view they have been great. When you play professional football you’re a PFA member for life, not just for your football career.
Is care something that comes from your personality?
I enjoy the challenge. Dealing with people who have really severe problems – mental health problems –
I really enjoy that. As a player I was captain for the clubs I played for and I was always there for young players, trying to help them along. Football is a difficult life and sometimes you need to speak to people. Being in care work is sort of similar to football in that respect. It’s a different environment but I see the challenge and every day is different and that’s why I enjoy it.
You famously hugged young fan and cancer sufferer Jake Turton during Bradford’s league cup run. That photo is probably the defining moment from your career – do you reflect fondly on it?
I saw Jake a few years later and he’s in remission and clear of cancer. That makes me so happy. It was just one of those things – it was a special night, beating Villa. It wasn’t premeditated, it just happened. The emotions were there and it just happened.
Once you finished at Bradford, where you had an Indian summer, how did the remainder of your career pan out?
It’s difficult when you leave a club like Bradford where you’ve achieved so much and you’re getting older. I went to Notts County, was travelling all the time, away from the family, it was tough and we got relegated into League Two that season. Having played full-time for 18 years and then you drop down, I found it difficult.
What was the main difference at that level?
When you’re playing part time with lads who have got jobs outside the game, football is not the be all and end all for them as they work for a living. I found that difficult. Being a professional footballer was everything to me. Football is your life not your job. No disrespect to part-time players but that’s a fact.
What would your advice be to players at the start of their careers?
To young players I’d say football is an unbelievable job. It’s cutthroat but if you work hard and train hard it brings huge rewards and it’s unbelievable. Young lads – enjoy it, work hard, live your life well off the pitch and you will excel on it.
And what would you say to players nearer retirement?
At the end of your career it’s difficult. I’m different because I didn’t go down the coaching route many ex-footballers follow. There is life after football and you need to prepare, but when you’re in the game, enjoy every minute of it.
Gary’s fondest playing memory is a stunning league cup run with Bradford city in the 2012/13 season. They were the first fourth-tier team to reach the final of the competition
“It was an unbelievable time. We beat three Premier League teams – Wigan, Arsenal and Villa – and one of them over two legs. We had the belief and the team spirit. It was an amazing time for the club and the supporters.
I watched Man City beat up Burton the other day and I really felt sorry for them. We lost heavily in the final and, to be honest, it took the edge off the run. In a way, beating Aston Villa was our cup final – the actual final was a game too far.
We would rather have played Chelsea in the final. Swansea played total football under Michael Laudrup and we got nowhere near them. But it was in front of 90,000 at Wembley and for players like us it was a massive achievement. No one gave us a chance. It’s something that will never happen again – a League Two team being 90 minutes from Europe.
But a bigger achievement was going up that year. Off the back of being really beaten in the final,
12 points off the play-offs, we came back strong, got to Wembley and won.”
Help with Transition
Whether it’s a new career or getting qualified, the PFA will help you find your best route out of the game
Every year the PFA holds a Making the Transition Conference to support players facing tough choices about their future as their playing career draws to a close. Gary Jones used the opportunity to access advice from the union that helped him into his new career. The event invites players to consider the physical and mental impact of retirement and the process of preparing to leave the game.
“When you come to the end you think you’re the only person facing the challenges of retirement,” says Gary. “But it’s everybody – everybody is in the same boat as you. Football is short lived and these seminars are put on because you have the rest of your life to lead. What I took from it was that I wanted to be good at something and that for me was going into the care industry. There’s life after football, it comes to all of us.”
The next Making the Transition conference takes place on 10 June 2019. Contact the PFA’s Assistant Director of Education, Oshor Williams for details.
Thinking About A New Career?
The PFA offer a wide selection of education programmes, and funding is available to support any nationally recognised qualification for current or former members. If you’re interested in exploring your next steps, learn more here.