Morecambe’s veteran goalkeeper Barry Roche is celebrating his testimonial season after ten years with League Two Morecambe.
The Shrimps club captain tells Tony Dewhurst how the Professional Footballers’ Association helped save his career and how the union assisted the Lancashire club in their hour of need.
They say a goalkeeper has to be crazy, but I think I’m one of the normal ones.
I’ve had my share of ups and downs since saving a penalty with my first touch in league football for Nottingham Forest against Crystal Palace.
I even scored a goal of my own, an injury time leveller for Morecambe to rescue a draw versus Portsmouth.
Football, though, can swallow you up and you need to have broad shoulders to survive in a ruthless business.
Four years ago, though, I was convinced that my career was at an end.
I was told that I had a 50-50 chance of resuming my career following hip surgery.
I had to face the fact that I wouldn’t play again.
It was very scary and with a young family to look after I was absolutely devastated because football was my life.
The surgeon warned me that the recovery would be long and hard, but then the Professional Footballers’ Association offered to fund my recovery at St George’s Park, where the England national team train.
Morecambe didn’t have those facilities, and I was treated by some of the finest physiotherapists in the land.
It was an incredible gesture by my union, absolutely fantastic, and that special rehabilitation saved my career.
The PFA has played a huge role, helping me prepare for life after football and when Morecambe suffered a financial crisis they stepped in.
We had 22 players who had not received a penny for several weeks, many couldn’t pay their mortgage or bills.
One of the lads had bought a new house and told me that he had £26 in his bank account and that he couldn’t afford to travel to training.
It was a desperately worrying situation, but every day I spoke to Simon Barker, the PFA assistant chief executive, who gave us all superb advice and help we needed.
Simon travelled from Manchester to address the players and the PFA paid our wages.
It produced a siege mentality, bringing us together, with the players, supporters and staff determined to keep us going.
And when the manager, Jim Bentley, was fined £1,000 following a touchline incident the supporters raised the cash to pay it.
He was presented with the money by a supporter who told him: ‘We all care about you and we stand shoulder to shoulder with the players.’
It was a very touching moment, an incredible gesture, and it was the first time that I’d seen the gaffer cry.
I want to stay in the game when I hang my boots up.
I’m not interested in becoming a manager – I want to coach and try and pass my knowledge on to the next generation.
The PFA has provided me with that first foundation stone, funding my UEFA B goalkeeping and outfield badge.
I now coach the goalkeepers at Morecambe’s Academy, aged 9-16.
It is a very fulfilling experience, when you see a young goalkeeper using your advice to better himself.
I do take immense pride in that.
I’ve always been fascinated by the media, how they report football and sport.
So, after some brilliant advice from the PFA, I took the plunge and enrolled to study for a degree in Sports Journalism, my course funded by the union.
It was tough, making a 200-mile round trip from Morecambe to Stoke-on-Trent twice weekly after training to study in a classroom.
I had not done any serious education for ten years, so it was an intense experience and a very challenging one.
The first lecture was a three hour talk on law, and I thought, ‘Wow. This is going to be hard.’
It was, but the course developed by former Sheffield Wednesday defender Lawrie Madden, is designed to give players the best possible chance of succeeding in the industry.
It was a strange feeling to be on the other side of the microphone, but it taught me so much and was very enjoyable.
The PFA had backed me, so I was determined to finish the course and I emerged with a BA Honours in Professional Sports Writing and Journalism.
That degree could open the door when I retire, for a career in teaching or in the world of sports journalism.
I’m 37 next month, and I’ve plenty left in the tank, but I can’t thank the Professional Footballers’ Association enough for their help.
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.