Discover how Sam Squire, Ben Cooper and Dan King have bounced back from the released list with rewarding new jobs close to their football roots
How did you become aware of opportunities to work in the community?
Sam Squire (SS): When I was a second year scholar I finished my college work a lot earlier than scheduled. That freed up time and I wanted to make the most of it. I saw what the Community Trust were doing and decided to help out in the community and have a positive influence. I got involved with their mental health programme, speaking to kids in school. I saw the good work and it unlocked the door for me.
Ben Cooper (BC): My former U16 manager took a lead role in the community and he gave me the opportunity to get involved. He thought I would be a good fit. As an ex-scholar, I’d been in the environment and could pass on my experiences as a coach.
Dan King (DK): The club sat down with myself and Charlie Barlow and said there was a role for us, would we be interested? I knew I definitely wanted to stay in football. I took a year coaching in local schools and worked my way up.
What’s your current role?
SS: I’m the Premier League Kicks officer for Cambridge United Community Trust. I work with 8-18 year olds in the most deprived areas of Cambridge, trying to positively impact kids through the power of the club and football and provide free turn-up-and-play football sessions. The aim is to make Cambridge a safer, stronger and more inclusive community.
BC: As a coach I’m in a team that tries to give players high-quality coaching but also other opportunities – like university talks and work experience of coaching school children. We’re very straight with them about the chances of becoming pro footballers and give them plenty of other ideas as well.
DK: I manage the Participation Department of the Southend United Community and Educational Trust, getting kids involved in the game.
What do you get out of your role at the Community Trust, do you find it rewarding?
BC: It’s massively rewarding. I’ve been doing it for three years now and seeing how people have gone on to great things is so rewarding.
DK: When I was 18 I knew I wasn’t going to make it as a pro, so I thought ‘what’s the next best thing I can do to being a footballer?’ and just seeing younger kids at school, encouraging them to achieve their dream as I had at their age… Seeing them going from not a bad footballer to becoming really good and pushing them into the academy – that’s what success is for me.
SS: Making people realise the potential they have – not just within mental health but that was a massive part of it for me, because my mum tried to commit suicide. She’s fine now. But I could show them what can happen when people start to struggle and how someone can hide things from you. Seeing young people’s insights and their brains ticking over is amazing.
Was it difficult to adjust to life without a playing routine and did you have a support network?
SS: My parents went through a divorce, I got released and I split up from my long-term relationship. A lot happened and I’ve been through a lot of transition. I needed stability. I was my own support network. It was really useful for my development and growth as a person. My parents have been great too and the football club were great: not just through the Trust but also through the transition phase from being released to the intern manager ringing me to find out how I was doing. I didn’t feel that much of a change because of my involvement in the community.
BC: It was quite smooth for me. After being let go at 18 I went to the States and coached at a soccer camp, which made me realise I wanted to go into coaching. It’s been a natural progression for me.
DK: It was challenging but I’d been at the club since I was nine so I knew everybody. I was still involved in football, still wearing a Southend United tracksuit and it definitely wasn’t a massive change. The PFA have always been helpful – Dave Palmer always pops down and sees how you are getting along. Dale as the CEO of the Trust was a scholar himself at Rotherham, so he already had that similarity which was good – that made it a lot easier for me.
How have you developed as a person in the community role?
BC: I’m much more professional, more grown up and mature. I’ve grown up really quickly after being given more responsibility.
SS: How I interact with people has improved. I communicate in a more intelligent way – not just speaking to people but seeing how people tick and seeing the potential in them. I think about how I can raise that potential into people’s awareness.
DK: At the start it was quite difficult. I now manage people a similar age to me and I’m telling them what to do. Five or six of us have made that move from the academy to the community, which has made it easier.
What advice would you give scholars?
BC: There’s more to life than football. I found that really quickly. I enjoy playing football every day but there are bigger things – whether that’s pushing people on as a coach, or spending time with your family.
DK: When I was in that position I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do. It was just football, football, football. I would say ‘keep the door open – there are always opportunities out there’. Most clubs will try to help you so speak to people you know at the club and look for opportunities.
SS: When you’re released there’s no way that’s the end of the road. It doesn’t mean you’re less of a footballer or a person. There’s so much potential in you and it can actually be the start of something. You begin a new path and you learn about yourself. People get caught up in other people’s lives, but you have to focus on your own journey.
PFA Charity support
Dave Palmer, PFA community liaison executive, explains the Charity’s support for scholars and the opportunities that are available
“The PFA Charity’s funding and support for community work has always had a focus on the players themselves – whether it is to give back and support local projects or through career transition into the charitable side of the game. It has been really encouraging to see the increased engagement of scholars and younger professionals – and the three clubs and the players highlighted here are excellent examples of career opportunities that Trusts and Foundations provide.
“Our long-term goal is that more of our younger members will become aware of these opportunities through engagement on a local level during their playing careers and in turn seek guidance around potential roles if they unfortunately come out of the game at an early stage.”