The PFA is pleased to be in partnership with LifeStyled Club, the private network helping partners and players cope with the pressures of football.
When you’re on the outside of the game peering in, the football life seems pampered and privileged. Wives and partners have been stereotyped for years, peaking in the 1990s in the tabloid-fuelled era of the WAGs (wives and girlfriends).
From the inside, the picture isn’t quite so perfect. Yes, there are incredible perks, and some players have fabulous lifestyles. But there are common and serious problems. The heartache of contracts run down, career-ending injuries, mental health pressures and media abuse don’t just affect those on the pitch – families and friends are often drawn into the storm and sometimes become the focal point for attacks.
Seeing the need for mutual support, in 2015 Maggie Devine-Inman and Helen Drury established LifeStyled Club, an online community for partners to discuss personal concerns away from the public eye.
The Other Half
“We’re just giving a voice to a community that often doesn’t get heard because of a stereotype put in front of them that people don’t look beyond,” says Helen, who is married to former Norwich City captain Adam Drury.
“The platform is a comfortable place and nobody is put on a pedestal because they’re Premier League or put down because they’re lower league. Everybody is an equal.” The club is online at LifeStyledclub.com.
There’s no fee to join, but it’s strictly members only and applicants are carefully vetted. Over 550wives and partners have now signed up, including Leanne Brown, wife of former Manchester United star Wes and Jamie Vardy’s wife Becky Vardy.
Maggie Devine-Inman is the other founder of the site. She is married to Niall Inman, a lifelong friend of Adam Drury. The two have been best mates since they were 10 and started their careers at Peterborough United before they took different paths – Adam hit the Premier League big time with Norwich, whereas Niall had his career cut short by injury at 23.
“People really needed to share their stories about their husband who went through a really bad time or even tried to commit suicide,” says Maggie, describing the issues shared within the group.
“The more we looked at what was out there for wives and partners the more we recognised there
are huge, common issues,” says Helen. “Divorce rates are high straight after football careers end along with bankruptcy and depression. We realised the problems in football are so deep and everyone in football has played with someone who ended up as of one of the statistics the PFA have to deal with on a daily basis.”
Despite tackling heavy issues, the site is far from a whingefest. Empowerment is a key theme. Women who are starting up in business are championed and plugged into a network that hosts business luncheons as well as socials (pandemic permitting). Stay-at-home mums feel valued here for their choices, too.
Sadly, there is no escaping the shared experiences of football’s brutal realities. "Wives and partners can be collateral damage,” warns Maggie. “There can be a lack of duty of care for the longevity of players’ welfare. Not all clubs, but some clubs are focussed on players doing really well here and now. We know that wives and partners are the ones who are going to be there until the end, picking up the pieces.”
“If you’re in football and you make a mistake, it’s really hard to come back from it,” adds Helen. “The PFA are really good as firefighters – people will go to the PFA for help. We’re trying to prevent a hell of a lot more stuff from happening.”
Football clubs are key supporters of the venture, including Manchester City. They fed into the features of the original website, which started as more of a Mumsnet-inspired forum. Since then, the site’s contents have been pared back to focus on useful articles and resources, and more clubs have introduced players’ partners to the site.
To date, LifeStyled Club’s creators have managed to avoid turning the site into a door to wealthy clients for the many commercial partners who would love a way in. The focus is on real stories and some of the most popular articles are in the ‘My Life in Football’ section.
“A girl wrote to us to talk about her husband’s mental health issues and suicide attempt because she just wanted to tell people about it,” says Helen. “He’s retired now and they’re in a great place, but she was only young when it happened and she’s still only in her 20s.”
Helen and Maggie made sure that the partner in that case was put in contact with key bodies such as the PFA, Sporting Chance and the Samaritans. And there are many similar stories, including tales of addiction, gambling and how to spot the signs of depression. Not all the content is so urgent – there’s also advice about making connections or starting a new life in the MLS.
“These are very honest, open conversations,” says Helen. “They are very relatable and people can say whatever they want because they’re not getting judged.”
During the pandemic, the network has grown rapidly – they launched a podcast and the PFA have used LifeStyled Club to get across key messages about the help offered by the union.
“The PFA asked us to speak about the benevolent fund, about education and to raise issues such as if your club isn’t paying you. They’re getting the message straight to people who want to know, and it works both ways,” says Helen.
“The PFA and clubs have been offering a good level of support, but no one has really considered the wives and the partners. We’re always seen as something to mock a little bit of who is just ‘there’. But women in football have huge power and can help to solve a lot of issues a player faces.”
PFA Chief Executive Maheta Molango said of the partnership: “The PFA is a player-centric organisation, and we want to listen to and hear from the people closest to the players.
“Many of the challenges in professional football, such as short-term contracts, career-ending injuries, retirement and mental health pressures, don’t just affect those on the pitch. These factors also impact families and loved ones.
“Helen and Maggie have created a unique support network. The partnership with Lifestyled represents a new platform to offer proactive support to our members and their families, helping players make the most of the opportunities available from the PFA.“
My football story
Amelia Sordell, wife of Marvin Sordell who quit the game due to mental health issues, joined LifeStyled for a hard-hitting podcast
When Marvin Sordell quit football he was just 28. Despite many highs, his career had been plagued by devastating lows. The ex-England U21 star suffered from depression and attempted suicide in 2013. He experienced bullying and archaic attitudes towards his mental health issues, revealing in a documentary last year that racism also contributed to his early retirement.
In an article for LifeStyledclub.com Marvin credited his wife Amelia for the support that helped him keep going through the dark days. Amelia joined club founders Helen and Maggie on their podcast to share her story of life inside football.
Now a champion of men’s mental health, she discussed in candid detail her experiences of a whirlwind romance with Marvin and her partner’s difficulties with life in the game.
“What you see is like Instagram versus reality. It’s so different to what people’s perceptions are,” she said in a frank discussion about the harsh realities of the game.
“Football is life. From GCSEs onwards, it is all you’re doing. Then you come to a point as an adult where you’re questioning your happiness and tying your happiness to this thing you have been told to focus on your entire life. It really is no surprise people end up with depression, anxiety and all sorts of mental health issues.”
Adam Drury, Helen’s husband and former Norwich City captain, on the vital role partners play in a footballer’s career
Why is there a need for LifeStyled Club from a player’s perspective?
What players go through off the pitch, it used to be ‘just get on with it’. Whereas now I think people realise if you look after players properly off the pitch, and wives and partners are happy, it makes a big difference.
Where is support needed?
People have reached out to Helen and Maggie with worries about injuries, off-the-field problems, contracts... Everyone thinks football is a rosy life, and it is brilliant in many ways, but people don’t see the other side of it. When players move a lot it’s daunting for them in the new dressing room and also the players’ wives in the lounge. What the girls are doing to create a support network is a great idea.
When is the help most needed?
Retirement is probably the most common example, but I think help is always needed along the journey. A week can be a long time in football – you can be a hero one Saturday, but left out of the team the next for any number of reasons. A network like this can provide help, comfort or just a place to share for all those challenging moments, but also for the good ones as well.
By supporting LifeStyled Club, what’s in it for football clubs?
Sometimes players don’t go to their clubs in case they won’t get picked if they raise issues. That’s how it used to be. Now they can speak to LifeStyled Club and find the help they need through a different channel.
Niall Inman, Maggie’s husband and ex-pro at Peterborough United.
When did you need support during your career?
I met Maggie as I was transitioning out of football. I’m now a lecturer and an architectural technologist. For me, if I’d have had Maggie there for support in the days when I was released by Peterborough United when I was 23, things would have happened a lot more smoothly. Partners have a big role to play.
What is that role?
Footballers are only with their club for a limited time. It’s your wife or partner who is the real support for a footballer. The clubs and the PFA are there, but the wives and partners are always on the frontline. Even a simple thing like a bad day on the pitch or a terrible result and it spoils the weekend or the rest of the week. It’s like the end of the world. It’s just having the support of someone to moan to who will listen.
And they are there in the darkest times too?
Yes. When there is a bad injury or you’re released and the agent doesn’t want to talk to you, the club doesn’t want to talk to you, the fans suddenly move on. Then, hopefully, your partner is there to support you.
Do those partners need their own network?
Yes, the wife and partner aren’t taught how to counsel players. They don’t get told what to say, or who are the right people to forward things on to if they start seeing signs things aren’t right mentally or physically. That’s what Maggie and Helen are doing and I am so proud of them.