By Tony Dewhurst
When Lee Butcher suffered a career ending knee injury, he turned to the PFA for help and it signalled a new destination in his career, writes Tony Dewhurst.
WORKING on the London Underground is a world away from being a goalkeeper for Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient.
"I work nights on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Northern Lines as a signal technician.
"And like playing in goal, it’s a big job with a lot of responsibility.
"I recall it was a horrible feeling and a scary thought not knowing what I was going to do after football.
"I didn’t have any other professional skills to offer an employer.
"How would I live?
"One day, and by complete chance, I looked at the PFA website and saw a railway signalling course advertised.
"Interested, I contacted Oshor Williams (PFA Assistant Director of Education) who couldn’t do enough for me.
"Oshor guided me on to the course then eventually I got a job contracting on the railways.
"It was uncanny really and I wouldn’t be earning a decent wage today if it wasn’t for the precious help, understanding and advice from my union.
"There is so many different courses to apply for on the website, and they have vastly experienced staff in place to guide and help you.
"I would urge any player coming to the end of their career to consider using the union’s wealth of knowledge.
"I’ve no regrets, but I wish I had used the PFA more when I was a scholar at Arsenal and a senior ‘keeper at Tottenham and Leyton Orient.
"I loved the day-to-day training, a real eye-opener, an education too, working alongside fantastic goalkeepers at Spurs: Heurelho Gomes, Carlo Cudicini and Paul Robinson.
"And the flip side, the challenge of men’s football when I was loaned out to AFC Wimbledon at 17.
"Wimbledon were in the Isthmian League then, so it was a massive learning curve.
"However, I couldn’t hack the mental side of playing.
"I made 50-odd appearances for Leyton Orient, but I didn’t enjoy match days because of the way it made me feel.
"I enjoyed football – but I couldn’t wait to give it up.
"It is still quite hard to talk about, but it was more the fear of letting somebody down.
"If I had a good game, stopping a penalty or making important saves, it would be an incredible feeling and I’d be buzzing all weekend.
"I didn’t want to admit I was struggling with my emotions though.
"And now I’ve stepped away from the game maybe I wish I had contacted my union to try and address those fears and to talk about mental health.
"My colleagues on the railways often ask me what it was like to be a professional footballer.
"It is a totally different world, an environment where you are sometimes shielded from the realities of life.
"Unless you’ve worked in the every-day environment of professional football then you can’t explain to them what it’s like in the dressing room.
"It is the same when you talk to a young player today, trying to advise them about the possible pitfalls, how the real world is so hard to navigate.
"At Arsenal, I was an apprentice, paid £100 a week.
"I’d put £10 a week away and I got in the habit of saving a tiny bit.
"But when you’re a youngster saving a few quid is not always top of the agenda.
"You can’t put an old head on young shoulders the saying goes.
"I just wish young footballers could be given a taste of life’s experiences if, like many, they don’t make it into senior football.
"There needs to be something in place so that these lads can go out and do a proper job for a short period of time, just for a few weeks, to see what it is like.
"To be given the opportunity to play professional football is a privilege and I’ll always cherish my full league debut for Leyton Orient against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.
"Scott McGleish, (PFA Delegate Liaison Officer), was in the Orient side and walking out of the tunnel into that giant bowl of a stadium was an incredibly special moment.
"I miss the banter, having a laugh around the lads.
"The main thing I miss is the winning side of it.
"Saturdays, going away, winning 1-0.
"There’s no feeling like it really."