Former player Freddy Champion began playing for Chelsea as a schoolboy aged 11 before signing Scholarship papers with Tottenham five years later. He left Spurs after 2 years, for a professional contract at London rivals QPR where Freddy played for 18 months before being released and making the huge decision to pursue academic success instead. Now an F1 Junior doctor, Freddy worked as a vaccinator during his final year of studies before starting his training in Essex. We caught up with Freddy to learn more about his unconventional post-football journey.
Freddy, when did you first start thinking about your post-football career?
I was let go when QPR were relegated in 2013, and that's when I started to consider whether I wanted to stay in football or not. I had the opportunity to pursue a career in the lower leagues/conference, however I decided against this. Many young players continue to fall down the footballing pyramid following release from academy teams, and I didn’t like the prospect of possibly being in my mid to late twenties still trying to work my way back up the leagues.
After a few trials I decided to revaluate my options. I had no regrets because, at that point, I had left no stone unturned. I had tried everything, even (unsuccessfully) writing emails to clubs both in England and abroad! Following this I decided to try something different.
What made you decide to commit to a degree?
I think it was the opportunity to experience something different. As a footballer, you sacrifice a lot socially - there’s a lot of being in bed early, not going out with your friends and not doing the things that a normal young person would do. It was also an opportunity to prove to myself that I could excel in different areas of life, and I wasn’t just limiting myself as a footballer. I also knew that a degree would be a great opportunity to live in a different city and pursue other passions in my free time alongside my studies.
Lots of former players gravitate towards careers related to football; what made you pursue a role in medicine?
To be honest, it was a few things. I wanted to show that footballers can be academic, and I’ve always been interested in science and was quite good at it at school. I also think medicine is a language of its own, and it allows you to work in lots of different countries, which is something I am interested in doing moving forward with my career, especially now that I am studying Spanish in my spare time!
It also gives you lots of transferrable skills that can be used in various other walks of life. Finally, it is an exciting and constantly evolving profession, with each day at work giving a fresh set of challenges.
What kind of support did you have from the PFA?
Loads honestly, they’ve been great. Going as far back as my A levels, they helped with the cost of my textbooks and stationery, which was really helpful, especially as I’d just finished football and was kind of at a transition phase in my life. Then at university, I got the annual grant for all five years of studying. I always knew the PFA were there to support me, which is why I didn’t hesitate to come back and ask if there would be any funding available for a masters degree that I am considering. My relationship and communication with the PFA has always been really good.
Are there any similarities between careers in football and medicine?
There are loads, and I actually discussed them for my medical school interview! The working under pressure and teamwork aspects are key similarities, as is communication. At football clubs, you have to communicate with your coaches, your teammates, the medical staff and everyone around the club and it is similar when you’re a doctor. We are seen as the leaders in the hospital, so you must be an example and communicate effectively with different departments. Also, football is about being as good as you can be and achieving excellence from an individual and team perspective - and medicine is certainly no different. I wanted to make sure that I was in an equally stimulating and competitive environment as football, and I think it has definitely prepared me well for a career in medicine.
What advice would you give other PFA members thinking about their future?
My biggest advice to any young footballers would be don’t pigeonhole yourself and don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Thinking back to my time as a scholar, you get a lot of free time as a footballer, and I would encourage all young players to use that time to pursue things, maybe outside of football. I think there’s an idea in football that if you’ve got interests outside the game, you’re not 100% committed, but I think that's completely wrong. Passions outside of football help you switch off so you can come back a lot more focused when you’re at the training ground.
I would also encourage players to use the resources at your clubs and speak to the PFA about studying/exploring different things outside of football, even if it’s purely for interest, because not every footballer needs to have a career in football afterwards – you can do anything.
Get in touch with the PFA team today to find out more about how we can help you in the next steps of your journey.