'Almost half of professional footballers face the threat of bankruptcy within five years of their retirement. A third will be divorced less than a year after hanging up their boots... many end up addicted, depressed, living with debilitating illnesses, behind bars or even worse.' So writes Alen Gernon in his thought-provoking book about life after football.
I bought this book because of my interest in the difficulties sportspeople face when they retire rather than my interest in football. While I can accept that footballers are a little bit more three-dimensional than the common perception of over-paid, attention-seeking tugs, I didn't expect to be almost feeling sorry for them by the time I'd finished the 256-page, easy to read publication.
The initial chapters each covered one of the main, often inter-related, tragedies facing retired footballers - the crippling after effects of physical and mental injury, divorce, bankruptcy, mental health issues, run-ins with the law - and while the issues are not unique to football, it is the sheer frequency that they occur which startles.
These chapters didn't really contain anything new for me - though to be fair I have already read extensively on the area of retirement and mental health issues in sport - and they were occasionally repetitive. However, the book really came to life in the latter chapters. The stories of players who retired early, by choice, from the game - those of Shane Supple, Espen Baardsen and David Bentley - really hammer home how toxic the football environment can be for some, and how, despite increased support, preparing players for life in the 'real world' is not always an expected function of the sport.
As always it's those that we don't hear about that have the most interesting stories to tell, and Gernon should be commended for collating and putting context to those less well known stories.
This book is definitely worth a read for those who would like to understand football and footballers a little deeper as well as those who work with transitional footballers of all ages. It is a gentle reminder of the responsibilities we have for the welfare, as well as the sporting performance, of those who we support.