Where are they now?: The players who didn’t make it

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The paths professional footballers take once they finish at the top: (from left) Trevor Benjamin, Dean Windass and Gudni Bergsson — ©

This summer will see England’s top-level footballers represent the nation at the World
Cup in South Africa and the elite clubs of the Premier League fight to sign up some of the most expensive talent in the world. It would be easy think that this is a comfortable period for those employed in professional football, going on holiday with lucrative long-term contracts signed and their future prospects looking bright. However, this scenario represents reality for a privileged few, with hundreds of players released by full-time clubs from the Premier League to the Blue Square Premier Division nervously seeking to secure contracts elsewhere for the coming season.

The harsh reality is that each year around 200 players are forced out of the full-time ranks of football. These can range from youngsters released by academies to seasoned professionals at the end of their career. All of these players face similar options, continue with semi-pro football or other avenues within the game or drop out altogether and look to alternative paths for their career.

A large number of players chose the Semi professional route in a bid to continue their football careers. Many clubs at this level can now pay £100’s a week to their top players, an attractive proposition that has seen many familiar names drop into the lower leagues. One example is ex-Leicester forward Trevor Benjamin who has carved out a journeyman career at over 20 non-league clubs. Other famous football league marksmen such as Luke Beckett and Julian Joachim have also gone via this route.

Younger players are fortunate in that that the Professional Footballers Association now places education alongside football in most professional academies. Those that are released will have A-levels and many go on to University level education if football does not work out. The final chance for many payers comes in the exit trials that are held each season, these comprise players released from professional academies and are attended by scouts and managers from all levels of the game. Very few are offered a route back into football, with Huddersfield’s Theo Robinson the most notable name to emerge in recent seasons.

In addition, older professionals are also seeing the value of education in conjunction with their football training. The PFA now provide funding to players to undertake a variety of courses during and after their playing careers. For example, many lower league players including Gavin Strachan and Dean Windass have completed media qualifications through PFA schemes.

It is certainly true to state that ex-footballers have entered a variety of professions to sustain their livings after football. Some more interesting examples include ex-Manchester United youngster Graeme Tomlinson who now works as a DJ and former Bolton favourite Gundi Bergsson, now a qualified lawyer is native Iceland. However, a superb discovery is former Tottenham player John Chiedozie, now owner of a bouncy castle rental firm.

So when the ink on your club’s star striker’s new £100,000 a week, five year contract is drying, remember that not all footballers are so lucky.

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