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Ex pro warns footballing colleagues to plan for the future

ByDave Stopher

Dec 20, 2017 #Football

IT’s a career which conjures up images of a lavish lifestyle, with salaries that most people can only dream about.

But with the average lifespan of the job less than eight years, being a professional footballer can sometimes end in disaster for those who haven’t planned for the future.

Those at the very top of their game do earn a six figure sum a week, with sponsorship and endorsement deals propelling them into the world of the super rich.

Others further down the pecking order survive on much less, while others famously crash and burn and end up losing their earnings through a lavish lifestyle they can no longer support.

Injury can put paid to the most promising career and young players can find themselves at a crossroads – giving up because their dreams are shattered or regrouping and looking at a new lifestyle.

Former professional footballer Fergus Bell falls into the latter category; a promising career which ended sadly because of a serious knee injury.

He understands only too well the dilemma facing young men whose dreams of sporting success are snatched away, but is encouraging anyone in that position not to turn their back on a successful life thereafter.

“Upon my final diagnosis with the doctors at the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) and the realisation I wasn’t going to be able to play professionally any more, I thought it was the end,” said Fergus.

“Throughout the obvious emotional turmoil, you still have one eye on the immediate and distant future. I couldn’t see past it, it’s a very hard situation to accept.”

Rather than give up Fergus decided to look to turning another passion of his into a career – and so the Fifty Two Group was born.

Working with another ex-professional sportsman, former rower Daniel Gibson, the pair set up a property development group and are currently turning a former Georgian grade II listed building in Durham into 12 luxury apartments.

“We live in the age of accessibility with endless routes to market across so many different sectors thanks to the wonders of the internet. There is always something else you can do,” said Fergus.

“Sometimes you just have to exchange one dream for another.”

Fergus’ top tips for anyone who finds their sporting career at an end  –Embrace your previous life – The majority of sportsman don’t realise that the core skills learned throughout a sporting career will in fact give you brilliant grounding and set you in good stead for a business career. Public speaking, pitching and presenting are similar in ways to that diplomatic but convincing post-match interview with the press. Negotiation – Remember those contract negotiations with agents and managers? Use this skill to negotiate post football. In short, even without a higher education, you are still perfectly equipped to tackle the twists and turns of day to day business from what you know already.

You are not determined by your sporting prowess anymore – We all know that one chap in the pub that will tell you that “I could have been a Manchester United player when I was younger.” Your reaction? Not hugely positive. So, although your previous achievements will undoubtedly define you for a while, leave the past where it should be – in the past. Showcase your business skills, that’s what will impress people going forward.

Learn, Learn, Learn – Years on the pitch may mean that you are literally behind the ball when it comes to working in the corporate world – but use the skill you’ve previously shown on the pitch to prepare yourself for business. Pick up as many new skills as you can. Through a few weeks of tutoring, I was able to build our first website and subsequently achieve some early new business traction without spending on web development fees, a long term saver. Youtube, Udemy and Coursera are great places to start with building skill sets. Commit yourself to a couple of hours a night or before bed to build your expertise. Very shortly you will have numerous monetisable skills, which will buy you a little extra income, increase efficiency and, if job searching, will make you all together more employable.

Labour of love – “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion” Simon Sinek

On leaving the changing room, I found myself throwing several metaphorical darts at life’s dart board (in terms of career choices) until one stuck; consultancy, sports agency work, corporate finance… before working backwards from the realisation that it was job freedom that made me tick – and settled on the property industry.

Flexibility was what I craved and therefore regardless of the ups and downs we encounter, I feel able to wake up and look forward to the working day with FiftyTwo Group.

In short, don’t be averse to trying several different avenues before finding the opportunity you are passionate about – alternation and career pivoting is not failure as you embark on the first days of the rest of your life outside sport. Patience is key.

Time is life’s most valuable commodity – There simply aren’t enough hours in the day when you leave the sporting arena. Ideas, opportunities, networking, embracing new found freedom to travel etc, will always stand in the way of crisp productivity.

My advice is to utilise the hours – although this may seem unappealing – by waking early as part of your routine and planning the day.

Prepare for your meetings, reply to your emails and keep up your fitness routine – all before 9am. Being used to rigid routine and timings with a career in professional sport, it is imperative to keep that up regardless of whether you work from home or an office.

Build your black book – Networking is king. Over the years as a sportsman, you have probably built a strong network of sporting professionals and likeminded individuals, however, with the professional sporting arena being relatively insular, it is crucial to discover new contacts elsewhere. Networking events, professional get togethers (lawyers, accountants etc) can prove brilliantly useful in making contacts. Also, if you’re not averse to standing front of a microphone, public speaking at events and seminars is a great way to illustrate the other side of your character and business mindedness that people haven’t seen throughout your playing career. Finally, create a database/buy a notebook and keep those contacts listed and searchable, I promise you will need them.

Several Sources of Income – Whether you had been fortunate enough to save your playing days’ income, or whether you may be starting from scratch, it’s vital to ‘get back on the earning horse’ as soon as possible. Utilise new found skills and opportunities in your spare time to keep ticking over and apply the well-known principal that all successful individuals have more than three sources of income.

I very much see it as a pyramid structure with your low risk-long term projects at the bottom (steady income), perched above are your out-of-hours side projects/side business in the middle and the more speculative, yet potentially lucrative projects at the top.

I chose property for the recurring rental income and have tried to build my blocks upon that. A surefire way of guaranteeing yields and offering asset backed security whilst providing a sector with which you can easily get to grips in a short period of time.

Give up FOMO (fear of missing out) – Two points on the above; there is inevitably going to be a sense of regret and hurt that you can’t lace those boots up again in the changing room with friends and peers. However, the sooner you see the situation for what it is and was, whilst still taking the positives from a successful achievement of making it to pro level, the better. Personally, I have always used every “Isn’t it a shame what happened” offer of condolence, as a driver. As a sportsman, it is clear that you have an obsessive drive to achieve, proven by the ability to sacrifice and dedicate throughout those younger years – flip that FOMO around and use it to push your new direction and life. Dropping it will be the best thing you can do.

Secondly; “Business opportunities are like buses – there’s always another one coming” Richard Branson.

Whilst being eager to get straight into the hustle and bustle of new corporate life, do your due diligence before investing time, effort and money into new schemes and opportunities. No matter how good an opportunity seems at the time, take a good period to run all your personal and financial stress tests on the model. There are always further opportunities sprouting from your newly formed network who will be keen to work with someone with your background and unique skill set. Don’t commit too early (unless you bought Bitcoin).

Read, read, and read – Whether that may be reading about the latest Crypto Currency spike, or the ramifications of Brexit on your sector, go against the wrongfully construed stereotype that all sportsman have their head in the sand when it comes to current affairs.

As an ex-footballer, the biggest secret weapon I have utilised in meeting rooms and seminar halls is the ability to surprise people that I didn’t confirm to their misconceptions about what being a footballer is all about. Being up to date with your sector and further afield shows an interest in bettering yourself whilst also having the tools to argue and articulate in the face of negotiation or disagreement. Some app recommendations for me would be: TechCrunch – for all technology sector news, Medium – The social media for creative writing, and of course BBC News, to see the latest fallout from you know who across the pond.

Pick a winner – I firmly believe that beyond your spouse, the biggest decision of your post sporting life is finding your perfect business partner. For me, someone with experience and education in areas that you may not have is crucial, a Ying and Yang situation. Ultimately, it’s crucial to find someone who you can trust to pick up the pieces when you are not around.

A decision not to be taken lightly and certainly one whereby I would keep direct friends out of the equation, but ultimately this may be the person you see and speak to every day for the next 20 years of your life. The difference in personalities, experience and education will make it far easier to split the business roles from day one without both inefficiently tackling the same issues.

*Further information about Fergus’ projects is available at for www.fiftytwo-group.com and www.52oldelvet.com