Life after football for the professional footballer
After officiating at an academy game at Reading’s training ground recently, I was having a cup of tea in the player’s canteen, when my eye was taken by a glossy magazine that I hadn’t seen before. Little wonder perhaps as it was only the second edition of Professional Player. As the title suggests it is aimed at professional footballers and not unexpectedly, it is full of adverts for luxury properties for sale or rent, holidays in exotic locations and a whole range of luxury goods and services on which the players could spend their hard earned money. The theme of this edition however, seemed to be life after football. There was an article by former England player Andrew Cole, who said that the clubs or the PFA should do more for players when they quit playing, as many are not prepared for life after football and sink into depression. A fair point if you think of the players in my game that afternoon; they probably joined the academy at 16 and if they make the grade, they have everything done for them until they have to live a normal life. There was in fact an article by another former player, Steve Blatherwick who runs a company helping retiring players facing these difficulties. At the back of the magazine was an article by one player who hasn’t had any difficulty in adjusting to life after playing, Robbie Savage, best known to Royals supporters for his striptease after his last game as a player, which took place at the Madejski Stadium. Against all odds he has become a radio and television pundit and now a columnist. In what is called a ‘hard hitting’ column he asks ‘what’s happening to the game I used to know?’ ‘I used to play football,’ he says ‘a contact sport where everybody picked up a few bruises but everyone knew the rules. The offside rule, he says, puzzles him, ‘whether players are active or interfering with play’ – has more grey areas than managers have grey hairs.’ I don’t know if he realises it but the offside law (we call them laws Robbie) has not changed since he stopped playing two years ago. What’s more it is the easier to understand than it has ever been and the good news is, that it is about to get even easier for next season. It is not an offence to be in an offside position and only becomes one when the player becomes involved in active play, which is one of just three situations. First is – Interfering with play. This means playing or touching the ball last played or touched by a team mate. Couldn’t be simpler. Next is – Interfering with an opponent. This is where it is being made clearer. Until now it included the words ‘making a gesture or movement which in the opinion of the referee deceives or distracts the opponent’. That comes out and all that remains is, ‘preventing an opponent from being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing his vision or challenging an opponent for the ball.’ Plain and straight forward surely. The third situation is gaining an advantage by being in an offside position. This means playing a ball that rebounds or is deflected off a goalpost, crossbar or opponent. The law will now point out that if the opponent has deliberately played the ball (except for a save) then the player won’t be considered as offside. In reality he never was. So that’s it. The advice given in Professional Player for players reaching the end of their playing career is to prepare for it. Would it be churlish of me to suggest that one way Robbie could have prepared for his new life as a pundit is by studying the Laws of the Game?