What happens when young footballers have to retire? Michael Prestage reports.
WITH a pound;15 million transfer fee from Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United, the Alan Shearers of this world do not need to think too hard about a career after football. But as the new season warms up, for many at the lower levels of the game it can be a worrying issue.
For them the financial rewards are more modest and the industry is desperately trying to offer a future beyond pub management when it is time to hang up the boots.
The result is advice and cash backing for a range of education and training aimed at players in all divisions and of all ages.
And the programme for the 16-year-old trainees allows for core skills to produce not just better footballers, but better human beings. These include alcohol and gambling advice, financial planning and safe driving techniques.
Training is the responsibility of The Footballers' Further Education and Vocational Training Society, which is drawn from all the football administrative bodies.
Pat Lally, education officer, said: "We are trying to encourage the idea of education for life. Footballers don't see anything beyond the game, but we have to convince them to look beyond their playing days."
It is not always easy. Mark Beesley, 17, is a youth training scheme trainee at Preston North End and resents having to study for a general national vocational qualfication in leisure and tourism.
"I'll worry about the future if and when I don't get taken on."
It sounds familiar to Norman Whiteside, who held similar views when he was Mark's age. He played more than 300 games for Manchester United and Everton, was capped 39 times for Northern Ireland and became the youngest player to appear in the World Cup finals, when he played in Spain in 1982. He was also the youngest to score a goal in the FA cup final.
When a knee injury ended his playing days at 26 he did a degree in chiropody and is now working on a post-graduate certificate. He works for the PFA, screening players for lower limb abnormalities.
"I'm a prime example of how not to do it," he said. "I didn't do any school work and concentrated on being a footballer. Fortunately for me it worked out. My advice to the youngsters now is to get the qualifications and put them in the bottom drawer for the day they are needed."
Through 68 training and enterprise councils, the society funds training for 1,500 young players attached to professional clubs. From this season the old scheme will be replaced with a football scholarship that lasts for three years, instead of two, and includes 12 hours a week of education.
The programme will include a variety of courses. From basic literacy and numeracy to higher education with a range of NVQs.
The society last season gave 1,412 grants to players to pursue courses ranging from coaching to truck driving and hypnotism.
Former player Pat Heard, whose career highlight was a European Cup winners' medal with Aston Villa, now runs a pub. But he has just completed a course in hypnotism.
He said: "I never thought my professional career would end, but it has and the advice and help I've been given has helped me for the future."