When Lionel Messi retires, will he become a plumber? When Cristiano Ronaldo hangs up his boots, will he become a painter and decorator? Two completely ludicrous questions, however, there was a time when even the crème de la crème of footballers underwent a career change once their footballing days were over. World Cup winners had to become undertakers, European Cup winners became couriers and club record goalscorers became painters. Some saw football as a part of their life that they wanted to move on from whilst others were forced into new careers to provide for their families.
In these modern days of inflated million-pound transfer fees, footballers are financially set for life, and those who want to continue to work have the easy option of punditry. However, this simply was not the case for generations of footballers who had to discover life after football. So, let’s find out what happened next.
What better place to start than with a man with an MBE for services to football and a World Cup winners medal who chose not to stay in football but to instead pursue a career as an undertaker. Ray Wilson was a member of Sir Alf Ramsey’s legendary 1966 World Cup-winning England team. Wilson won 63 caps for England playing at left-back, including playing in the England’s World Cup final triumph against Germany. The oldest member of the England team in the final, Wilson was also the most understated and reserved character in the squad and once he retired in 1971, he chose to take a completely different path in life. Wilson found life after football through life after death by returning to school to get the qualifications needed to become a funeral director. The World Cup winner built a successful undertaker’s business in Huddersfield up until when he retired in 1997, 36 years after he had retired from football. Wilson’s story acts as a sharp and poignant reminder of a time where a World Cup winner could retire from the game and spend the remainder of his life as an undertaker. However, Wilson’s unpretentious nature meant that he never envied the acclaim and status won by some of his more celebrated England team-mates, such as Charlton, Moore and Hurst.
A Division One, League Cup and European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest, Colin Barrett’s career was curtailed by injury. Barrett was signed by Brian Clough in 1976 from Manchester City and was a key part of Clough and Taylor’s remarkable Forest side. Famously, the defender scored Forest’s second goal against Liverpool in the European Cup first round, with a fantastic volley. However, shortly after that first-leg victory over Paisley’s Liverpool, Barrett damaged his knee ligaments and whilst he was able to return for the league cup final and the European Cup semi-final, he was unable to play in the European Cup final. The following season at just 29 years old, Colin Barret was forced to retire from football. The European Cup winner tried his hand at many jobs, including a long spell making snooker tables at the height of the snooker craze in England. The former Forest man was forced to sign up on the dole after retiring – a situation completely unimaginable for the footballers of today, but Barrett did find work as he became a successful painter-decorator. From the smell of European Cup success to the smell of fresh paint
Nine minutes into the European Cup Final in 1982 between Bayern Munich and Aston Villa, and an injury to Villa’s No.1 goalkeeper, Jimmy Rimmer, meant that 23-year-old reserve-team ‘keeper, Nigel Spink came on for only his second ever first-team appearance. Despite, the lack of experience, Spink produced one of the finest European Cup final performances by a goalkeeper, seeming to get better and better throughout the game and making some miraculous saves. It was Peter Withe’s goal in the 67th minute that won Villa the game, however, it was the fresh-faced goalkeeper that was the unexpected hero in the final, going from a substitute to a European champion and in just 81 minutes. Nigel Spink went onto become No.1 ‘keeper at Aston Villa and made 361 appearances for the Villains throughout his 19-year spell at the club. Spink went onto play for West Brom, Millwall and Forest Green Rovers before retiring in 2001. After retiring from football, Spink spent many years as a goalkeeping coach for multiple clubs. However, in 2012, after being out of work, Spink’s career took a massive detour as he launched his own courier business. His safe hands that saved so many shots for Villa, including on the European stage, are now being put to work carrying parcels and the vans that transport them are, of course, claret and blue.
When you think of Blackburn and strikers, you tend to think of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, however, Simon Garner outscored them both and is the club’s record goalscorer. The striker rose through the ranks at Ewood Park before making over 460 appearances for the club and cementing his status as a hero for the club. In total, Garner scored 194 goals for the club before leaving in 1992 after 14 years at the club. Just four years later, after underwhelming spells at Wycombe and Torquay, Simon Garner retired, and his life hit a slightly rocky patch. The former striker found himself in prison for contempt of court after going through a messy divorce and he served just one month of his nine-month sentence before being released. Deciding that coaching or punditry was not the career for him, Garner, instead, had spells as a mortgage salesman and a postman. However, after failing to fall in love with mortgages and other people’s post, Garner joined the list of former footballers that became self-employed painter-decorators. He is, however, perhaps, the most prolific painter in the business in terms of goalscoring attributes and his exploits at Blackburn are still remembered very fondly by fans of a certain age.
Alan Comfort was born in Hampshire and played for QPR, Cambridge United and for Orient and was signed by Boro manager Bruce Rioch for £175,000 in 1989. He had made just 17 appearances when suffering a cruciate ligament injury in a Tyne-Tees derby at St James’ Park and despite seven operations, he never played professionally again. A premature end to a career that saw him score 53 goals in 228 Football League matches. At just 24-years-old, he had to explore a new career and Confort made the unlikely switch from football to preaching. Confort became an Anglican vicar and has been the vicar of many parishes and is still a vicar today. Confort’s passion for football is still there and he still avidly supports his former teams, especially Leyton Orient, where he was chaplain for 21 years.
The name David Hillier might spark some Arsenal fans’ attention. Hillier was a home-grown talent at Arsenal and rose through the youth ranks into the first team – at that time, an incredibly successful one. David Hillier, an England U21 international player, featured in Arsenal’s 1990/91 League Championship success and in total made 104 league appearances for the Gunners, scoring twice. However, injuries cruelly kept him out of three cup finals for Arsenal. The tenacious defensive midfielder then left Arsenal – the club he had joined at 14-years-old – in 1996 after Bruce Rioch’s arrival. Hillier played for Portsmouth and Bristol Rovers before ending his career with Barnet in 2003, with his career blighted with the same injury that saw him miss out of Arsenal’s FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winner’s Cup victories in the early nineties. Hillier is still a regular at the Emirates and he enjoys the media work that he does at the club. However, after retiring from football, his wife Zoe suggested a new career for Hillier, after walking past a fire station. The former Arsenal man now resides in Bristol and he has been bravely putting out fires and climbing ladders at Avon Fire & Rescue for over a quarter of a century.
This one is for Leeds United and Scotland fans of a certain vintage. David Harvey won the FA Cup in 1972 with Leeds and won the league in 1974 under the legendary Leeds manager, Don Revie. However, it was in that same year that he made his most memorable contribution during his career. The Scotland goalkeeper holds the impressive record of being the only Scottish goalie to have kept a clean sheet against Brazil. The Leeds United player starred in the 0-0 draw at the 1974 World Cup against Brazil, when Scotland returned home after the first group stage despite being unbeaten in three matches. Harvey’s impressive record at the World Cup in Germany led to him being voted as the best keeper of the tournament. However, since retiring from football, the Scotsman has led a reclusive life away from the limelight of the game. Harvey firstly tried his hand at running a pub, before becoming a fruit and veg distributor to hotels in Harrogate. David Harvey has since started a new life in the Orkney Islands where he works as a farmer and a postman. Not quite the glamourous lifestyle that footballing stars experience after retiring today.
John Chiedzozie wins the award of having the most peculiar job post-retirement from football. Chiedzozie made 53 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur over the course of four years at the club, scoring 12 goals while at White Hart Lane. The winger also played for Orient, Notts County and Derby County whilst also earning nine caps for Nigeria. Whilst it is fair to say that his career was not the most illustrious and Spurs fans are unlikely to have too many abiding memories of the Nigerian, Chiedzozie’s decision to start his own business selling bouncy castles after retiring is certainly intriguing. The Nigerian’s business consisted of renting and selling bouncy castles in Hampshire but not many bouncy castle salesmen can say that they played in England’s top-flight and scored twice for their country.
From a World Cup winner becoming an undertaker to a Tottenham player and Nigerian international selling bouncy castles – it certainly is a strange world for footballers once they have left the beautiful game. Some felt football had done them a disservice post-retirement, whilst others were looking for a fresh start and a new challenge. It turns out there really is life after football, it just sometimes comes through unexpected avenues