A former professional footballer speaks about his anxieties in an insecure working environment, shattering some stereotypes of professional football.The most popular image of professional football is one of fun and the idea of having turned a hobby into a profession that provides an income. While this may be true for the top players and the top leagues, lower down the football pyramide the image is bleak and best described as precarious.
In an article published recently in the journal Work, Employment and Society, the author Martin Roderick has interviewed James Schumacker, a former professional footballer in England. Schumacker is a pseudonym of a former player who has enjoyed some success in English football. In two interviews with Martin Roderick, who is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Applied Social Sciences, Schumacker spoke of his experiences as a professional and the highs and lows and many many concerns he has had during his 17 year career.
His career began at 17 or 18 when he signed his first professional contract with the Railwaymen. It was at this time when he met many people who would give him advice as to what to do or how to be a good athlete. He was proud ‘being a professional footballer’ as for him it meant that he would be a professional ‘every waking minute.’ Of course, he expected ‘to play well’ and continues that it has affected him when he did not. He confessed that it has got to a stage where the ‘job got too important’ that it controlled his life and determined what to eat, where to go out. He spoke of the emotional roller-coaster that went from ‘You’re great’ to ‘you’re terrible’ in the matter of just three days, 50 times a year, for 10 years.
When he speaks of his team mates, it is a quite revealing section. The competition for places in the squad and the starting XI was relentless, therefore thoughts such as ‘I’m better than him’ or ‘he’s after my spot’ or ‘I’ve got to be better than him’ suddenly appeared natural to him and others and of course it has had an effect on the relationship with his team mates. He got involved in arguments with other team members when he was younger just ‘to get the best out of other people.’
Wasn’t football supposed to be a team sport? Wasn’t there a mantra ’11 friends thou shalt be?’ It turns out professional football is very much the opposite, and it becomes clear when considering the circumstances at most lower league clubs. The average contract length is one season with the tendency of declining basic salaries but high performance related bonuses. The average weekly salary is