By Doug Reed
From Footballer to... is our series looking at the careers of footballers after they finished playing.
There can be the perception that, except for a few that find sustainable employment in coaching or the media, most former players will spend the rest of their lives living in the past and wishing to go back to when they had it so good.
It is important to challenge this view as it can lead to a false belief that there is a lack of possibilities and an avoidance of preparing for what you will do next. This will make the transition to a motivating and satisfying post-playing career much more challenging.
With the right approach your time playing can provide the platform (from the acquired skills, contacts, reputation, finances...) to embark on a new, rewarding and enjoyable phase in your life with a different focus. To illustrate this, we present the stories of some former players with careers in and out of football.
In 2009 Richard Eckersley was making his debut for Manchester United in the FA Cup, playing alongside global superstars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez in front of 75,000 fans.
Less than a decade later and he was out of football with a new career that involved mopping floors. How did he fall so far?
He didn't. It was his decision to go in a different direction and he doesn’t have any regrets.
The former New York Red Bulls full-back chose to leave the game to set up a zero waste shop, eliminating all packaging, alongside his wife and is loving his new life.
“If you had told me I would quit football when I was 27 and become a shopkeeper, I’d have said: ‘What are you talking about?! I’m going to be driving around Alderley Edge in a Ferrari!’ But I’m happy I’m not. It was a big shift, but I’m really happy. I’ve gone down a different path that’s much more nourishing for my soul.” he told Positive News.
His mindset started to change when he left England to sign for Toronto FC and his new teammates had a different way of living to those he had been surrounded by until then.
Instead of arriving to training in high-powered SUVs, they made their way on bicycles. The peer pressure and ingrained culture to acquire luxury items just didn’t exist there and this opened his eyes. “They were being careful with their money - it didn't matter what clothes or shoes they wore, and that awakened me.” he revealed to the BBC.
This new environment gave him the freedom to change his thinking. “Once I found out football was just a sport, and not the be all and end all, I think my passion for it died a bit.”
He left football two decades after signing for Man Utd at 7 years old and, with enough money to last him 6 months to a year, moved to Devon to set up a business related to his new interest. It was the UK’s first zero waste shop. It has been a huge success, and he has complemented it with a new venture selling plant milk with the aim to be the UK’s largest distributor within the next 5 years.
Whilst he doesn’t have the level of income he had before, the lifestyle that he has adopted, more suited to his values, doesn’t require it. At a TedX event in 2019 he admitted to the audience, “When I was in the footballing world, I was a pawn in the consumerism game, buying and accumulating not for need but for greed. The guy who stands before you today owns only three pairs of shoes and shops in charity shops.”
Whilst he has found something that inspires him like his previous pursuit of making it in the professional game, his football career is still an important part of his journey and taught him the skills he needed to succeed in his new challenge.
During a recent article in The Athletic he recognised the key role it played, “I’m still benefiting, not money-wise, but from what I gained from it, learning things I can bring into business now. Professionalism, discipline and structure, it’s running through me.”
Whilst former teammate Ronaldo is still entertaining the Old Trafford faithful, Eckersley’s in a different place but equally enjoying dedicating himself to a pursuit he finds fulfilling. “I just love what I’m doing. I love going to work each day. I love making a difference and I love our customers.”