BLOG: Time to retire from football?

Written by AHC communications consultant James Hiley
12/07/18

England’s last-16 tie against Columbia was arguably a low-point for this year’s World Cup. Don’t get me wrong, it may have united a nation (and led people to say, “it’s coming home” with a straight face for the first time in 28 years), but the foul play and histrionics displayed by some of those on the pitch at the Spartak stadium reaffirmed the prejudices that many hold about professional footballers. Though England’s admirable progress in the competition has gone some way to healing the relationship between fans and players, this is still an opinion that is widespread.

Here’s a different perspective. In our industry of pension communications, what messages should we send to footballers as members of a scheme – detached from their on-pitch antics?

A bit of context

Though professional footballers aren’t exactly on minimum wage, there is more diversity within the sport than you might think. While the average salary of a Premier League footballer is a whopping £2.6m a year, this drops to well below £100k for those playing in Leagues One and Two.

Once again, this is well above the average earnings in the UK – and it’s hard to argue that they’ve been dealt a bad hand, kicking a football around a field for a living. Often, however, their working lives are a game of two halves.

The average career lasts for eight years.

This is quite short when you think of the longevity of some well-known players. However, many careers are cut unexpectedly short through injury – it’s quite a physically demanding profession, and only a small percentage are able to play at the height of the game for a dozen or so years.

What’s their scheme like?

In its current form, it is a defined contribution (DC) scheme. The Professional Footballers’ Pension Scheme is partly funded through a transfer levy. It gives each player £5,208 a year, above which they can pay AVCs. The transfer levy is generous and would provide £41,664 as a minimum after the average eight years without players needing to contribute a penny.

However, this pot is only similar to the annual salary of a League Two player. When you consider that most footballers retire from the sport in their early thirties, this money won’t last for very long. While players who joined the scheme before 6 April 2006 can take their benefits from age 35, players joining after that date have a normal retirement age of 55.

Life after football

Upon retiring as footballers, many players find themselves facing the stark reality that they must find a new job for their remaining 30 years of work. For famous footballers, this is relatively seamless, with many taking up positions as TV pundits, or football managers.

But for the majority, finding a career after football isn’t easy. Outside of the beautiful game, what transferrable skills do they have? And which jobs would sustain their lifestyle? Players that went into teaching, for instance, might see their salaries at least halved. When ex-players are adjusting to this lifestyle change, how many would think to pay more into a pension?

Should we sympathise?

Let’s be honest, when we watch the news and hear that some footballers are on £200k a week, it’s hard to feel a great deal of sympathy. But as noted above, this doesn’t paint an entirely accurate picture. I support a League Two team – are the players I watch on a weekend going to work for BT Sport, or release a Beckham-esque aftershave on retiring? Probably not.

And even the wealthiest footballers can be caught out. According to XPro, a charity for ex-professional footballers, two out of every five players are made bankrupt within five years of retiring from professional football. While this is often due to players spending irresponsibly and failing to plan, it’s hard to expect any better from people who were thrust into football at a young age (albeit willingly). Often, they start their careers before they’ve had the chance to get a good education, let alone a good financial education.

Even for us non-footballing folk, it can be very easy to take for granted the lifestyle we live today, assuming it will endure in retirement. However, as we know, the reality can be very different.

They think it’s all over… is it?

The World Cup final awaits us on Sunday (alas without England) and the players on display in Moscow will, most likely, be financially secure for life. However, for many more professional athletes, retirement could seem a very gloomy prospect, especially when it comes knocking at the ripe old age of 30. Perhaps those in need of good-quality retirement guidance aren’t just those sitting in the stands.

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