Life after football: Interview with Matt Holland
News / Tue 7th Jan 2014 am31 10:24am
By Francesca Tye
FORMER Republic of Ireland international, Matt Holland grew up playing football in Harlow. He played for Harlow Sports centre and from there went on to have a glittering career.
But what happens when it is all over?
Today is the first time in a while that Matt Holland has kicked a ball about. He is the first out on the training ground and I can sense in him a boyish excitement as he sets up his session for the day.
“I do miss playing,” he quietly admits to me.
Holland, like many sportsmen, is learning to cope with retirement and getting on with his ‘second life’- a life without football.
Footballers plan, prepare and wake up every day in anticipation of the weekend where crowds will chant their name and cheer their heroics. Then in a single stroke, it’s gone.
What do you do now if you’re not a footballer? More concerning, who are you if you’re not a footballer?
Holland, who grew up playing football for Harlow Sports Centre, knows a thing or two about this problem. After being a professional footballer for 19 years, Holland has now had to build a new career.
Since retiring in 2009 Holland has tried many different media paths and calls himself “a freelance media person, if you like”, having appeared on nearly every media outlet covering football in the UK, although never finding one particular settled job. He talked about the insecurity of going from one job to another.
“My working week varies from week to week. I never know really what I’m doing. Initially I found that difficult because I’m quite a ducks in a row type of person, I like everything in boxes, that’s the way I am. When I was a footballer things were very regimented, it’s a routine you’re in everyday and you know exactly how long you’re going to be training for. I am a routine person.”
And it was that loss of routine that Holland, like so many retired sportsmen found the hardest aspect to deal with. As a footballer, used to turning up at the training ground everyday and preparing for the weekend, that loss of structure and focus to his life understandably proved a challenge.
He said: “That’s one of the hardest things about finishing because I loved the training ground. Payday was a match-day and that’s how I lived. All the work that you did in the week was building up towards the match day. The build up and the training I loved and that’s what I missed the most when I finished playing; that regimented lifestyle and the banter between the players. You just miss that completely, you’re at home and you just think right, I haven’t got that anymore.”
This loss can lead many athletes on a path to self-destruction, replacing the intensity and excitement they found in sport with drugs, gambling or alcohol addiction.
Figures from sporting charity XPro show that as many as three in five Premier League footballers go bankrupt within 5 years of retiring from the game and when a player retires his chances of getting depression go up 40%.
What is clear is that coming to terms with retirement at an early stage and making plans for it helps sportsmen to cope. Holland is one of the few who made preparations for his retirement and was keen to keep his options open, saying “I was sort of aware that football is a short career and you have to do something afterwards.”
Holland did his UEFA B coaching licence when he was just turning 30 so that coaching could be an option when he finished playing.
But he said: “I didn’t really know what I was going to do and I’ve fallen into what I’m doing now more than anything. When I’d finished if someone perhaps had offered me a coaching job I might have done that. But it never happened. I never really knew what I wanted to do, but I wanted to keep as many doors open as possible so that I had options.”
Holland had the foresight to plan for his life after football, but not so many have the time or ability to plan like Holland did.
Kenny Sansom, Dean Windass and of course Paul Gascoigne are just some of the big name footballers who have suffered with life post-football and Holland admitted that perhaps more players should be given guidance on coping with retirement.
“I think more players could be given guidance. The PFA do a good job I think they do provide funding for courses, help and ideas for players but perhaps there could be more done, even at football clubs.
“I think once your finished you’re out the door and that’s it, your worth to the football club has finished as soon as your contract’s ended. It is a little bit scary. I was fortunate that I was starting to do more and more as I was finishing my career.
I was preparing for finishing. But some people think they are going to play forever, just finish and think, what now?
At the age of 35-40, footballers retiring are ending their career at a time most people are getting to the peak of theirs.
Starting from scratch, often with little qualifications outside of football is a scary prospect, and one Holland found daunting himself:
“And I think a lot find it very difficult. I mean I struggled for 4-6 months, I definitely struggled because its what I always wanted to do, I’d been a professional for 19 years and all of a sudden stopped so I did really find it difficult. After that I started to adjust to life without it but nothing will ever beat it,
He pauses to look back at the empty training ground, looking for any footballs left out.
“Nothing will ever replace it you know.”