Failed footballers get a chance to climb off scrap heap

It is a shadow that hangs over the thousands of young men who aspire to earning a living from their favourite pursuit, playing football: What if they fail to make the grade?

As the multi-millionaire players of the country's best teams prepare to kick off another lucrative season, the pain of coming to terms with the dashing of dreams can be especially hard for those forced to give up the game through injury or because they have been released by their clubs.

Today, instead of finalising their pre-season training, up to 80 would-be players will be visiting a jobs fair at Keele University, the first of its kind organised by the FA Premier League to prove that there is life after football.

The 80 were all released from their contracts at the end of last season and - although some are hopeful of signing new contracts with lesser clubs - many are being forced to look for a career outside football.

For the best-known players, it is a different story. Many have been able to turn to well-paid jobs in the media, or exploit their fame in business.

Gordon Taylor, general secretary of the Professional Footballers' Association, said the decision to release them could have "a very dramatic effect".

"They will have psychologically been building themselves up to become soccer stars," Mr Taylor said. "Now they are faced with rejection."

Four out of five players who signed on with Premier League clubs in their teens would be released by the time they reached 21, he added. Some of those eligible to attend today's fair will have been with their clubs since the age of eight.

To help them, the league has assembled an all-star line-up of university admissions staff and employers to try to help them develop a new career.

Kate Coleman, education and child-protection manager at the FA Premier League, said: "The league takes the education of young people very seriously and we have worked very hard in conjunction with our academies [established at individual clubs] to encourage scholars to realise the importance of gaining academic qualifications. Unfortunately, not every player who joins a Premier League Academy will sign a professional contract with their club and get a career out of the game. The event at Keele will be a useful opportunity for those players who have been released by clubs to assess what options they have for the future."

Universities including Loughborough - famous for its sports science degree - Cardiff and Leeds Metropolitan will be attending the event. A wide range of employers at the fair will include the armed services, the fire brigade and the John Lewis Partnership.

Most of the 80 players, who will have had limited first-team experience if any, will have been taken on as youngsters to join their club's academy.

The league introduced its academy system five years ago to ensure youngsters on its books did not neglect their studies. A spokesman for the FA Premier League said: "Some would have been through our academy system where they could be training Monday morning and in the classroom Monday afternoon." As to the type of alternative careers that could be opened up for former footballers, he singled out the Army as one distinct possibility.

"They are young people who are disciplined and very fit," he added. "They have also been well educated now we have the academy system.

"The fair is a private event. After all, football was their dream and they are now having to look to a second career."

Mr Taylor said that many had gone on to have successful new careers after being released from their clubs. He recalled one player who, having been released by Newcastle United, had found a place at Oxford University.

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