Ian Holloway: Morrison's struggles shame football, we must do more for retiring players
Football might be a team game but it couldn't be a more isolated profession
Sunday 09 October 2011
I have always had a problem with what I believe is a lack of support for footballers at the end of their careers. So many lads get into difficulty because they haven't got a clue what to do next. I would have been the same had I not become a manager. I had a family to support, not enough money to do it, and absolutely no other skills to fall back on.
As an apprentice at Bristol Rovers I enrolled on a 'Design for Printing' course because I'd always been half-decent at art and I wanted to put it to use in some way. But the problem was that my art was nowhere near as good as the people who were doing it every day. I was going to college once a week, knew I wasn't as good as the others, so I didn't follow it through.
So I had no skill other than football and the only way I could go when my playing career ended was into management and coaching.
Fortunately, I wanted to do it and I took steps towards it while I was still playing by studying for my badges and getting my qualifications in place.
But not everyone wants to go down the coaching route and there is a whole raft of players who hit 35, have to pack in, and then wake up one day and think, "What the hell do I do now?" The reason I'm talking about this is because the autobiography of Andy Morrison is about to come out.
Those who remember Andy will know he was one of the most hard-tackling and competitive centre-halves you will ever see. He was a proper team man and he gave his all for a number of clubs, including Manchester City.
In his book, The Good, The Mad & The Ugly, he talks of his struggles to adapt to life after his career had ended. He writes about his battles with alcohol and being convicted of benefit fraud.
I have nothing but sympathy for Andy, and the saddest thing of all is that he is far from being the only ex-player to go through this.
It is a widespread problem because people who have been in sport all their life end up feeling they are a 'somebody'. For years they have the adulation of a crowd and a pitch to express themselves in the only way they know how – and then that is suddenly gone. It must leave a huge gaping hole in their lives and their personality, because they are not what they used to be, they are no longer able to get the buzz out of playing.
Football is a weird, unique industry. It might be a team game but it couldn't be a more isolated profession. And because there is nothing like it, there is no interaction with any other profession.
If you are a plumber you will meet loads of brickies and plasterers. You'll watch them work and you talk, so you learn about other people and different situations. Footballers don't mix with anyone else. The banter and the teasing and the humour is different, so when individuals are no longer in that environment, they suddenly don't have a clue what to do.
For me, this is where the PFA has to up its game. There are plenty of schemes in place for the youngsters coming through, but not enough help for those aged 30-plus. And the irony is that this age-group need it most.
When you're young, you have time to retrain and think of something else to take up. By the time you get to middle-age, it's too late. So the PFA has to start bringing in courses for those players who are reaching the end of their careers, to help them decide on a lifestyle choice after they finish playing.
Something that seems obvious to me is to get players into schools to become teachers. Just think how professional sportsmen could use their expertise to lift the standards at the grassroots level by coaching schoolkids.
Imagine someone like Matt Le Tissier going into schools for two or three days a week. Imagine the impact he could have on young kids and teenagers. It would be quite sensational, I think. It would also help the individual themselves because I know sportsmen and women who have even lost their families because they cannot cope once they've retired.
Andy Morrison is a typical example. He was a leader and winner and a born competitor. You take that out of his life and how is he going to cope with everyday situations? How can he use the skills he had on the pitch in everyday life?
You can't win a tackle or knock someone over when you're walking down the street. His outlet had been on the pitch. When that outlet is gone, he's got problems.
I just hope someone uses Andy's skills because he has got so much to give. Tap into his leadership qualities – people could learn from a fella like him. I think the game owes people like Andy Morrison and it is football's job to ensure that they look after all professionals, whether they are playing or not.
This industry chucks you in and spits you out the other end like a shredder and it shouldn't be like that. Footballers might seem glamorous to many but we are just human like everyone else, with the same weaknesses and failings – and we need the same help.
Adam and Gerrard driving midfield – how good does that sound?
Liverpool-Manchester United on Saturday should be one of the games of the season so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing how my old player Charlie Adam gets on.
I think Charlie has done a great job for Liverpool, not that I doubted he wouldn't. He is a class midfielder and the great thing is that he's still learning and still improving.
He is the type of lad who will listen and who genuinely wants to get better and he is determined to prove to Liverpool, and to everyone in football, what a talent he is. Some players have gone to Liverpool, a truly massive club, and not done the business, but Charlie will. He's got that self-confidence and belief in himself.
I'm excited about seeing him alongside Stevie Gerrard because I think that will bring on his game even further. And how good do they sound as a midfield partnership? Kenny Dalglish must be very excited about the future of his team because when you analyse what he has at his disposal it is enough to give any other Premier League manager a fright. Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, with Charlie and Gerrard driving forward from midfield... that is some attacking line-up.
I remember doing the double over them last season with Blackpool – one of the proudest moments of my life – but Liverpool are a completely different animal now. Dalglish has worked wonders. He has brought stability back to the club and made them a force to be reckoned with and that, coupled with Liverpool having what I consider to be the best supporters in the world, means there are good times ahead for the red half of Merseyside. Having said all that, Manchester United are by far the best team in England at the moment.
It is Sir Alex Ferguson's strongest side in the last 10 years and what is so frightening is how young most of them are. Fergie is a living legend and it's almost embarrassing that only a couple of years ago certain people were suggesting he was losing the plot and that maybe his time was up.
Nobody in the game thought that – Ferguson isn't someone you ever write off. The man is a genius. He has built yet another great team, better than last season, and at this rate they will not only win the Premier League but get to the final of the Champions' League again. And if they face Barcelona, it will be a lot closer than last time.
A few Frank words
Can we please give Frank Lampard a break? I almost choke on my cereal when I pick up the morning papers and see him being rubbished and written off. You don't play at the level he has for so many years and score so many goals without being an absolutely fantastic player. He has plenty left to offer, anyone who thinks differently is barking mad. A new manager, Andre Villas-Boas, has come in at Chelsea and is doing things his way, and very impressively too. He has been calm and calculated and decided to leave Frank out for a game or two.
Maybe he did it deliberately to give Frank a little wake-up call. Maybe he needed a little bit of a jolt and if that was the case it was brilliant man management because the lad has scored four goals in two games since.
Certain players are like fine bottles of wine – they get better with age. Lampard is certainly in that category and I'd suggest that anyone who slates him doesn't really know much about football.
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