Sporting stars find times hard after the cheering stops

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The Independent Football

For about 10 or 15 years they have it all - money, fame and the adulation of adoring fans - and then it's all over. Now, the first ever study of the often tragic afterlife of Britain's sporting stars is being planned.

For about 10 or 15 years they have it all - money, fame and the adulation of adoring fans - and then it's all over. Now, the first ever study of the often tragic afterlife of Britain's sporting stars is being planned.

"Athletes retire a lot earlier in life than ordinary people do. They lose their job at 25 or 30 and they experience a terrible sense of loss," explained Dr Chris Riddoch, a senior lecturer at Bristol University's exercise and health science department. "They worry what the hell they are going to do for the next 60 years."

Dr Riddoch and academics from the university's International Institute for Health and Ageing will interview at least 100 leading sportsmen and women about their experiences in retirement.

Initial research has identified three main reasons why sporting heroes turn into retirement zeroes. Dr Riddoch believes the onset of post-sporting depression is caused by financial worries, crippling physical complaints such as arthritis, and the failure to adjust emotionally to life without competition and the built-in adrenaline rush. We want to draw up a fuller picture of what sport gives you and what problems it may throw up," says Dr Riddoch, "We don't want to be negative - a lot of people wouldn't swap their careers for the world. But I think athletes might experience difficulties at a stage of life when they may not be ready for it."

Alan Brazil may be a case in point. The centre forward played 13 times for Scotland, including the 1982 World Cup. He played for Ipswich (scoring 28 goals in one season), Manchester United and Tottenham during an illustrious league career. But he was forced to retire with serious back problems at the age of just 27.

"You think: 'God, what am I going to now?' You don't start earning money until you are 21. The money wasn't there to retire forever," recalls Brazil. He had few academic qualifications. "My attitude was I have finished school, I will be a footballer and I will make it." He poured money into an estate agency business in the late 1980s but that venture coincided with the property market crash.

He then bought a pub in Ipswich, borrowing the cash from Whitbread to refurbish it. Five years later, the brewery firm closed it down and Brazil was declared bankrupt in 1998.

"You get stuck in and then suddenly underestimate how much things cost, you underestimate cash flows," he says. Fortunately for Brazil he was thrown a lifeline by local radio, which invited him to commentate on football matches. His media career, unlike his business one, has gone from strength to strength. Now aged 41, he presents Talk Sport's flagship breakfast programme.

Lee Chapman, the former Leeds and Arsenal striker, who is married to the actress Leslie Ash, counts as a post-sporting success. He runs the fashionable Teatro restaurant in London - with a turnover of £2.5m last year - and a sister one in Leeds. A third restaurant, SO.UK, opens in Clapham, south London, on Saturday. But even Chapman had terrible trouble coping with real life after retiring from football aged 36. "When I stopped I thought: 'Shit. What do I do now?' I didn't do anything for about six months. I went out too much. I tried to forget I had to do something with the rest of my life. I went through a rocky period which put the people around me under stress. I felt abandoned.

"You are pampered and protected from the real world if you are successful. Everything is done for you. You are fêted. When it stops, you come down to earth with a bump."

David Lloyd, the tennis player turned multi-millionaire businessman, believes that the secret to his post-retirement success was that he had already begun plotting his future while still playing professional tennis. He retired aged 32 in 1982 but had spent the previous six years dreaming up his eponymous chain of tennis centres.

The business has since been bought for £200m (Lloyd had a 10 per cent stake in it at the time of sale). He has now launched Next Generation sport and leisure clubs.

"I just think most sports people retire and expect to walk into something and that just doesn't happen," he says. Yet, despite his business successes, even Lloyd still yearns for his old profession. "I still pine for the competition. That is something you cannot buy."