Ben Purkiss Chairman of the PFA and ambassador for the VSI Life after Sport Summit has an inspiring insight into the evolving nature of Footballers

“The stereotype of the footballer is dead”: The players with ambitions away from the game. In the age of image rights and billion pound TV deals, elite level footballers can earn enough during their playing careers that they never have to work again.

But for players in England’s lower leagues, far removed from the riches of the top flight, the final whistle marks the beginning of the real challenge.

Ben Purkiss is one of those players contemplating life after sport.

“Players probably become a bit institutionalised, you get used to the routine and the dynamics of the changing room. It can be hard once you’re outside that bubble.” said the Swindon Town defender and current chairman of the Professional Footballers Association.

“There’s also the fact that you are starting from the bottom again. When you leave football you’re at an age when most people are getting to the advanced stages of their career but you’re just starting out.”

Recognising the difficulties many of his fellow professionals are facing, Purkiss has become an ambassador for the VSI Life After Sport Summit.

The event aims to equip former and soon-to-be-retired athletes with the essential knowledge and skills to succeed once their sporting careers come to an end.

“The dynamic of football is changing, the stereotype of the footballer as someone who isn’t bright enough or doesn’t have the skills to succeed in other areas is dead,” Purkiss said.

“Footballers are ambitious and want to do well off the pitch as well as on it. I think maybe more needs to be done to make players aware of the options they have and how they can develop new skills. There are things that they can do during their football careers that can give them a real platform to move on
once they finish playing.”

But planning ahead should not be the preserve of older professionals nearing the end of their playing days. In a sport where injury risk, competition for places and job insecurity are rife, it is vital to have a plan B.

It can be a challenge for senior professionals, football clubs and governing bodies to communicate this concept to younger players who cannot, or will not, imagine a future outside of the game they love. “I see in the game now, young players who are on decent money for their age. But that is not a salary that is going to last them forever,” Purkiss warned.

“To get this message across is difficult because a lot of them believe the level they are playing at now is only going to get higher. There has always been players that have started out in the lower leagues and gone on to play at the top level, but there are not that many. You can’t knock them for that belief but it’s important to have other options.”

From a young age, Purkiss was encouraged to do well academically and he believes having an education to fall back on has helped him during his playing career. He is keen to encourage clubs to do more around personal development by stressing the advantages of helping players become more well-rounded individuals.

“Having other options has allowed me to take more risks in my career, not necessarily taking the contract that offered the most money but having that bit more flexibility,” he said.  “I think there needs to be more support and more buy-in from the clubs. Educated footballers who can think for themselves will perform better on the pitch.”

The Life After Sport Summit, organised in partnership with Salford Professional Development, will be held at Old Trafford on Wednesday, May 30. To register your interest in the day, visit conference.org.uk/life-after-sport