Retiring from football: Steve Sidwell and Liam Rosenior discuss hidden struggles

Steve Sidwell announced his retirement live on The Debate on Tuesday

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Steve Sidwell announced his retirement on The Debate on Tuesday

On the night Steve Sidwell announced his retirement from football, the 35-year-old discussed the hidden struggles of leaving the game with Liam Rosenior on The Debate.

Former Reading and Chelsea midfielder Sidwell, who helped Brighton to promotion in 2016/17, spent last season out with a back injury, and has not been able to return to the game.

He announced his retirement on The Debate on Tuesday evening, and discussed how the bubble of being a professional footballer can lead to issues in retirement, with Rosenior having also retired this summer.

HULL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Steve Sidwell of Brighton and Hove Albion looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Hull City and Brighton and H
Image: Sidwell had been struggling with a back injury with Brighton last term

Here, the pair talk candidly about parking tickets, divorce and the issue with 'just playing golf for a year' when you hang up your boots…

Steve Sidwell

It was scary. Really scary. It's a 15-20 year career, a structure that I've had. You're in a regime you're used to, day in, day out. You're getting told what to do.

For that just to stop. To finally make the decision, I mean I cried my eyes out, sitting in my bedroom. It wasn't the decision that I was going to stop, it was that an injury had beaten me, I didn't want to go out that way.

It's difficult, any player that packs up is used to a regime, a network of people around you. To go out of that bubble and into the real world, it will sound crazy to those at home, but it feels like you've left society for that long, so wrapped up in trying to win games and train well.

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"For that just to stop. To finally make the decision, I mean I cried my eyes out, sitting in my bedroom."
Sidwell on retirement

Players build up a barrier to society, especially the top players. They have to. More so now. Because they can't go out, because there will be speculation of going into night clubs or getting into trouble.

So they build a barrier of going to training and only being around people they trust. Now it's down to you, the social skills you've just put aside, need to come out again. You need to start networking again.

We've been programmed from an early age to be a competitor. Even out of school, into a YTS scheme, be the best you can be.

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 03:  John Terry of Chelsea (R) and Steve Sidwell salute the Chelsea fans after their 2-1 victory during the UEFA Champions League
Image: Sidwell made over 500 career appearances

On top of that, you're getting the buzz and adrenaline from games. Some might miss the training ground dynamics, the 3pm kick-off on a Saturday. There are lots of buzzes that they will miss, and have to cope with.

The PFA are very good in terms of courses, help that they do have. Clubs have player liaison officers. They are there to make your life easier as a player. The club hire them to take all the distractions off you.

We've had players who when they've wanted a parking bill or utility bill paid, you bring it in, and they pay.

My doctor since I left school was the club doctor, since school. I need to now go to register with my local GP; some players don't know how to do that!

Liam Rosenior

In terms of help, players now are such a commodity at the top level, everything is about now. Agents are talking about sponsorship deals, you go into training thinking about winning the next game. There's no thought of the long term.

What I worry about is players defining themselves as pro football and not a global human being, a rounded person. When you live in a bubble, you can hide from things in life.

Rosenior says Brighton's open society is one of the reasons he signed
Image: Liam Rosenior also retired from football in the summer

I've travelled to away games on a Friday night and don't even know where I am. You're told when to get on the coach, when to eat, when to train, you don't think for yourself.

All of a sudden you come out of that lifetime and you have to make decisions for yourself. We're lucky to have played at a good level. I'm thinking players at League One, League Two, without the financial support we have.

I struggled because I love the game, and always want to play the game. What helped me was that my Dad (Leroy Rosenior) went through it, it hit him really hard and I lived that with him. I saw that and thought: 'I'm going to put things in place'.

"We've been conditioned just to think about football. 'Don't worry, your agent or player liaison will take care of that.' We need to educate players, because I'm worried severely about the mental health of players coming out of the game."
Rosenior on players' mental health

That's one thing I've spoken to former players about. They've earned a lot of money and they come out of the game and say: 'I'm going to play golf for a year.' That cliché. But they lose the focus of having something to aim for.

You see the divorce rates of players who come out of the game. That's not down to financial things, that's down to the change in dynamic of relationships, and that breaks up families.

Liam Rosenior
Image: Rosenior insists he is concerned about the mental health of players who retire

In a way, footballers' lives are accelerated. You come into a life-changing amount of money in your 20s. You then get married young, have children young. I'm 34, I have friends from school who are just starting to have families, have their careers, had what you'd call a 'normal life'. I have lived, got a 19-year-old step-daughter, an 11-year-old in secondary school. My career has come to an end as theirs is just beginning.

It accelerates at such a pace that when you get to 33, 34, you think: 'Well what do I do now?' More needs to be done, at 20, 21, to educate our players that this is a career now, but you've got 40, 50 years to live after it's done.

We've been conditioned just to think about football. 'Don't worry, your agent or player liaison will take care of that.' We need to educate players, because I'm worried severely about the mental health of players coming out of the game.

It's not a sob story. I'm so fortunate to have had the career, but it's about putting measures in place to make that transition a successful one.

If you are affected by these issues or want to talk, please contact the Samaritans on the free helpline 116 123, or visit the website.

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