Pro Footballers And Money
“They are only offering me 55 grand a week?” a crestfallen Ashley Cole shouted at his agent as he nearly swerved his sports car off the road from the shock of hearing Arsenal’s final contract offer. In fairness to Cole, order he probably deserved it but his PR machine didn’t gain him any friends in the aftermath. Footballer’s wages and how they choose to spend is a topic of discussion where a big disconnect is occurring between your ordinary fan and some footballers living in a parallel universe. I am of the belief that top earners today are earning so much, it would be nearly impossible to lose it. However, an interesting statistic emanating from America shows that roughly 80% of all NFL players are declared bankrupt within two years of their retirement from America’s number one sport. Hard to believe considering the millions these individuals add to their personal coffers every year. I don’t have the official statistics to hand but my guess is that some well-paid pro footballers in the upper echelons of the Premier League have flirted with this danger. There are a number of variables to blame in this situation. However, a couple of themes become evident – One, a possible lack of understanding of financial management and two, a lack of respect for money. You can become a millionaire overnight in this game even as a teenager and for some this is difficult to comprehend.
Getting pay packets like this sent some of the lads into a spending frenzy
From the moment I arrived in the UK as a kid, the one thing I noticed rather quickly was this culture in the club to ‘look good’ or in London terms, ‘the dogs bollocks’. I met an old team-mate of mine recently and he was embarrassed about the amount of money wasted on clothes over the years. When payday arrived, there was an unmerciful rush to the fashion outlets to spend wages immediately on the latest designer gear, whatever the cost. Being a Professional Footballer came at a price for players who felt this need to display a wealthy existence, even if some of them were only paid peanuts. I had no shortage of players coming up to me on a regular basis offering their services as a shopping partner. I would politely tell them I was saving for the price of a flight home to see my family and that was that!
Footballers (in the top division anyway) are compensated handsomely for their efforts. Your weekly pay-packet for the average Joe goes something like this – The basic salary will keep the show on the road. Then there are the little extras which are incentive based. You could get a win bonus, a draw bonus or a top-six-in-the-table bonus. If the club were to be promoted, there would be a bonus based on your contribution over the course of the season. For FA Cup matches, you would get a bonus even as a non-playing substitute. The best one for a cup-tie was a bonus for the size of the crowd at the match! Some of the players had individual agreements with the clubs like goal bonuses. I think our chairman didn’t lose sleep about that particular agreement as goals were hardly raining in. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to sign a multi-million pound contract but on one occasion it felt like I did. I was named as a sub against Arsenal for an FA Cup 3rd round fixture and delighted, to say the least. I did not make an appearance that particular day but my pain subsided greatly when I saw my pay packet the following week. I had managed to receive five times my weekly salary for keeping the bench warm and getting splinters up my backside with my non-appearance and some of the bonuses outlined.
Getting pay packets like this sent some of the lads into a spending frenzy. New Cars, trips to Selfridges to stock up and jewellery that even the Queen would be envious of. There was an air of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ off the pitch as lads would be competitive with their car choice. I recall one individual at our club who signed an improved contract and duly celebrated by purchasing an Aston Martin for himself. It just didn’t make sense to me as I know for a fact his contract was in the 200k per year category. As the investor Warren Buffett recently said, our player had engaged in a spot of ‘irrational exuberance’. Our player certainly got the attention he so craved as other senior and youth players surrounded his new shiny motor offering him congratulations, pats on the back and even a few attractive offers to borrow it for the weekend. In contrast, our legendary and wealthy goalkeeper was quite happy to zip in and out of the training ground in something that probably had a top speed of 30 miles per hour. No airs or graces with this guy, he just didn’t feel the desire to exhibit, but was pretty good at squirreling away his money. ‘Making money while he is taking a leak’ was the description bestowed on him.
Another black hole, in terms of players spending, emanated from interest in gambling. I can understand why so many players get into this difficulty. There was a saying in football we used – ‘you would always be home in time for Neighbours’, the Australian soap that aired at 1.30pm daily. What do some of the younger unsettled guys do at this hour of the day? It’s very easy to find a bookie on every street corner of London and unfortunately where many addictions begin. You wouldn’t even need a bookie to lose your money when there were some major card tournaments in action on the team bus for every away reserve game.
I also subscribe to a magazine every month exclusively for current and ex professionals. To use a term from our own David McWilliams, it is littered with ‘financial pornography’. You only have to look at the adverts on offer to see how enticing it is for an impressionable young player to be sucked in by the whole thing. Villas, Luxury goods, VIP treatment and other graphical images of the life you’ve always wanted when the boots are finally hung up. Even though footballers make more money today than ever before, this makes them more vulnerable to the circling vultures who all want a piece of the pie. In an ideal world, the player will hopefully have a good head on his shoulders throughout his career and learn to manage his finances for the rainy days ahead. Then he can go off to his Villa in the sun….