Saturday, 20 December 2014


Reading that Louis Van Gaal has decided to break from Man Utd’s usual tradition of staying in a hotel by allowing the players to stay at home on Christmas night reminds me how difficult it is for football players over the festive break. Before you shoot me down in flames with the usual ‘well they get paid loads of money’ – true as that is (for a small proportion of players) – actually, having children myself, my view is that no money can replace being away from your children and family on Christmas. That thought leads me on to other points....
Many people really do not appreciate the sacrifices a footballer makes. Of course, before I proceed, I am not minimising how difficult it is for those millions of families struggling to heat their homes and put food on the table over Christmas, but that in itself does not mean there should be a complete lack of appreciation for the life of a footballer. Take a footballer playing for a club in Europe – perhaps the Europa League. At certain parts of the season that player can expect a schedule of travelling to say Belgrade on a Wednesday and playing the game Thursday night. The team will not normally travel back until the Friday afternoon after an overseas training session in the morning. Saturday will then be further training followed by a game on a Sunday. Whether you are a footballer, a nurse, a police officer or whoever, that is a long time to be away from your children and family on a regular basis. This can create its own pressures.

I know from experience that changing rooms can sometimes be an extremely lonely places. That may sound odd in the context of being surrounded by loads of people but those are the mental dynamics a player has to grapple around. They are ruthless environments. In no other line of work would such social pressure exist. Ask any player and they will say one of the hardest parts of the job is the boredom. Filling hours on end of free time can sometimes make the mind wander.

Whether that be having too much time to ‘over use’ social media or, in some cases, developing a gambling addiction. In his autobiography ‘RED’ Gary Neville, one of the most decorated players in the game, said:

"Gambling is a cancer in a dressing room...Gambling blows your mind. I can see why players fall into it. You've got money and you're spending a lot of boring hours in hotel rooms..." 
On top of this there is the strict diet a player has to abide by to be at the top of his game. When we are all tucking into our mince pies and cracking open a cold beer, a footballer, especially during the busy Christmas period will be lucky to have a square of chocolate. Talking of the Christmas period, I think it is vitally important, as a divorce and family solicitor, to have the understanding of how arrangements for the children need to be managed around busy fixture lists so that the children can maintain a proper and full relationship with their Dad. 

Unfortunately there is a complete lack of understanding, not only around Christmas arrangements, but also how a season is structured – how the arrangements for the children cannot be conventional. How off season, close season and pre-season are all very different components in a player’s life. It is important, for the sake of the children, that for example time with a separated Father is maximised in the off season but bearing in mind a player needs a holiday just as much as you and I!

The press intrusion and lack of privacy is a significant issue. I was listening to Harry Redknapp last week say how he was not permitting the players to have a Christmas party because words along the lines that ‘they only need to blink at the time of a picture being taken for it to be made out that they are drunk’. Whether people like to hear this or not it is a very difficult life for a player.

Players then have to live with the extreme highs and lows of being a footballer, something which actually I do not believe anyone can understand unless you have experienced them. Imagine one week scoring a last minute goal in front of 50,000 people and the next being injured. This can understandably affect a players mood and, whilst I commend the work of people like Dean Holdsworth (owner and founder of the NLFA) in raising awareness of depression in the game he will agree with me that more needs to be done. The introduction of player liaison officer does help whilst the players are in the game but my concern is the lack of support at the end of a playing career.

Why am I writing about this??

Well fair question.

All these ingredients can create a recipe for family difficulties whether pre or post retirement. It is not unusual, against this background, with all these external pressure, for players to separate from their partners or wives. In my opinion it is important for us to all realise the reasons why. I suppose I feel very protective of the profession and the players given my passion for the game. Quite frankly insulting and offensive stereotypical conclusions, made not only by members of the public, but also members of the legal profession demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the life of a football player. Rightly or wrongly I believe my job extends beyond dealing with the legalities of a separation but to also support the player through what is normally a very difficult time.

Lee Millard of Wealth Solutions who looks after a number of players said this:

"Whilst it is true to say they [players] have many privileges many people fail to realise the many sacrifices they make."

So when you are cooking your turkey, drinking too much alcohol, opening the presents with the kids and, like me, eating yourself to the point of discomfort I think we need to appreciate the life is not as easy as the media would have you think.

Thanks for reading. Please do feel free to comment…. I work closely with a number of players in both the non-league and professional game. If any of these issues are affecting you please do feel free to get in touch. Remember you can follow me on twitter @MHandsFamilyLaw or look at my Facebook page “Mark Hands Family Law Blog” or connect with me on linkedin.