Brownrigg, Andrew (2015) ‘I shouldn’t have problems because I’m a footballer’: exploring the lived experiences of career transition in UK male professional footballers. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The current study focuses on understanding the lived experiences of male professional footballers during the process of career transition, specifically the transition out of professional football. The study was carried out over two stages. Within both stages of the research, the professional footballers found themselves within or, facing the possibility of career transition out of the game. Stage one used a focus group method with eight professional players facing the possibility of career transition. Stage two adopted face-to-face and online interviews with twelve players, being made up of professional players (some facing the possibility of career transition and some who at the time were in a rehabilitation centre for addiction and within career transition) as well as, a group of potential (Academy) professional players all facing the possibility of transition out of the game. The interviews allowed the players to express what it is like to anticipate or live through the experience of career transition out of football. Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis was used for stage one and elements of van Manen’s human science/hermeneutic approach during stage two. The analysis of the interviews produced a number of key themes, including experiencing ‘self and identity’, ‘help and support’, ‘the gaze of others’ and, ‘uncertainty and disempowerment’. Importance for professional footballers was laid on meeting the requirements and expectations of others within the world of professional football. For some, this was experienced as a need to put on a pretence to live up to requirements, whilst for others it meant accepting abusive treatment as part of their development. What is more, the players often felt constantly judged and assessed and this was something they lived even in the absence of others. The players’ experienced a need to portray the characteristics of hegemonic masculinity, especially physical and mental strength at all times. In addition, the players felt like commodities, as if they were machines.. Therefore, some professional footballers’ experienced conflict between their public and private self, especially during difficult times and thus, a need to outwardly show to others that they were coping with things, when actually in private they were not.
The research findings inform a number of recommendations to sporting organisations, professional football clubs and professional footballers to improve the current and future lived experiences of professional footballers. Principally, there is a need to educate and develop those within professional football, in particular those in positions of responsibility, about the ways in which their relationships are influential in the lives of professional footballers in the immediate and long term. Encouraging professional footballers to adopt different ways of being men, could be seen as beneficial to professional footballers’ lived experiences. Hegemonic masculinity ideals in the culture of professional football could be replaced by healthier scripts, such as pursuing holistic development and improving team spirit and cohesion.

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