Brownrigg, Andrew, Burr, Vivien, Bridger, Alexander J. and Locke, Abigail (2017) ‘You shut up and go along with it’: an interpretative phenomenological study of former professional footballers’ experiences of addiction. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health. ISSN 2159-6778

Research evidence suggests that professional players across a variety of sports may be at greater risk of developing addictions and other mental illnesses than the general population, both during and post-career. In this paper, we report findings from a larger project on the experiences of career transition in UK professional footballers that provide some insight into this. Using an Interpretative Phenomenological approach, four ex-professional footballers who were attending the Sporting Chance Clinic for help with problems concerning alcohol and gambling were interviewed in depth about their experiences. Focussing on issues the players perceived to be relevant to their addictions, the data were analysed thematically, drawing on Van Manen’s phenomenological method, and individual case histories were also produced. The analysis suggested that club culture was key to understanding the players’ difficulties; a harsh, unsupportive psychological environment combined with expectations of manliness resulted in a culture of silence in the face of personal difficulties. Relationships within the culture of pro-football were fraught with anxiety and distrust, leaving the players feeling unable and unwilling to disclose their problems and feeling used and unvalued by their managers. The lack of supportive relationships in their clubs also resulted in loneliness and social withdrawal for the participants. We conclude with a number of recommendations for the governing bodies in professional football, clubs and individual players.

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