Starting an apprenticeship with Darlington at 15-years old and signing a professional contract just 2 years later, Joshua Gray was enjoying playing for the first team when he started thinking about what his next steps might be. And his union, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), was there to help.
With aspirations to continue his education, Joshua was passionate about achieving a degree in a scientific subject, such as engineering or biology.
When his contract came to an end, Joshua made the choice to turn down short-spell offers from around the country and - looking for stability - embarked on a complete career change. Starting with an access course at Gateshead College, he followed up with a BSc in Biomedical Science from Northumbria University.
He is currently in the final stages of completing a PhD in Immunology at the University of Glasgow.
Joshua says what led him to build a career so far away from football.
I always wanted to do biology or something similar at school; it was just another interest I had completely parallel to football. It wasn’t a conscious decision to get away from football-related education, it just happened to work out that way.”
The PFA was there to support Joshus with his new career, as he explains:
As soon as I left the club I got in touch with the PFA. We had a regional officer for League Football Education called Paul Urwin and he suggested looking at universities in America. I looked into that initially and there were a few colleges interested, including Columbia, but I couldn’t afford the fees and they didn’t do full scholarships, so I looked closer to home. Paul put me in touch with Oshor Williams who told me what funding was available and I’ve been applying for that every year since.”
Joshua completes his thesis this month and wants to continue in academia as a research fellow, this allows him to design his own research chose which direction he wants to go in.
This would follow on from the work he is doing at the moment. Joshua said:
Right now I do arthritis research, working on vaccines that focus on reversing the disease and the damage it can cause. Some of my independent work has been working on flu vaccines and I’ve got some ideas in that area, so I’ll probably be putting those forward. I’m actually looking to go to America for my post-doc research and weirdly I have an interview at Columbia, the same place that showed interest in me all those years ago."
His football background helped with his studies, as Joshua explains:
I probably wouldn’t have done some of the things I have, in the way I’ve done them without having played football first.”
When you’re pushed into such a competitive and high-pressured environment as a 17-year-old, you have to grow up quite quickly, so I felt like I was more mature going into university. Without that environment I’d had as a footballer, I probably would’ve been like the other students messing about. As soon as I went to university I knew what I wanted to do and where I needed to get to, whereas I don’t think a lot of people who go to university necessarily do.”
Joshua would recommend players who are looking to try something new should get in touch with the PFA, and feels they are very accessible.
I’ve got in touch many times over the years and they’ve always got back with a satisfactory answer. I was only a professional for 2-years, but I’m still receiving benefits from them, and they’ve always been bothered about what I’m doing. It’s nice to know that they’re not just there for when you’re successful playing football – they’re also there to help you when you’re not.”
I would also say, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, or let anyone shoehorn you into a situation that’s convenient if you don’t want to do that. Don’t be afraid to say no, and don’t be afraid to do something a little different.”