Many footballers enjoy a lengthy and enjoyable career in the professional game, but many of them leave football prematurely. Former players can also benefit from the wealth of advice and help the Professional Footballers’ Association provides.
Former Oxford United Academy star Matthew Willett has qualified as a doctor and now practises at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading.
Matthew was approaching his final year at medical school at University College, London, when he received a message from the Professional Footballers’ Association Director of Education Pat Lally.
It was a complete surprise and a call which helped change the course of my life. Pat kindly explained that he had become aware of my goal – to be a doctor – and perhaps the PFA could help me.”
Pat had noticed that I had never applied for an education bursary from the PFA and that I might be eligible for some assistance.”
It never occurred to Matthew that help was available because he never made his professional league debut for Oxford United. In fact, he had left the club ten years earlier.
It was mighty tough living in London, with the cost of living sky high and a challenge to survive financially, so the news was very welcome. All I had was a student loan, and the possibility of a bursary, a substantial sum of money, would really help.”
Matthew was living a hand to mouth existence on a very demanding six-year course with a huge work load, where he would often work long days in hospitals and surgeries and many hours in the classroom. So, when the PFA awarded him a bursary their generous award provided him with an incredible boost at a crucial time.
The PFA provides vital support as Matthew explained:
It does say a lot about the players union, I think, the way they work and what is important to them in terms of helping players past and present. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about supporting players who have fallen on hard times, and they do that brilliantly, but by assisting others to achieve and get better.”
And to have a strong footballer’s union who support past and present footballers, shows what the PFA is about and how pro-active and supportive they are as an organisation.”
They played a major role in ensuring that I got through my course to qualify as a doctor.”
Matthew sees certain parallels between football and a career in medicine as he feels they are both very dynamic environments and are very privileged positions to be in.
At Oxford, I was always in the physiotherapist’s room, learning how the body works and recovers from the injuries sportsmen suffer. I thrived in that environment, communicating with people from all sorts of backgrounds, as I do now as a doctor.”
I enjoyed the pressure of having to perform on the pitch – but a career in medicine is a different type of pressure. As a newly qualified doctor, you are thrown in at the deep end, making life and death decisions.”
Since qualifying last year, Matthew has worked in the operating theatre and now his ambition is to be a surgeon, this means seven years of exams and study before qualifying as a consultant surgeon, and a different world from life on the pitch.
Matthew said that he did feel guilt, because football had invested in him and it was a career he had been working towards for many years.
It was certainly not a decision I took lightly and not one I made because I’d fallen out of love with the game. For one reason or another, football isn’t for everybody.”
But I will always be immensely grateful to the Professional Footballers’ Union for their generous help and advice – they have made a huge difference to my life.”