Retiring from Rugby League is a seriously daunting prospect.
I think one of the biggest challenges facing a player is adapting to life after the sport – by that I mean figuring out what you’re actually going to do once you finish.
Over the years I have realised nothing will replace rugby. I don’t particularly want anything to – it’s something that will live long in the memory and I will always be proud of.
I think the key, though, is to replace the buzz that Rugby League provides.
I plan to do this by absorbing myself in my favourite hobby, which is clay pigeon shooting, and getting back into motorbiking, which I was fascinated by as a youngster but unable to pursue in the intervening period due to my job.
If finding a way to replace the buzz is an important thing, certainly the scariest thing facing a player close to retirement is finding a new career – a way to pay the mortgage and look after the family.
For a player it is seriously frightening knowing your time as a professional could end at any point and if you have nothing in place it can be disastrous.
I am doing as much as I possibly can right now to make sure I have a bright future that I can just fall into.
The thing is, it is completely out of the question to retire on a Rugby League salary. Don’t get me wrong, players are on decent money, but we are all retired by our mid 30s – if we are lucky – and a lot of players, myself included, have not even paid off their mortgages.
That’s a bit depressing, as we are all expected to find ways to sustain ourselves once our careers are over despite being limited to what we can do given most haven’t been provided with a proper education.
I’m happy to say the culture is changing and has done significantly since I began. I’ve got to give the RFL a bit of credit as they are trying to make changes. Player Welfare Officers have all the tools now to be able to give players an education and there are loads of courses available. I’m currently doing one to learn how to be an electrician, which is a bit random, but I’ve always wanted to try it. If nothing else it’s another string to my bow for when I finish and could open another door if I need it.
I think it’s fair to say that the money in our sport does not reflect the skill and physicality on show and it is indicative of a game built on weak foundations. We need to rebuild them to be able to increase revenue and benefit everyone.
I think one of the major problems in Rugby League is how the players are perceived. I’ve always said we are nothing more than pieces of meat and we always have been. If you are surplus to requirements then the club will just say see you later, end your contract and never think of you again.
That’s been the case with the RFL as well, though it seems to be more of a thing of the past now.
I remember one of my former coaches talking about a player at the Giants who had bad knees and had just been let go. He came into the dressing room and said that the club had got rid of the ‘dead wood’ and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I still think about it to this day, and I feel it could be a reason for my cynicism. You hear things like that and worry it could be said about you, too.
I think the RFL are starting to realise players cannot be treated like this and changes are being made, but it still feels more like an afterthought than a pressing matter.
IF I HAD MY TIME AGAIN
If I could give some advice to a youngster breaking through into Super League right now it would be to start thinking about their future early doors.
Being a professional Rugby League player isn’t the dream job you think it’s going to be. It’s a ruthless world, like any other job, and it’s key you prepare yourself for life after it.
There are things in place now that allow you to get an education through the game so do not miss out on that opportunity. You have to search for it, though – you can’t expect it to fall into your lap.
In addition to learning how to be an electrician, I’ve also completed a business management qualification and, like pretty much everyone else in Super League, done personal training.
I’m now looking to get on a counselling course while at the same time focusing on my media responsibilities, which include TV, radio, and now my monthly column for Rugby League World Magazine.
MY IMMEDIATE FUTURE
I intend to stay at Huddersfield for the remainder of my playing career, which I hope will see me through to at least 35. I’m 32 now so, as long as my body holds up, it shouldn’t be unattainable. Once I finish I would like to use my experience and skills to help the club in any capacity they see fit. Mentoring the youngsters would be fantastic and going into the community would too. In fact, I would love to have an open title so I could help in any department that needs me. I feel I have a lot to offer and would ideally like to stay in Rugby League, but you never know what is around the corner. The club may decide I’m not what they want. I hope that’s not the case, but you have to plan for every eventuality.
I am happy playing at the moment. I’m in a slightly different role, playing less minutes than I used to, but it is certainly helping my body and I’m enjoying it.
MORE SHOULD BE DONE
As you may have read in issue 409 of Rugby League World (May 2015) former England international Francis Maloney tried to commit suicide earlier this year. That saddens me greatly – as did the news of Sean Long’s attempt last year – but I don’t see it stopping any time soon. Depression takes different guises and is difficult to understand and treat. So this is going to happen to more players, as much as I hate to say it. I think all we can do as a sport is support former players in that position and put things in place to recognise it earlier and make the transition easier. Again, the ‘pieces of meat’ mentality has to disappear. It’s a worrying sign but at least it is now being properly noted and things are being done. A lot more needs to happen, though.
That’s where the hobbies I mentioned earlier come into their own. I know that when I leave Rugby League I won’t miss it as much as a lot of other people. I love the sport, but some of the things I’ve seen and heard over the years have been deeply disappointing. It’s a ruthless sport. I still love playing and want to stay involved, but at the same time you are only here once. There’s another life after Rugby League and you need to make sure you enjoy it.
PEACOCK HAS RIGHT IDEA
The news that Jamie Peacock will be joining Hull KR at the end of the season in a role as football manager struck me as a very shrewd move for both sides.
Jamie has put himself in such a strong position and it is something I would like to emulate when I retire. He has all the experience in the world when it comes to Rugby League and how a club should be run, but he’s also been studying for a degree while playing so he is the complete package.
He has been thinking ahead for a while now and he’s done what most of us want to achieve – he has gained new skills and secured his future. I think Hull KR are very fortunate to have him on board and I’m sure he will do a great job.
What’s amazing is that he is still playing as well as he ever has. I think a lot of players worry about planning for retirement too early and believe it may have a negative impact on their performance, but that’s not the case, as Jamie proves.
Eorl Crabtree writes every month for Rugby League World. This article was first published in Issue 409 (June 2015). Download the app now for the digital edition or go to www.totalrl.com/shop for subscriptions and back issues.