Breaking up is hard to do for retired players

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 December, 2010, 12:00am

They say Christmas is a time for reflection so imagine the tension in the Rooney and Terry households this weekend as their spouses look back on the past 12 months.

Fortunately for England teammates Wayne Rooney and John Terry, their marriages seem to have survived their reported infidelities and the associated media frenzy. But rockier times might be ahead once they hang up their boots.

According to official Professional Footballers Association (PFA) figures, around 70 per cent of players get divorced within five years of retiring. It's a stunning statistic that makes a mockery of the old clich? of giving up the game to spend more time with family.

'The problems begin straight away, from the first day you are at home,' said former England striker Tony Cottee, now a TV pundit in the UK and Asia. 'On retirement, you are in the house much more and your income is much reduced or even non-existent. This leads to questions like 'can't you go out and get a job?' because your wife isn't used to you being around and also her spending allowance gets cut.'

Cottee speaks from personal experience. The cracks in his marriage to childhood sweetheart Lorraine started to appear soon after he retired in 2001 after a glittering career with clubs that included West Ham, Everton and Leicester.

This Christmas, ex-wife Lorraine celebrates with their 12-year-old twin sons Matt and Billy in the United States while Cottee will mark the holiday with their 18-year-old daughter Chloe in Essex.

'I was never worried about my wife being after my money because we met when she was 13 and I was 15 at school ... we were married for 20 years,' he said. 'But after I retired there was too much time at home, less money and the arguments started. The life that gave me so much enjoyment ultimately brought me heartache in the end.'

Another former England international Peter Barnes saw his marriage fall apart in the mid-1990s, four years after he retired. The ex-Manchester City and Manchester United winger then had the heartbreak of seeing his two young daughters move to Italy as his ex-wife, Alison, ran off to be with another man.

'I remember driving away from our five-bedroom house in Manchester with tears in my ears and looking at my daughters in the rear-vision mirror, waving goodbye to me,' Barnes said. 'I was cut up, emotionally and physically and it took me two years to get over it.'

Over the next decade, Barnes would make 38 trips to Italy to see his children over holidays like Christmas. His daughters, Eloise, 27 and Jessica, 23, have since moved back to the UK and he will attend the marriage of his eldest girl 'to a Liverpool fan' in June.

'I had no idea that my life would unfold like it did after I gave up football,' said Barnes, capped 22 times by England between 1977 and 1982. 'The wives are used to the lifestyle but when the money dries up a bit, they can't buy the designer handbags and nice clothes anymore.'

The careers of Premier League stars usually come to a close in their early to mid 30s. From the women's perspective, their husbands often lack the maturity and life experience of so many other men of a similar age. Along with the absence of the big weekly pay cheque, the thrill and adrenalin rush of playing before packed stadiums have suddenly disappeared. Having focused on only one thing for more than two decades, players are now faced with a dilemma: 'What now?'

'As a footballer, your life is disciplined and you pretty much know what you are doing, day in and day out,' Cottee said. 'Getting used to a new way of life for both husband and wife is the hardest thing.'

As he used his soccer earnings post-retirement to help his wife set up a business selling imported fashion, Barnes would cut an incongruous figure, carrying women's clothing in and out of the boutiques of Manchester. But it was through his spouse's buying trips to Europe that she met the 'other man'

'It was lucky that I had a good family around me to help me survive a very tough period when I was separated from my daughters,' Barnes said.

'One day when I was at a loose end I met a friend in the Piccadilly Hotel in Manchester and he suggested that I start going on the radio talking about football. My career as a pundit started from there more than 10 years ago.'

Cottee suggested the PFA look at introducing a programme that helps prepare players for the off-field challenges that come once the roar of the crowds die down.

'The PFA should do more because now there is no contact made with you once you retire to see if you are OK,' he said. 'You very quickly become forgotten and all the hangers-on disappear because you can't get them tickets anymore.'

Some of today's generation of elite players have an entire entourage to pamper and protect them from the grind of everyday life. So in the same way that financial rewards have increased, the future challenges may also be greater.

With the fascination with Wags - Wives And Girlfriends - don't rule out the possibility of a grotesque TV reality show in the future: Premier League Divorce Court - coming soon to a sports network near you.

Moving on

The divorce percentage rate within five years of players retiring: 70%