Retirement: What Happens When Sporting Professionals Call It A Day?
Now, this post starts in a bit of an unorthodox way, but bear with me.
I'd like to ask you, just for a moment, to imagine something.
What if you were in a situation where you knew that you would be forced to end your career by, at most, your mid-40s, and often quite a bit earlier?
What if your ability to perform the only job that you'd known for your entire life up to that point was slowly, but surely, removed from you?
It's something of a sobering thought, isn't it?
But that's the reality for professional sportsmen and women, and only a tiny percentage can retire from the workplace for good. The idea that players can permanently call it a day when they step back from playing is little more than an illusion outside of the circle of the highest-paid Premier League footballers.
Even those who have competed at the top domestic level in other sports must find income streams from elsewhere. The minimum yearly salary for a full-time county cricketer at the beginning of last year stood at £27,500, and now, after county clubs' finances have been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, that figure has dropped even further, to £24,000.
The good news is that there are a multitude of options for retired players now - many choose to go into coaching or perhaps do media work - but there are those who pick a path less trodden. I got in touch with a former professional, who chose the latter, to ask him about his story, and find out what really does happen after the boots are hung up.
Chris Taylor is a now-retired cricketer, who had two stints with Yorkshire for a total of eight years, either side of a season with Derbyshire, before he left the game following the 2009 season. He now owns All Rounder, a clothing and equipment retailer, which, as well as having two shops in Leeds and Sheffield, also has a large online presence too. Alongside that, I've got to know him through his association with Lightcliffe CC, who are my local club.
I knew a little of his playing career, but I wanted to dive a bit deeper into it, so I started by asking him about his most memorable moments as a professional.
"One stands out quite easily! I'd just signed for Derbyshire, and in my first game, which was against Yorkshire at Headingley, I then went and got a hundred!
"I took the final catch in the last over to win that match too. I think they needed about ten off the final over, and I won us the game with a one-handed catch. We weren't a fancied side, we had quite a lot of young players just coming through, and so to go to Headingley and win like that was really special.
"I had all my family watching too, it's just one of those days you'll never forget really!"
If you want to see the expression on Chris's face after scoring that hundred, look no further than this post's cover photo! Besting a bowling attack to such a level that you're able to rack up a century is an almost immeasurable feeling for a batsman, but one way you can improve on that moment is if you know the bowlers you've dominated are of a particularly high quality.
Indeed, many that Chris faced throughout his career were, so who would he name as some of the very best?
"I'd say [Muttiah] Muralitharan. When I was at Derbyshire, we hosted Sri Lanka in a tour match, and he played then. I made 53, but he was just on another level." He laughs: "Everyone says you have to watch his hand as he bowls, but honestly, whatever you watch, you're just guessing!
I must admit, when I asked that question, I wasn't expecting the response to be one of the best bowlers of all time! Chris goes on to say that "the most difficult quick bowler I ever faced was a Sri Lankan too - [Lasith] Malinga, who also played in that game."
With highlights like that, and memories of having faced the very best, it's difficult to begin contemplating retirement, but when did that thought process first kick in for Chris?
"By 2009, I'd played for ten years, and [Chris's wife] Charlotte and I were expecting our first baby, so I was just getting more and more fed up of spending quite so much time away from home. During the season, you'll be spending ten days at a time away, with only a couple of days in between to be at home, and then during the winter, it's much longer, because you go to places like Australia to play out there.
"I then had to consider where I was at with Yorkshire, and places were really competitive, especially in my position as an opening batsmen. Michael Vaughan had just finished his international career so he was back, and then there were people like Adam Lyth coming through, all while I only had a year left on my contract. To be totally honest, I'd just had enough.
He goes on to recount one particular moment that served as a catalyst for the decision to retire.
"I remember playing a game at Headingley against Surrey, and when I was out, just walking straight under one of the stands, and sitting on my own. I rang my wife and my dad, and just said "I can't do this any more, I'm not enjoying it." It had become just a job to me, just something that paid the mortgage.
"I wasn't particularly enjoying the atmosphere or the coaching element at Yorkshire at that time, and I often felt like I was playing under a lot of pressure. I kept getting quite anxious before games, and I just knew that with my first baby due, I didn't want to be spending so much time away from home to play."
Chris and then-Yorkshire captain, now coach, Andrew Gale, had set up a coaching business of their own while playing together, named ProCoach, and Chris describes it as "doing quite well" at the time of his retirement, so that offered a smooth route away from playing.
"When the time came, I went and sat down with [Yorkshire's director of cricket] Martyn Moxon, and said that I wanted to retire. It happened very quickly, Yorkshire paid off the final year of my contract, and I went to work on ProCoach pretty much the next day."
This was an interesting moment in our conversation, as Chris told me how All Rounder came into being, and it was in something of an unusual way.
"I ran ProCoach for about two years after retiring, and we started to get quite a few kids involved; I think at one stage we had close to 1,000. That obviously meant we needed more staff, and offices to work through all the administration of booking courses and venues.
"At that point, [then-Yorkshire chief executive] Stewart Regan approached me to tell me about a building that Yorkshire rented next door to the Indoor Cricket Centre, and offered it for use as the offices of ProCoach. I obviously considered it, and while I was doing that, I thought 'do you know what? That would be perfect for a shop!'
"It's right next to a Test cricket ground, and obviously everyone arriving for coaching at the centre next door needs various bits of equipment, so the idea came from there. We set up the shop, and opened in March 2011."
Chris and Andrew Gale then made the decision to go their separate ways in business a few years later, with Chris focusing fully on All Rounder. As the business took off, they increased their physical retail offering with a new store in Sheffield, and Chris recounts opening day, when the ribbon was cut by a very special guest!
"We made a call to Joe Root when we opened our second shop, because we knew he only lived about half an hour away, to ask if he would come over for a couple of hours for photos, and to do the opening.
"He was absolutely great. He stayed for hours, much longer than we'd hoped, signing every autograph, and posing for every picture, including one with my father-in-law! It was a really brilliant day, both for everyone there and for us too."
Alongside the two stores, All Rounder has another arm of its business. As an internet retailer too, it has been able to continue to upsize and develop, even now, when bricks-and-mortar retail finds itself forcibly closed.
Chris underlines the healthy position it finds itself in, a decade on from being set up.
"It's developed into probably the largest cricket retailer in the world now. On peak days, we can be shipping out between 400 and 500 parcels a day, and we regularly send packages to all of the Test-playing nations across the world.
"We have about 650 amateur clubs nationwide that we supply, and we have twenty full time staff now too, so it's certainly grown a long way from when it was just me in a shop ten years ago!"
As I said at the beginning, retirement is an incredibly daunting time for professionals, and that remained true for Chris, who revealed, as we've already seen, that it was very far from smooth sailing for him.
However, hindsight is a wonderful thing, so, a little over ten years on, what tips would he give for anyone leaving the game now and looking for other employment?
"My advice would definitely be about planning in advance. Make sure you're well prepared for leaving, and use the offseason well. If you're looking to go into a skilled manual job like plumbing or electrical work, use that valuable time to upskill yourself.
"If you go and get the work experience, and talk to people, there's no better way to learn. Once you've gained all those little bits of advice and experience, you'll be in a great position to pull it all together, so when you do retire and go into your chosen field, you should be able to make a success of it."
Fundamentally, he could boil that down to three simple words, which is good advice for someone aspiring to work in any field across any walk of life, not just those in his position: "Watch and listen."
This particular angle, of retirement, and shining the light on the lesser-told stories, is something that affects professionals from nearly all sports.
It is certainly something that has piqued my interest for a little while now, and it was insightful to hear it from Chris about his transition out of the game to doing what he does now, over the last decade. I want to thank him very much for taking the time to speak to me.
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The cover image for this post is used with the kind permission of Chris Taylor.