My journey so far...
Head of HR Interim Recruitment at Annapurna Recruitment
Ex Professional Footballer and Scholarship Athlete
Former clubs: Stirling Albion, Middlesbrough FC and Bradford City FC, Stirling University FC
Tell us a little about your career to date
My time spent at professional football club’s began at Bradford City, before being bought by Middlesbrough in 2006. I was with the club at youth team and reserve level for three seasons, and was training with the 1st team regularly and signed an extension on my contract shortly after turning 17. I was then released, due to a number of reasons but mainly the club had a strong group of emerging goalkeepers, and I fell out of favour when new management arrived.
I decided then to join Stirling University on an athletic scholarship to try and keep myself at a high level, always with the aim of finding another professional club. Fortunately, following a successful season with the university in the Scottish non-league pyramid system, I joined Stirling Albion, who were playing in the 3rd tier of Scottish football. They didn’t train full time despite being in a professional league, so I was able to continue my studies at Stirling University whilst playing for the club. Following two successful seasons, I decided to move to London when graduating from University, to explore a career outside of professional football, but ideally I wanted to continue playing at a high level.
How did you first get involved in the sport? And when did the opportunity come to join a professional club?
I was always a sports fanatic growing up. My family love watching most sports, and I enjoyed playing everything from football to cricket, golf and tennis. With my physique, I was always going to be earmarked as a goalkeeper, and my hand-eye coordination was pretty strong. I was a good cricketer also, which I think helped me develop in to a good keeper. It was during secondary school when I first joined Bradford City after they saw me play for my school, and I never looked back from there really.
What was it like, to train and play as a professional athlete?
Amazing. As a goalkeeper we would always train with the first team, and the quality of some of the players was incredible. Especially at Middlesbrough. The club was very good to youngsters and we had a big crop of talented youngsters who were coming through, a lot of which are now playing across the leagues. So for me it was great to be in the same team as them, but also they would push you every day to be better.
I must say, at Middlesbrough, Mendieta was in a league of his own. In training, no one could get the ball off him, and his technique was better than any I’ve seen.
Do you have any sporting highlights that you think stand out from the rest?
When I first signed a professional contract with Middlesbrough, I felt I had made a dream come true. So looking back, that first moment was quite special. There are quite a few other experiences that stick out for me. Training with Gaizka Mendieta on a daily basis was incredible. He was so good it was untrue! One of the biggest things though was playing and keeping a clean sheet at Ibrox against Rangers. Such an iconic club and stadium, in front of a full house. That day for me was special.
Also, I had a short spell at Manchester United. And although it was only for a few months, the standard of players at that club was incredible. Many who are now playing for England and other national teams. That really was an eye opener for me – to see how good you really have to be to compete at the highest level.
Some great highlights. Out of everything, what would you say was the most enjoyable part of being a professional athlete?
You don’t necessarily feel it at the time, but being able to do what you’ve loved as a hobby, every day was amazing. While my mates where at college with part time jobs, I was playing football. Also, being in it with other groups of young lads was fantastic. You were always having a laugh and a joke which is something you can’t get anywhere else.
So now your career is very much away from professional sport. Tell us a little about how you left football behind you?
I was always quite realistic. When I moved to play in Scotland, I knew the standard wasn’t quite as high as the English league, and the chances of making a long term career was difficult. That is why I continued education, whilst playing. I have always been OK in the classroom, so I quite enjoyed merging the two together and learning about things like business.
When graduating I also fell out of favour at Stirling Albion, so it felt like a good time to try something new and try my hand at earning a living away from professional football. To be honest, I always had in my mind to explore new opportunities and continue to play part time if I could. As great as professional football is, at the lower levels it can be very tough, very inconsistent and it is definitely a very uncertain career. Most players outside of the top leagues, will go from season to season, playing with different clubs across the country, with no certainty or stability. Which for me was something I didn’t like.
So I decided to move down to London, where there is so much opportunity, and I joined Annapurna Recruitment. I didn’t consciously know what I wanted to do, but having spoken to a few people, there’s lots of similarities in behaviours between professional sport and recruitment. So I thought I’d give it a go, and try to continue playing part time at a high level.
Looking back, were there any challenges you faced when you made the career transition?
The main challenge was the realisation of not making it to the heights that I’d hoped and dreamed of. It got to a point where I had to be really honest with myself and think about other options away from football. Going to University helped me understand that there’s lots of opportunities away from sport that are just as fulfilling, challenging and rewarding.
Once I was able to get over the fact that in order to have a long term career in anything, I needed to look at options away from sport, I was then able to commit to making this change. To be totally honest, I was really going in to the unknown, but having spent more than ten years within professional sports under extreme pressures, it was a nice feeling to go in to something new with a fresh mind.
So now you are a successful Recruiter, what do you do and how did you get involved?
I work for Annapurna Recruitment, who are a growing company that provide recruitment services to lots of businesses, from SME’s to global brands. My role in short, is to help businesses find future employees or ‘candidates.’
It has been fantastic in truth, and I have certainly landed on my feet by joining a company like Annapurna. It started off really challenging, having not come from a commercial environment. But the company were willing to invest in time and resource to help train me up and develop my technical knowledge to now be successful.
What I love about the role, is that you get rewarded for how hard you work. Ultimately it is like managing your own business, where you have a portfolio of clients to manage, and the harder you work, and the more employees I find for my clients, the happier they are, and the more financial rewards I gain!
Is there anything you think your time in professinal sport has given you that is relevant to what you do now?
So much. I didn’t realise this before, but having worked here for more than three years now, and partnering with global businesses, it’s so clear that the behaviours and skills I learned from sport, are badly needed in the work place.
Recruitment is very very competitive, and there’s lots of companies out there competing against each other. For me, this brings back the feeling of competition and wanting to win against your opposition which has been instilled in me from professional sport. So for me, I like coming up against other recruiters and competing with them. I am able to thrive in this environment now.
Also, having to work with some of the biggest companies in the world, and having targets in my role, brings a lot of pressure. Recruitment in general can be very KPI focused, which is where a lot of people fall short because it is not for them. But I have been able to handle pressures on a daily basis in professional sport from fans, players managers etc, which were extremely intense. So I now feel that the pressures brought on me I can handle, and perform well under.
Finally, I think the biggest reason I have been successful in this role, is because I have a different background, and perhaps a different way of thinking, which my colleagues and clients like. There’s so many graduates every year graduating with great qualifications and work experience, which I couldn’t compete with. But where I feel I come out on top, is my ability to communicate and deal with people when in competition, and under real pressure. I have real experience of these skills, and have performed them daily during professional sport, which is so volatile and pressurised. Most graduates won’t have had these experiences so for me has been a massive advantage. And significantly, I have a story and background that is different to most graduates, and certainly different to a lot of people in business. So I think the people I deal with take a real interest in me and my background, and that helps me build relationships and gain people’s trust.
I have been fortunate enough that Annapurna saw the potential, and were willing to invest time in teaching me the technical/theory. And I definitely think more businesses should be following this approach, so they can develop people who come from different backgrounds that have the foundations of relevant skills and behaviours to be a long term success. A lot of jobs you need to be technically gifted, and extremely academic/bright, but a lot of opportunities now are based on behaviours, which is where I think people with similar backgrounds to me can add a lot to a business.
And finally, what advice would you give to professional athletes who may be considering the transition away from sport?
Be open to change. Anything other than sport is always going to be an afterthought to athletes and rightly so. But there is will always be a time, whether it be sooner or later than you thought, where you have to step away from being an athlete. Treat the experiences within sport and life learning, and try to understand how you can translate the skills you have learnt over time in sport, towards other areas, because more and more businesses are now looking for a lot of the characteristics that elite athletes have as second nature.Professional sport teaches you to be very strong mentally, and you have to sacrifice a lot. Use this to your advantage.
Companies are always looking for traits like competitiveness, being able to deal with pressure, a
determination/willingness to overcome challenge and out-work others. Companies spend millions trying to train these in to employees, but these are often not things you can teach. I believe you can teach the technical/theory to an extent, but you cannot teach the skills and behaviours. This is a massive advantage that athletes will always have at their disposal. But businesses need to also recognise that this transition might not happen overnight, but in the long term it can prove to be a success, which is certainly what I am finding now.
Finally, The-Transition-Phase helped me a lot. So don’t be afraid to speak to initiatives like The-Transition-Phase. Even if it is in the back of your mind. A career transition for some will come sooner than you think, so there is no harm in being equipped for when that day comes.