Sports Writer, Harry Wilkinson, analyses five examples of once well-known footballers who have seen their careers fizzle out.
Images by Øyvind Vik
With the recent, rather almost mysterious retirement of Darius Vassell, who retired at the age of 35 having spent the last four years without a club, it could be an interesting venture to investigate other cases of a similar fashion.
To be a player in the crazy world of professional football is something seldom people would not be envious of. The fame, the money, the utter bliss in being able to earn a substantial wage by simply playing the sport you grew up with, and love. But it can be ruthless; one moment you could be an exciting youngster in the Premier League with a promising career ahead, and the next you can be the owner of a taxi firm playing in the Conference North.
1. Stefan Moore
Before: Young starlet at Aston Villa in the Premier League
After: Taxi firm owner, playing in Conference North
Around thirteen years ago Stefan Moore made his Premier League debut for Aston Villa, scoring in a 2-1 win against Charlton Athletic. A product of Villa’s academy, at the young age of 19, Moore’s potential was abundant; but his footballing career soon began its slow decline. Now, at 32, since being at Villa, Moore has played for the likes of Chesterfield, Millwall, Leicester, QPR, Port Vale, Walsall, Kidderminster, Silhill, Halesowen Town, St Neots Town, Leamington, Brackley Town, and finally, his present club, Solihull Moors in the Conference North.
Moore owned a taxi firm from the beginning of 2011, in Water Orton in Northern Warwickshire, before he sold it four years later.
2. Garry O’Connor
Before: Scotland, Locomotiv Moscow and Birmingham City striker
After: Player-manager at Selkirk (fifth tier of Scottish football)
O’Connor has had a crazy footballing career. Kicking off at Hibernian, O’Connor scored 48 goals in 138 appearances, sparking the attention of Russian club, Locomotiv Moscow, who ended up paying 1.6 million for the Scot’s services in 2006. By the wet summer of 2007, O’Connor made his return to Britain when he was signed by Birmingham City for 2.7 million. He was at the Blues for four years, scoring 9 goals in 52 appearances; making sporadic appearances for Scotland in the meantime.
It was around 2011, that O’Connor’s career began its rapid transition. Following a short stint at Barnsley he went back to his parent club Hibs, before making a return to Russia via Tom Tomsk (second tier of Russian football), he then came back to Scotland to play for Greenock Morton, and finally Selkirk, where he remains to this day.
3. Eric Djemba-Djemba
Before: “the next Roy Keane”at Manchester United
After: Released by St Mirren; now playing in the Indonesian Super League
It’s Eric Djemba-Djemba; once deemed a potential replacement for Roy Keane at Manchester United. After showing little fulfilment of potential, the Cameroon international was bought by Aston Villa in 2005, in the hope he could revitalise his career at Villa Park. But with Villa’s solid midfield (at the time), including Gavin McCann and a young Steven Davis, Djemba-Djemba’s most memorable appearance turned out to be on the first day of the 2006-07 season, where he came on against Arsenal as a late substitute in the first ever game at the Emirates Stadium. He contributed nothing to that game of course, I just wanted to sneak in the fact that Villa centre-back Olof Mellberg scored the first ever goal at the Emirates in that game.
Anyway, following his failed spell at Villa, Djemba-Djemba went on to play all over the shop: appearing for Burnley, Qatar SC, Odense BK, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Partizan, St-Mirren and Chennaiyin, before ending up at Perebaya Surabaya in the Indonesian Super League.
4. David Bentley
Age: 31 (retired age 29)
Before: Solid Premier League player
After: Owner of restaurant, living in Spain
Bentley, currently the co-owner of a restaurant in Marbella, Spain, realised that he no longer withheld a passion for football, so decided to leave the game in what can be described as an admirable display of integrity. Bentley had a colourful career, maintaining roles for clubs in the Premier League throughout. Such clubs included Arsenal, Blackburn and Spurs (whom he helped get into the Champions League in the 2009-10 season), before retiring in June 2014.
Bentley explained that the reasons for his retirement were that the game, to him, had become “robotic”, as well as “predictable and a bit too calculated”. He also said that he wished to spend more time with his family: his wife and three children.
5. Nigel Spink
Before: European Cup winner with Aston Villa
Another interesting post-retirement venture is that of the former England and Aston Villa Goalkeeper, Nigel Spink; a European Cup winner with Villa in 1982. Spink had a career spanning twenty-three years, twenty of those in the English topflight; primarily at Villa Park. In a dramatic sequence of events, Spink made just his second first-team appearance for Villa when he was subbed on ten minutes into the European Cup Final, claiming a clean sheet against Bayern Munich, whereby Villa ended up winning 1-0.
Now though, at 57, Spink has found happiness in running a courier business: S&M Couriers. The former goalkeeper enjoys the process of travelling around the country and “meeting the people who load you up or unload you at the other end- ordinary people who aren’t in the fantasy world of football”. Despite being recognised often, a reminder of his former glory days as a European cup winner, Spink has seemed to find happiness in a job that most would consider exceedingly ordinary; a beautiful scenario that will refresh the minds of many who may see footballers as an almost separate species to those of us in the ‘ordinary’ world.
So there it is, a look at some former players and their footballing journeys. As football fans, seeing into the lives of these people away from our beloved sport is always an intriguing notion. To observe their path, their modest outcome: whether it be an on-going drifting decline; a happy transition from fame to normality; or the inventing of a new percussion instrument.