When you think of professional footballers, one of the first things that comes to mind is their vast weekly wage packets. Closely followed by huge mansions, designer clothes, luxury cars and glamorous WAGs – all a direct result of this fabulous wealth. So it may come as a surprise that, according to Xpro, a charity that supports the welfare of ex-pro footballers, more than 40% are declared bankrupt within five years of retiring.
Whilst this figure might be disputed (Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association claimed in 2013 that it’s closer to 10-20%), what isn’t in question is that once a player hangs up his football boots, financial misery is often just around the corner. Whether the cause is poor financial planning, bad advice, unlucky investment choices, divorce or gambling problems, the end result of bankruptcy is often the same.
Let’s take just a few high profile cases from recent years:
- David James, former England goalkeeper. After apparently earning around £20 million during his 25 year football career, plus extra income from modelling contracts and other sources, Mr James fell into debt after getting divorced in 2005. He filed for bankruptcy in May 2014.
- Chris Sutton, ex-Chelsea and Celtic striker. The UK’s first ever £5 million transfer player, Mr Sutton was forced into bankruptcy in May 2014, after a corrupt (now convicted) financial adviser persuaded him and his wife to invest £100,000 into a fraudulent investment scam.
- Lee Hendrie, ex-Aston Villa and England. Between the ages of 21 and 33, Lee Hendrie lived the good life with a weekly income of up to £30,000. His father encouraged him to invest the money wisely, so Mr Hendrie bought a £10 property portfolio. But by 2010, his fortune was gone, lost to a costly divorce and some bad investments. Two years and two suicide attempts later, he was declared bankrupt.
- Keith Gillespie, former Manchester United player. In his 2013 autobiography, Mr Gillespie describes how a £1 bet placed when he was a young footballer led to a gambling addiction that ended up costing him his entire career earnings of £7 million. Failed investments in films and property resulted in crippling tax bills and he was made bankrupt in 2010.
Other well-known retired footballers who’ve been declared bankrupt include former Manchester United player Eric Djemba-Djemba, ex-Chelsea defender Celestine Babayaro, Blackpool forward Jason Euell and Newcastle United’s Carl Cort. Bankruptcy orders were also made against former Liverpool players John Barnes and John Arne Riise, although both men subsequently applied to have their bankruptcies annulled.
And whilst countless other former pros have also fallen on hard times, some have managed to avoid bankruptcy. Take ex-striker Gary O’Connor who’s now living in a £65-a-week council house in East Lothian – a far cry from the £1.3 million mansion he inhabited when earning £16,000 a week at Birmingham City. In a dismal riches to rags story that’s littered with drug scandals, court appearances and investment losses, Mr O’Connor managed to put a Protected Trust Deed in place last year to manage his spiralling debts and escape being forced into bankruptcy.
It can be hard to feel sympathy for these former professional footballers, especially when their fortunes have been squandered on poor lifestyle choices. But, if nothing else, these spectacular falls from grace are a stark reminder of just how easy it is to fall into debt, no matter how much money you start out with, or which walk of life you hail from.
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