Welcome back to life after professional football. This week we hear the words of Connor Oliver, a seasoned league player who is now embarking upon his new start in the wealth management sector.
Connor joined Sunderland at a late age of 16 after departing with his boy’s club Cramlington Juniors. A 6ft centre midfield player with a beautiful feel for the ball and a driven pass anyone would desire. His finesse and aggressiveness in midfield earned him his scholarship under Kevin Ball. He went on to achieve his first professional contract at 18 years old, a quick turnaround from Cramlington at 16. That’s how quickly life can change in the football world.
This wasn’t without its setbacks as Connor was one of many to succumb to injury. He endured three knee operations as a young player and missed a large amount of playing time in his scholarship. Connor is someone I know personally and shared a great amount of time with in the treatment room. As a fellow injured player having 4 knee operations myself, this is the mucky side of the game that not many see and it can take a toll on a player’s confidence, performance and mental wellbeing.
Connor sees his injuries as a tough period of time, but one that taught him grit, determination and a mindset that he still uses today. Connor fought back and continued playing u21 football, alongside a loan move to Hartlepool United, a League 2 side at the time. Earning his League debut cap. A high standard of merit for a young player of 20 years old.
It wasn’t meant to be for Connor and he didn’t get the chance to play first team football at Sunderland. The journey had ended, but as Connor described, one door closes and another one opens. He signed for Blackpool FC, who were playing in the championship at the time under manager Lee Clark. A huge accomplishment for Connor making his championship debut in one of the toughest leagues in the world. Showing his quality, hard work and grit to achieve his childhood dreams.
As mentioned in my previous articles, football is a tough, gruelling and unforgiving business. Connor reached the heights and sustained it for two seasons. That’s the hard part that all footballers will tell you; sustaining it at the top level. Managers changed and Blackpool fell into their own financial problems. Connor was moving again. He had a short loan at Morecambe, then parted ways with Blackpool joining Conference side North-Ferriby, then Halifax.
All young footballers take note - Connor had now played over 200 games across three professional leagues. This is something not everyone can say. Connor said he felt lucky to be playing football and earning a living in the game he loved. Having said that, he also said travelling up and down the country at all hours of the night taught him there was more to life than football. Making the decision to return to the North-east and represent Blyth, Gateshead and now currently part-time with Morpeth Town, who play In the Northern-Premier division under fellow ex-players manager Stephen Turnbull and assistant manager Craig Lynch.
Connor felt like he had found his enjoyment and love of the game again after returning home. A sentiment that many players share after being worn down by the game and feeling like a commodity. Connor understood his decision and accepted it, at peace with the fact that to stay at the top for your whole career is something very few do.
At this time, Connor was entering a new chapter in his life and said that he believed more could have been done to help him as a player. Expressing that “the phone does stop ringing when you’re not at the top anymore.”. He commended how lucky he was to have good friends and family to support him in this tough transition, as not all players have this support network to fall back on.
I could feel the excitement in Connor’s words as he described his new path in wealth management. He will be a fully qualified financial advisor come this summer, after hard work and the promise of a new challenge. An area that all players need help with, as there are massive financial benefits as a young player that can be short lived. “Someone needs to help guide these players and advise them correctly,” Connor expressed.
Connor spoke more broadly as well about how more should be done to help young players become aware of the reality of football, but it can be a very difficult subject as tunnel vision blocks anyone telling you that you aren’t going to be a footballer. He reminded me that it’s been 10 years since we were scholars together. I nearly feel off my chair writing this. We thought we had cracked it then at 16 years old, and this is the whole motivation behind these articles. Playing pro is an amazing achievement but one that is short lived for many.
I asked Connor to reflect on his career and he believes it’s taught him key traits in his life today; determination, focus, dealing with adversity. All of which he uses in his day to day life now. He said “all young players need to commit 100%. There are no second chances in football and it’s gone in a flash.” Connor was lucky enough to have a career and wouldn’t change it for the world, expressing that players must enjoy it.
With all his love for the game and his career, he did speak honestly and say “one moment you’re there and the next gone with no support.” He suggests more specific education can go alongside chasing the dream of being a footballer. Financial advice is a big one that is over looked and not given enough time, leaving young footballers vulnerable and underprepared for life after professional football.
Connor reminisced on his childhood dream playing in front of thousands in a packed stadium. A dream he achieved playing week in week out for Blackpool in the Championship. He finished up by saying, “I gave it my all and worked as hard as I could but sometimes it just isn’t enough to stay at the top.” I think these are some of the most honest words you will hear as a young player. If you can leave playing in the professional game with the same words you have been true and honest with yourself.
Thank you, Connor, for taking the time to share your story and leaving us with some great insights into the world of professional football and life after it ends.
Thanks for reading.