Here we are, five articles in and a very different story for you today. A very emotional, honest and intriguing account from Jordan Lavender, who had a sharp exit from the professional game and took a brave decision that not many would have done 10 years ago. Let’s dig in and hear Jordan’s perspective on life after professional football.
Jordan’s journey started with Sunderland AFC at the very young age of eight years old. A successful 12-week trial and he had achieved his contract with Sunderland AFC. Imagine the happiness and delight that would bring to an eight-year-old boy. Jordan then progressed, pushed and developed all the way through the academy to 16, where he then received his two-year scholarship offer.
A brilliant achievement being part of an academy with a great youth set up from 8-16 to then be asked to come in full time. The dream was becoming reality. Jordan went on to play and then captain the youth team in his second season, playing more consistently and taking on more responsibility as captain of the under 18 squad. He was a strong, vocal central defender who wanted to be a leader and looked to motivate and push the squad forward in competition. He took his role very seriously and wanted to excel in everything he did as captain of the squad. Especially dealing with a very tricky and diverse set of first year scholars who wouldn’t make it easy for him. Jordan continued to stick with his role and took everything in his stride like a captain would.
As I mentioned earlier this is a slightly different story today. After all of Jordan’s efforts and hours spent at Sunderland academy, he didn’t receive his full professional contract and was released after his two-year scholarship. Over ten years spent travelling to and from training, two years spent in a full-time environment pouring his heart and soul into trying to achieve that professional contract. This is the level of effort that is required to even get to Jordan’s level and once it’s taken away you don’t know anything else. After ten years of the same environment day in day out.
Jordan described his reaction to the decision, saying “it was an overwhelming sadness to accept my dream wouldn’t be realised, followed by fear that I would never be good enough and what the hell do I do now?” The words that no player wants to utter and ones that you don’t see from the outset. The general public only really see the glory and success stories within the game. Jordan went on to tell me that he had some trials at lower league clubs and wasn’t really offered anything substantial outside of limited, one-year contracts. The reality of lower league professional football.
Jordan then made a brave and out of the box decision and accepted a US Scholarship at the University of Charleston. He went on to say “understanding my ability and skillset I used the time to plan and come to terms with being released. I saw the US scholarship as a four-year contract and while it wasn’t my desired route, it was the sensible option.” A decision I admire, one that Jordan had the foresight to make. Most young aspiring football players would have taken the one-year contract but Jordan moved out of his comfort zone and the safe place of football in England, to set up his prosperous future.
We then dug in some more and Jordan mentioned that he thought it was a gradual transition to accepting that his professional footballing career was at an end. Prioritising his education and utilising his skills to develop as a person ensured safety for the future. Stating that was something no one could take away from him, like his career as a player at Sunderland. Jordan explained “It was about protecting myself so I never had to feel the pain of rejection again, prioritising my education was key in this process.” Jordan then went on to describe that he wasn’t in denial and understood that he wasn’t good enough to play professionally but he just wanted it so badly that it was hard to come to terms with. He honestly mentioned that many tears were shed in the process.
Jordan has gone on to be actively involved with supporting young footballers and said when he initially left SAFC, there was little to no support. A piece of paper with three options listed on it after a ten-year stint with the club. A shocking picture of events but one most players will have seen in the business of football. Jordan used this to push on and take control of his life.
Jordan was happy to say that he continues to keep in contact with SAFC and has delivered presentations and talks to young professionals about the hardships of life after professional football. He hopes to work closely with the club in the future to offer support to those players who exit football at an early age. He mentioned how SAFC have always kept in contact and checked in to see how he has progressed and that was a nice touch from them.
After Jordan’s successful four-year scholarship in the US sharpening his mind, developing his trade, all the while playing football for the University of Charleston, he has switched the boots for investment management. Jordan now works at a Private Equity firm called Foresight Group, sourcing and investing in early stage companies to help them grow. Jordan loves his new career and mentioned the competitiveness and demanding nature which he draws parallels to his time as a player.
Jordan requires the same drive in his new role from his time as player, honing his skills, utilising every day to learn and develop. The same as on the training field in your possession and passing drills to expand your technical and tactical ability. Jordan thinks that more needs to be done for young players and that he wasn’t given enough evidence as a young player to understand the harsh reality of the football industry. He mentioned that it is hard to comprehend the concept at that age and it comes with maturity and experience in order to fully understand that a professional career is more than likely not going to happen.
Jordan suggested a mentorship programme using ex professional players and senior pros to work with young players in these circumstances. One that he is keen to get involved with and introduce to SAFC. It’s not all negative regarding Jordan’s short full-time career as he expressed that SAFC did give him a long list of skills to help him succeed in a career outside of the game. Jordan explained that “it provided a foundation to access leadership, responsibility, attention to detail and building an application for hard work”.
As most ex-players will agree, Jordan loved his time as a player and has no regrets, insisting he would love to go back and do it all over again. Reminiscing about the friendships created that will last a life time, he said that “the club was like a brotherhood to me and I feel lucky enough to have earned that opportunity to be a part of it.” It really is a true bond that you find with your team mates spending nearly every day together. You go through tough times, injuries, trophies, contract terminations, 7-hour coach journeys. I personally will never forget the moment I was told about the passing of a grandparent, after coming in from training and George Honeyman was sat by my side to have my back. These are deeply emotional and memorable moments that, as Jordan mentioned, is shared within a brotherhood.
I asked Jordan, “how do you mentor young players and what advice would you give them?” Jordan’s thoughts are that “you need to apply yourself every day because if it doesn’t work out in football those values will serve you in your next chapter. If your lazy at the club as a player you’ll be lazy in later life too.” Jordan feels strongly that the professional clubs have a duty of care towards the players and need to do more to support them in the next stage of their lives. This would entail putting better systems in place, increasing links with UK & US universities and offering annual meetings with ex-players as an educational tool.
Jordan insisted he gave it his all, every day and sacrificed a lot growing up to achieve the small success of the opportunity to play full time. Even with these sacrifices, Jordan shared that “in retrospect it gave [him] the opportunity to make lifelong friends, travel the world and gave [him] the foundations that which [he has] built [his] career on today.” Jordan continues to still enjoy playing semi-pro for his local club, thriving from the nostalgia of being in the dressing room and the comradery after the match having a few pints. He mentioned “it takes me back to my SAFC days, the best years of my life.”
A beautiful sentiment but one that makes you wonder about the hard-hitting nature professional football holds over ex-players lives. Jordan couldn’t leave without reminding me about his brilliant goal against Ajax in a pre-season tournament in Holland. This was a gruelling tournament, and we were 2-3 years younger than all the other teams. Jordan, as a captain should, stepped up and notched a brilliant gaol to secure a 1-1 draw against Ajax. A goal he fondly remembers and will milk when he has his own family to tell.
I’d like to finish by sharing an inspiring final quote from Jordan. One that shares a feeling most players will go through, but it’s important to understand that life is a long old haul and there is plenty more to achieve as a young man.
“The time I heard the words I would not be offered another contract would never leave me. It was the first time I had experienced rejection, the feeling in my stomach was one I never wanted to feel again and I believe it motivates me in everyday life to try and succeed in anything I do. I guess the saying use failure as a motivationis true here”.
Thank you, Jordan Lavender, for sharing your detailed and accurate account of the world of professional football, and life after it.
Thanks for reading.