Welcome back to Life After Professional Football. Very happy to hear everyone has been enjoying the articles. This week we are hearing from Liam Marrs, another Sunderland AFC Graduate. Before we go ahead and dive into it, I would like to preface by saying that Liam Marrs is one of the best young defensive fullbacks I have ever seen and had the pleasure of playing with. He is also a person that always had your back on and off the field and was a great mentor for younger players coming up through the system. I’m very happy to get to share his story.  

Liam was a professional at Sunderland AFC for three years after graduating from the academy, having been a part of the academy for eight years. As mentioned above, he was a right back and a good one at that. Showing real talent in 1v1 defending and as the phrase goes, “putting players in his pocket,” all while doing it with a very humble head. Liam progressed into the u21 squad receiving his first professional contract with the club at 19.  

Liam Marrs (Sunderland AFC 2011)

Liam was a very competent and consistent right back, performing to a high standard every week. In a back four of young stars such as Blair Adams (England U20) Louis Lang (England U16, U17, U18, U19) and John Egan, current Sheffield United and Republic of Ireland centre back. Liam would still shine through with strong performances each week amongst this line up of top players. Showing one of his biggest strengths as a player, his consistency. A steady eddy putting performances in every week under coaches Stephen Clemence, Keith Bertschin and Kevin Ball.

This earned Liam four Premier League squad appearances, but unfortunately not getting his chance to get off the bench. This is usually the case for most young academy graduates trying to break into a Premier league side. Not getting the opportunity to get on the field and showcase their skill and talent in the toughest league in the world. There is a lot of pressure on managers to deliver results and 9 times out of 10 they aren’t turning around and pulling the young 20-year-old off the bench to secure 3 points. It takes a very brave manager to give you a chance when you’re playing for a club in a relegation battle. Young players lose chances time and time again due to this and never get that lucky opportunity.

Subsequently, Liam’s contract wasn’t renewed by Sunderland and his last professional contract was at the age of 21. A young man now wondering where to go from here, this is the reality that most players face every year. Liam’s honesty was brilliant as he described “my immediate reaction was complete devastation as all I have ever wanted to be from a young age was a professional footballer.” These are the words echoed by many young players whose dreams are shattered by the reality of the professional game.

Liam knew it would be very difficult to remain in the full-time professional game, explaining that “getting a manager to trust you with little first team experience is very hard, unless you have a very impressive footballing CV.” He mentioned that little bit of luck you need in all aspects of football. However, Liam knew he could still play at a decent level and make some money, which he accomplished with a large stint at Conference North side Boston United, then a move back to the North-east to represent Darlington FC for multiple seasons. Ultimately showcasing his ability to compete in a tough semi-professional league.

However, Liam knew he needed more and that his plan B was going to have to come into play. He felt he had come to terms with not being a professional anymore and accepted that stage in his life was done. A tough decision to swallow and one he felt his friends and family found harder than him. This is the side of football that most fans and lovers of the game don’t see. Your family and close friends have been submerged in this life just as much as you, and the pressure, expectation and shock when it doesn’t happen for you gets felt by them too.

Liam moved into coaching as he felt it was time for him to meet the real world and felt that if anything materialised in the future, then that was a bonus. “Timing is never really on your side in football,” he explained. He commended his agent, ex coaches and managers for putting him forward and offering great recommendations. That said, if you don’t fit into the coaches plans or what he wants in a player, none of that matters.

Liam has pivoted his career path and is currently living and working in Dubai for a logistics removal company, enjoying more of life than us here in England of which he reminded me. He is very happy where he is in life right now and continues to play semi-pro which he has done since he left Sunderland at the age of 21. Now 28 living in one of the most desired cities in the world, Liam may not have seen this at 21 but life has plenty to offer outside of the professional game.

Liam Marrs (Boston United 2014)

Looking back, he said, “you’re always going to have that ‘what if’ flashback, but I am a big believer in fate and not dwelling on the past.” A mindset that was aided by being educated on the harsh realities of playing professionally and the need to be prepared for life after football. Although Liam feels that football has only had a small influence in his day to day life now, he has found new skills outside of football which has helped him develop himself in the working world.

Liam said he doesn’t have one single regret regarding his playing career and loved every minute of it. “I loved being a professional player, it was short lived but I did it and no one can take that away from me.” He was also bluntly honest with himself, saying that “unfortunately I wasn’t good enough to play at the top level.” A simple answer but one that carries a weight that young players need to hear.

“I should have done further education alongside my playing career but I had a completely focused mindset that I was going to be a player,” Liam admits. This is something that we hear all so often, and one that has been echoed throughout my previous articles. This is the reality of being submerged in the footballer bubble with no vison for anything else.

I asked Liam if he thought more could have been done to help him prepare for this time in his life. He said, “very hard question to answer, the information was there and I was told everything I needed to know. I’m a big believer that it’s your own mindset that prepares you for life after football. You have to be realistic and truly honest with yourself”.

Thank you, Liam, for your time, honesty and letting me share your journey. You’ve left us with some great final words. You have to be realistic and truly honest with yourself. If you’re a player or a parent, really think about those final words.

Thanks for reading.

Tom McNamee