I always used to think that I just needed to have one pathway and dedicate my whole life to that. I got burnt by that lesson from a young age and now I just try to keep as many options and pathways open as I can, says goalkeeper Lee Worgan
DOVER ATHLETIC goalkeeper Lee Worgan says young aspiring footballers need a trade behind them to fall back on and that football clubs need to improve their player wellbeing communication.
The 36-year-old spoke to now Staines Town head coach Paul Barnes’ Time Added On Podcast on the Complete Player Performance platform, which you can find on Twitter.
Worgan, who said he was “toughened up” by the Crazy Gang during his time at Wimbledon as a scholar, sat on a train back to his Eastbourne family home crying after being released by Cardiff City in 2006 before quitting football to work in a cocktail bar in Eastbourne, before returning to the game to play for non-league sides Eastbourne Borough, Hastings United, Tonbridge Angels, Maidstone United and Dover Athletic, where he performs the player-goalkeeping coach full-time role under boss Andy Hessenthaler.
When asked if footballers receive the support they need after being released by League clubs, Worgan admitted: “Family aside, probably not in all fairness.
“Personally, I found it really tough. Since I was 10 years old the only career I’d ever thought I’d do was going to be a footballer so effectively I disregarded my education. I was never badly behaved but I disregarded every other aspect of my life professionally at a young age, all the way through to 21-22.
“I remember I had a few good loan spells to Rushden & Diamonds and then to Cardiff and this is where I wanted to be and I remember being released and I literally broke down because I was early 20s and I didn’t know what direction to go into, I didn’t know what to do.
“All my friends had been to Uni, came out of Uni and started their lives and I just felt I was 16 again because I just thought I can’t keep jumping around the country because back then it was a lot more difficult then, you didn’t have the social media, you didn’t have the communication lines that you had now so effectively you had to effectively ring yourself round.
“You didn’t have the video clips as you have now, not as though it’s any easier for the boys nowadays, but you did feel a lot more alone.
“There was no support there from the clubs, they basically said ‘you’re not for us’ and they could help you with a few trials but ‘see you later’, effectively.
“I remember I was sat on the train on the way home and I broke down in tears because I was petrified what I was going to do and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I ended up quitting football.
“I got back to Eastbourne and said to my mum and dad ‘I can’t keep doing this anymore, I can’t keep going around these clubs’.
“I got a few phone calls, Forest Green, a Scottish club and I just thought how long do I keep chasing this dream in terms of where it is really going to take me?
“I didn’t get depressed, I would be lying if I said I did get depressed, but I did get really low and I’m quite a positive, outgoing person so I thought ‘what can I do now?’
“I had a strange notion of joining the Navy, which sounds crazy but I needed direction and structure.
“I’ve got no real education. The opportunity I should have taken was to go to America on a football scholarship. I did get offered that direction but without social media and seeing what it was really like out there I turned off the idea and I must admit it was my only regret in football was not taking that opportunity in terms of the education that it gives you.
“I’m always banging the drum for people, for young players especially, because my brother-in-law has just finished over there. He’s had a great time, he’s got a degree and it’s all paid for and I’m 36 and I’m just coming to the end of my degree now. It’s probably a good direction that I should’ve taken.
“I didn’t join the Navy so I ended up working in my friend's parents' coffee and cocktail bar in Eastbourne and they made me assistant manager of that place. I’m not quite sure why they did that but I ended up running that and I really enjoyed it, I must say I really enjoyed being in the working world and becoming more of an adult and achieving.”
Worgan offers advice on young aspiring footballers to follow their dreams but ensure that they have a career to fall back upon.
“Listen, never give up on your dreams! If you’re a young player and you can dedicate a year or a couple of years to really working on your craft and getting yourself as fit as possible and playing as well as you can to achieve that you want to achieve. I’m never going to put a lid on anyone to do that.
“We’ve all got enough time on our hands to do something else as well, whether it’s a trade, do a degree, go to college, you can do both.
“It’s crucial, especially in times where football has become secondary and a lot of footballers are going to lose a lot of income but if you’ve got that secondary job or career to fall back on I think that’s really, really crucial and it’s definitely something that young players especially need to think about.
“A young player at our club has come to me about a possible education direction and I spoke about the degree that I’ve been doing and the options are there for you. He’s 25-26 and he said ‘I’ll think about that next year’ and I said ‘you’ll probably think that next year’, and if you can do it today, do it today, get it done!
“I’m 36 and I’ve been doing a part-time degree for five years and mixing that with family life, working and playing and it’s been extremely tough but if you’re a young player and you’ve got the time, do it now, get that career done because you’ve always got something to fall back on.
“I appreciate people have to work as well, we’re all in different situations. Young players’ maybe have to support a young family or parents or siblings, so they have to work as well.
“Football at lower levels doesn’t always provide enough income for that but if you can set a plan out for your life, set yourself some goals and plans and if you can do that in a structured manner alongside your football, I couldn’t advocate that enough.”
Worgan would like footballers have the confidence to open up to their managers and coaches about any life-issues that they may have.
“I think us as coaches and other managers out there need to provide that platform for young people.
“I personally think it’s quite a difficult era to grow up in terms of how much social media and how much pressure there is on young people.
“I didn’t have the sort of pressure to look good and all that sort of stuff when I was younger and I think those platforms should be made available.
“I think trust is a massive issue. I think it’s very, very difficult for young people to trust managers and coaches these days but I think it boils down to the managers and coaches themselves. They need to be more open and they need to make sure their communication is there and you always hear a manager say ‘my door is always open and you can always come and talk to me’ – but is it? Is it really? Do you really care?
“I think there needs to be a lot more of that and a lot more after-care and there needs to be, not therapy, but a lot more communication.
“A lot of people are stuck on their mobile phones these days and I think it needs to be opened up a little bit more where people talk more.
“I think a lot of it will boil down to the manager or the coaches. The young lad won’t come up to you and open up to you straight away unless you’ve built up a good rapport, so can we notice that?
“Does he need an arm around him and can I help him in any way? Sometimes it’s no more than a text message, it’s no more than ‘how are you?’ put your arm around him, ‘how are you doing?’
“I had it myself where you see a young lad and we’ve got a young player at our club and he’s the only young player and sometimes I look at him and he’s not massively making loads of connection because everyone is older than him but even having a conversation with him before and after training helps.
“All over I think a lot more can be done but I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Worgan insists young players mustn’t put all of their eggs in one basket and to leave all avenues open.
“I want to keep as many avenues open as possible. I think in the delicate world of football I think you’ve got to do that because you’ve got the sights set on what you want to achieve and what you can realistically achieve and there are other avenues that become open at all sort of times.
“I love all types of coaching, outfield coaching. If I could say my perfect job it would be a goalkeeper coach at a Premier League club. To retain that you’re going to need first of all a lot of luck, hard work and you need to make sure you’re ever-evolving with who you are as a coach and as a person.
“I don’t cut off any other avenues or pathways. I’m in the last year of my degree and looking into coaching and working possibly at schools and I do some work at schools now and possibly going down that direction.
“I always used to think that I just needed to have one pathway and dedicate my whole life to that. I got burnt by that lesson from a young age and now I just try to keep as many options and pathways open as I can but as long as I can stay being part of football, I love the game and I love it at any level, it doesn’t matter, I want to be a part of something and still stay a part of the game so if I can do that, then I’d be a happy man.”
Everyone is missing football during the current lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis and Worgan is currently spending precious family time with his wife Lauren (who is working from home) and young daughter.
“Strangely enough and I know it sounds crazy because I’ve always been an advocate of goalkeepers not running, I’ve actually become quite addicted to running and that might be from having to have that energy release and having to have that goal-oriented mindset.
“I’ve downloaded an app and they set guided runs and every other day I’m trying to beat that run before, so it’s that level of competition ingrained in my mind.
“I’ve tried to see lockdown as a bit of a gift and work on my diet to make sure I’m eating properly to really dedicate a bit of time to yourselves. In our busy working lives, you tend to neglect yourselves a little bit and this really gives you that time.
“Rather than people sitting around thinking you’re bored, think about yourself. Sometimes your mind needs a bit of time to breathe and this few weeks that we’ve got, however long it lasts, is perfect for that.
“I’m a person who needs structure, I feed of structure and routine so I’ve tried to get myself into a routine with the little one, with tidying the house, going for a run with having my breakfast at the same time so I don’t allow it to all go south and I end up lying in bed until 11, not that my little one will allow that, so I’ve tried to see it in a positive manner than a negative and that’s what I’m trying to focus on.”
Both Lee Worgan @LeeWorgan and Paul Barnes @_CompletePlayer say they are approachable on Twitter if any footballer requires advice or guidance.