Away from the Premier League, coronavirus makes for an uncertain future

Apr 21, 2020

  • Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC

Ian Henderson regards himself as one of the lucky ones. The 35-year-old Rochdale forward is out of contract at the EFL League One club, where he has played for the last seven years, on June 30, and his future is uncertain. However, as football enters its second month of a coronavirus-enforced shutdown, he insists that others have it much worse.

“The current situation is going to impact a lot of people,” Henderson told ESPN. “No matter what you earn, you live by your means, but a lot of people are now going to be in the position where there is too much month at the end of the money.

“As players, we are in the process of going into furlough at Rochdale. We are negotiating right now, but clubs and businesses are struggling to survive, so it [furlough] is morally the right thing to do, to defer wages and help that way.”

While the focus has been fixed on high-earning Premier League players during discussions about a 30% pay deferral, it is clear that few top-flight stars will be forced to deal with the financial hardship faced by many of their lower-league counterparts. The average salary in League One is £1,700-a-week (£88,400 per year) — that amounts to more than double the 2019 UK average annual income of £36,661 (£705 per week), according to the Office for National Statistics, but some younger players earn less than the UK average.

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A source told ESPN that the Professional Footballers’ Association is negotiating with leagues and providing service to its members in the way of advising, looking over contracts and offering mediation, but each situation is different, so there is no general approach.

Henderson, who started out with Norwich City, has been around long enough to earn a good living, but admits he is only able to insulate himself from football’s financial difficulties as a result of setting up his own business away from the game, which supplements his income as a player.

“Back in 2013, I had been released by Colchester United and I found myself without a club,” he said. “I had been due to sign for Preston, but the manager was sacked the day that I arrived to do the deal. The same thing then happened when I turned up to sign for Notts County. I eventually ended up at Rochdale, but by that stage I’d told myself that I didn’t want my future to rest in the hands of others ever again.”

A 2015 study by XPRO found that 33% of players are divorced a year after retiring, while 40% are declared bankrupt within five years. Henderson said that awareness of such jarring statistics was a key reason in developing business interests away from the game.

“I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I studied business models and decided to take care of my own finances,” he said. “I have now been a network marketing professional/entrepreneur with Herbalife Nutrition for seven-and-a-half years. I help people with their health and wealth which, considering all that is happening, is a fortunate position to be in.

“I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to plan for my life after football. From a financial perspective right now, my family and I would be struggling otherwise. My contract expires at the end of June and I don’t know what will happen. I will just have to take it as it comes.”

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The UK is under lockdown until the beginning of May at the earliest, but players must maintain fitness and focus in the meantime. The Football League, which runs the three divisions below the Premier League, has told its member clubs to prepare for a return to training on May 16, followed by the prospect of games restarting on June 6. However Henderson, who lives in a suburb of Manchester with his partner and son, knows that nothing is certain and that such scenarios bring unique challenges.

“We all want football to return, but it is a difficult situation,” Henderson said. “It is a big part of people’s lives and their livelihoods, but we have to be sensitive about what is happening in society. But my structure hasn’t changed. I am still awake at 5:30-6 a.m. most days. First of all, for [my son] Hughie, but I then spend an hour-and-a-half on my business every morning before training for the same amount of time.

“We have personal training plans devised by the club’s fitness coach, online HIIT (high intensity interval training) sessions and WhatsApp groups and Zoom calls to stay connected. We also use training apps to measure 1, 2, or 5K runs to keep it competitive as a group.”

Despite the financial gulf between Premier League players and those in League One and League Two, Henderson holds no sense of envy towards his top-flight counterparts.

“Footballers are just like every other person,” he said. “Those at the top have a very good income, but the same applies in entertainment and the corporate world. It is all about your moral compass — how you see things and how giving you are — and the majority of footballers I know are very giving.

“We are fortunate to do what we do, but we are also aware of the challenges people are facing right now, both within and outside the football bubble.”

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