“It’s the greatest heartbreak you’ve ever been through and nothing ever compares to it. It’s your first true love and not being able to do that is hard enough.
So says Karen Carney MBE, retired from football. The former England winger and midfielder turned broadcaster, who left the sport in 2019, knows exactly what it’s like to leave the structure and camaraderie of sport behind to deal with the uncertainties of what’s next – life after. football.
As women’s football continues to develop, there is a growing need to provide more support to players for what comes after their football career. Through his first-hand experience, Carney helped develop The second halfa career development program to help female footballers transition into professional life beyond the pitch.
The second half was kicked off in 2020 by Visa, sponsor of UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, to be held in England in July. Recently announced as Fifa’s first-ever Global Women’s Football Partner, Visa launched the program as part of its commitment to increasing the visibility of women’s football.
With a clear focus on transferable skills and guidance provided through training, mentoring, networking and work experience, the program aims to benefit players at all stages – from those at the start of their careers to those who are experienced; those who have been injured and are taking time to recover, to retired players – to help with the transition.
“Players can be supported by clubs and their sponsors while they play professionally – but what happens when they retire?” asks Liesel Jolly, head of women’s football at Visa, who co-created The Second Half with Karen Carney. “All the evidence points to retired athletes being amazing business people, which is why it’s so important to have a dedicated program to support this incredible group of women. Not just to help them recognize that their skills are transferable, but show them how they can apply those skills outside of sport.
The values promoted by football, such as fair play, team spirit and inclusiveness, are also essential for the business world and a wider economy that has become more open and accessible thanks to digital payments.
Likewise, many businesses, large and small, certainly stand to gain from experienced and accomplished people with a proven track record of perseverance, teamwork and commitment. But also, on the contrary, it creates opportunities for young women to get into sport, making it more attractive in the long term.
“It’s important for players to have long careers in general to ensure young girls see football as a positive and viable career,” says Jolly. “To do that, you have to know that there will also be career opportunities when you retire.”
Signing up for The Second Half opened a new chapter for Emily Westwood, who hung up her soccer cleats in 2018. With a club resume that includes Wolves Women, Everton and Birmingham City, as well as playing for England, the 38-year-old proves that it’s not just the traditional avenues of coaching, commentary or media roles that are available to former footballers.
“I never really thought about a professional career [while playing]Westwood admits. At some point before turning professional, she trained as a manager and then moved into football administration: “I didn’t have a plan for when I was done playing football, because I thought that the administrative stuff was the way I was going to go.”
But, encouraged by his wife to develop his love of the gym and qualify as a personal trainer, Westwood has now set up Strong Soul Fitness, a personalized training service. Operating from her repurposed garage in Milton Keynes, she offers her clients a mix of online and face-to-face support.
“I belonged to football and I belonged to a team,” she says of quitting the sport. “I was in such a great group and I knew I had my back covered. There would be [people] being homophobic or misogynistic, on social media for example, but because I was in such a close-knit community, it just pushed me away. So that was the scariest part for me – where am I going to belong? Will I fit in elsewhere? Will I be good enough at whatever I choose to do? »
“At the highest level, men [players] are more financially secure than women [players]So when they retire, they won’t have to worry about how they’re going to pay their mortgage, bills, etc. “, she explains. But at the end of the day, “anyone can do whatever they want” with the right support. This is where the second half comes in.
“The program is definitely a guide to help women plan and prepare for what happens next,” she says. “To understand what you could potentially do.”
Through The Second Half, Westwood realized the myriad of skills that went from his time in sports to running his own business, from planning to resilience to leadership.
“Throughout my career, I’ve been a leader in one form or another. Although I don’t have to lead anyone in my business, I have to lead by example, with the customers and the people I work with,” she says. “Football is constantly changing, no game is the same – and the customers are not the same, they have very different goals. There is also empathy, in understanding the worries and woes of players in as captain, as well as in trying to understand people in a gym environment.
Westwood is clear about the massive influence The Second Half has had on her mindset as a businesswoman and entrepreneur: “Branding, track record, social media, managing money, communication skills – all of that helped me,” she says.
Westwood also credits his program mentor for helping steer Solid Soul Fitness in the right direction through “long, medium, and short term planning”: “Because I was alone, I had no one to who to think. [with] or have conversations about my business. The program gave me the opportunity to focus and assess where I was. She is now working on a five-year plan to own her own venue.
And while The Second Half was created after Westwood had already quit soccer, she can’t wait to see the female soccer players still in the game pick it up again. “Focus first and foremost on your career, because she’s not here forever,” is the advice she would give to young players. “However, it could end with an injury or you could fall in love with football.
“So whatever your age in football, contact The Second Half. Tap into as much help as possible, be a sponge, gather as much information as possible and use the program. I wish I had that when I would have finished playing.
When more of us play, we all win
Competition is at its best when everyone really gets a chance to participate. That’s why Visa is a proud sponsor of UEFA Women’s EURO 2022. And Visa’s support goes beyond the pitch. Visa is committed to digitally empowering 8 million small businesses in Europe by the end of 2023, providing technology and tools to help turn small ideas into big businesses, wherever they are. To learn more about how Visa champions access and inclusion, visit: visa.co.uk/wUEFA2022