The furloughed footballer: Players need to learn new skills now

  • By ITV News Sports Producer Dan Salisbury-Jones

A professional footballer, who was furloughed by his club last week, has warned fellow players that they need to learn new skills as many worry for their futures.

Tom Miller knows more than most how fragile finances in the lower leagues can be.

In the last year he went without pay for seven months due to his former club Bury going bust.

In January, things looked up when he signed a short-term contract with National League side Fylde, but just as he was getting going the coronavirus crisis struck and all the players were furloughed.

Bury’s end and COVID-19’s spread has all happened during the time of his partner’s pregnancy – they are expecting their first child imminently.

That responsibility has driven Miller to do a remarkable amount of skills training off the pitch.

He’s done an online business course, trained to be a plumber, a Uefa B coaching course and he’s setting up a vegan food shop with a friend.

He said: “I’ve done some things outside of football which I knew from the Bury experience I needed to do.

"I’m in a WhatsApp group with the Bury lads, the Fylde lads – everyone is worrying the same in terms of what’s going to happen.

"A lot of players go month to month, it’s not large amounts of money so you can’t take a hit too often.

“Obviously if a lot of clubs struggle and maybe fold, which they’re talking about, there’s clubs at the lower level that are struggling so things like wage structures I’m sure will differ.

"Maybe they will reduce what they can afford to pay your average player which would then become difficult because that’s our full-time job, that’s all a lot of people have trained to do.”

Tom Miller's former club, Bury FC, was expelled from the Football League for missing payments. Credit: PA

Despite that worry, the Fylde players’ reaction to being furloughed flies in the face of the argument that footballers are greedy.

Miller said: “I can’t speak on behalf of everyone but I’m pretty sure the majority of players agreed to do our part, help the club because like everyone else, even though they’re structurally sound and they do things right, they are in a difficult position.”

With their astronomical salaries, Premier League players should be better placed to take a hit but Miller, like most players at all levels, feels very uneasy about them being singled out.

He said: “I wanted to be that Premiership player. I knew what that come with which was the large money, the large income, the nice car, I wanted that.

"I weren’t quite good enough to get there but I worked my a*** off to try and get there so I know how hard these have… they’ve sacrificed a lot, they’ve worked hard.

“I don’t think you should take anything away from them unless they want to. Obviously Jordan Henderson is sorting that fund at the minute.

"I know they do all do their part, the friends I’ve got at that level do their part in terms of donating to say the NHS at the minute and different charities throughout the years, they all do that.

Jordan Henderson is heavily involved in arranging a wage reduction for the benefit of the NHS. Credit: PA

“But the furlough thing, I think it’s a little bit wrong for [Premier League] clubs to do that.

"If they can afford to pay 3-400 grand to players then they should carry on paying their staff because without the staff these players wouldn’t be out on the pitch playing.

“It’s unfair for people to say take a pay cut, I understand it’s unprecedented times but there’s a lot of other wealthy people in the country – maybe the owners of these clubs that are putting these people on these contracts, maybe could be accountable to help out.”

Those issues are largely irrelevant to Miller though. His immediate concern is long term support for his family after such a turbulent year that could happen to any player.

“My life has been good, now I’m just getting by, it’s a different story and that can happen so quickly.”