As part of a series of interviews looking at how footballers have adapted to life outside the professional game, ukfootie is running an interview with ex Cambridge Footballer Dan Chillingworth who has taken the recent dive into running a business.
1. What was your favourite memory from being a footballer?
Looking back now I would have to say it was the whole experience, it’s every young boys dream to grow up and be a professional footballer. I got to play against some of my heroes and visit some of the best stadiums in England and the biggest thing is I have made some friends for life.
But my ultimate memory would have to be scoring the winner on my full debut for Cambridge United at home to Brentford on Boxing Day. A great solo goal that at the time was voted 3rd best in the club’s history.
2. How do injuries affect you psychologically when you are out and recovering?
This was the hardest part for me and had a major psychological affect throughout my career. Unfortunately, I was forced to retire early at the age of 26 from injury, I had eight operations in nine years and I found it really tough when I was injured.
All any player wants to do is play football and give their best for the team and the club and when you have managers, players and fans questioning your integrity it can be very depressing. My body ultimately wasn’t built for the rigours of the full time game. It can also be a very long lonely path with lots of solitary time spent in the gym, on running tracks or in the pools doing rehab. In the managers eyes you are no good to anyone when you are unable to play. So, you get snubbed.
Luckily, I always had a strong network around me, a great family and support from friends, but I can really understand how lots of players find it hard at these times.
3. Who is your sporting icon?
I’m a big Spurs fan so Gazza and Gary Lineker were my idols when I was growing up as a kid. To have Gary Lineker commentate and say my name when I scored my first FA Cup goal as a 17-year-old while I was on loan at Darlington was a great feeling and then to cap that I actually played against Gazza during his time with Boston.
4. What was your daily training routine like?
Looking back we really did have a great life we would start training at around 10am after having our breakfast and meeting at the ground. We would train for a couple of hours and return to the ground for lunch, if it was a Monday or Thursday you may have a gym session in the afternoon or Work on some technique or areas of your game you wanted to improve. We would normally have Wednesdays off and a light session on Friday, running through set pieces and team shape in preparation for the game on Saturday. The hardest thing was at Christmas when all your friends were out socialising, drinking and eating and I had to be proper focused and on it because of the hectic festive fixtures.
5. Did you have any special routines or superstitions you used to have before a match?
When I turned pro I had my Lucky shinpads and also I used the same tie-ups for every game. Strangely my lucky number is 13, so although this is traditionally a goalkeepers number one year I did have number 13. I’m not sure how much luck it brought me though!
In my youth team days, we always had our lucky garage CD!
6. Who is the most talented footballer you have played alongside or against?
I was lucky enough at the age of 12 to play against Ibrahimović and Carlos Puyol in the tournament in Spain. At the time we didn’t realise how big these would turn out to be but without doubt the most talented player I’ve ever played with and witnessed was Joe Cole. I was a kid at West Ham for 1 season and the stuff he did in training and matches was sensational. I still think he is probably the most naturally gifted talent alongside Gazza that we have ever produced, I actually think Mourinho took away a lot of his natural talent because it didn’t fit his style of play. If Pep had of worked with Joe I think he could’ve been up there with the best players in the world
7. Who is the most undervalued footballer you have played with?
When I was at Cambridge our captain Paul Wanless epitomised everything about our club. He was a beast on the pitch but a gentleman off it, he also helped the younger players and always had time and advice for us. The fans loved him and I think it was a huge mistake when the club let him go. He was also a very good footballer, he scored goals, could tackle, pass but had that nasty streak.
As for the top level I’ve always admired Peter Crouch and the job he does for any team he’s played in. He’s always scored goals and he’s also created a lot too he must’ve been a dream to play with. His England record is phenomenal.
8. What advice would you give to any young footballers wanting to break the industry?
My main advice would be to enjoy it and love the game. You always have to work hard, get your head down and listen and learn. Practice hard, train like it’s the last training session you will ever have and always give 100% there is no excuse to not be the hardest working player on the pitch, even if you might not be the best.
The best players in the world always work the hardest.
9. How did you find the transition from being a footballer to a business owner?
It was very difficult at first but one I’m thriving in now. To get out in the big world was hard at first, especially as I was still licking my wounds literally, when all of my footballing dreams were over and the game I loved for so long I’d fallen out of love with. Sometimes I felt a little out of place in certain meetings with people at the top of their industries, people who have been in business for a long time and had business degrees and ultimately experience. Sitting around a table negotiating contracts and big deals I felt out of my depth (I used to have an agent for those sort of things). But I have taken things from the world of football into the world of bubble football and lessons I learnt on my journey into my business life and so far this has served me well with Xtreme Events. My ethos has been quite simple. I surround myself with people I trust and in all honesty that are cleverer than me, that said they won’t work harder or smarter than me or be as keen to learn new skill and ideas. Two of my business partners are lifelong friends and between us I feel we have a perfect blend to succeed.
I’m now involved in several businesses and think that ex footballers make great employees too.
10. Do you think having a company that offers sports activities has helped the transition from being a footballer?
With Xtreme Events being my first business, this was a massive help for me as I often refer everything back to football and what it had taught me. The events industry is an exciting one to be in and you meet so many people with similar profiles. A big thing I hear ex-players talking about is missing the camaraderie and banter of the dressing room, we have a very relaxed office and there are always pranks and banter flying around so that fills that void, that said like on match day the fun stops and we all know when to get our heads down and work. Xtreme Events has given me the opportunity to still visit sporting arenas while hosting events and we even had the pleasure of hosting the world’s best ever player Lionel Messi and his Barcelona team mates in our bubbles at an event at St George’s Park!