Moses Swaibu, the former Crystal Palace and Lincoln City defender, is working in conjunction with the FA and PFA to address young players at every top-flight club.
He spoke to Sportsmail’s TOM COLLOMOSSE about why footballing authorities must do more in light of the coronavirus pandemic to protect footballers, especially those who are left financially vulnerable.
Hundreds of footballers have been released since the end of the season. Where are those who haven’t found new clubs today? What are they doing? Where is the support? Who is helping them?
How many young people ever get to have careers in professional football? I come from a place where there are so many Moses Swaibus but not everyone has the opportunities I had. We make mistakes but it’s how we learn from them that determines the directions we go in.
When I came out of prison, I knew the way my career had gone and that what I know would be valuable at some point. I did a lot of educating myself, a lot of reading, trying to decide what the next chapter was going to be.
I’m one person with a powerful story, good and bad. People might say ‘he played football and he made a mistake’, but football gives you certain skills in life. I’d never be in this position in business if I hadn’t learned at Crystal Palace how to be a good human being. Whilst I was on that path, I saw the results.
When I lost my way a bit and stopped applying myself properly, I made the wrong decisions. You can see those results, too.
That was the introduction to forming my company, MS5 Solutions. Even though it has been around for a year, it has been in the pipeline since 2015. Throughout that period, so many people across the UK and globally have paid attention.
Education is at the forefront of what my company values are built on. After sitting down with PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor in 2015 we started to map out what were the issues within football that aren’t really publicised.
I went to speak to Manchester United’s Under-18s and Under 23s for our first ever session at the start of the 2017-18 season. I was later given feedback and a reference by Chris McCready, which I wasn’t expecting, which detailed the impact my story and education had. Chris is a fantastic guy who worked in player care at the club at that time.
From there, I’ve been to the most successful clubs in the country to speak to the young players, from age 15 to 23. This will be the fourth season we have done that.
But MS5 is about more than just that. Fair play and transparency are vital to sport. I have witnessed first-hand what damage a lack of education and awareness can do, without the correct safeguarding measures.
We’ve done workshops, seminars, spoken on panels, been invited to Loughborough University – one of the leading sports institutions in the world. We have worked with Genius Sports, a global pioneer in sports data.
Before Covid-19, I was due to deliver a speech at the World Soccer Summit in South Africa earlier this year. I believe we will become the market leaders across integrity and education in football.
Thanks to my background in football, I can speak to players in a language they understand. Even if they haven’t had the same experiences as me, I am confident the majority will take on board the message.
You look at gambling and technology, how everything is growing at such a fast pace. We have smartphones with pop-up adverts for gambling. Then there are teams sponsored by gambling companies. You can see how players can become confused about what they can or can’t do.
We know there are criminals who will try to poison the system. Unless there is a high-profile case nobody can ignore, it’s quite rare to hear about integrity in football.
Addiction is as big a problem in football as in other areas of life. Once someone is addicted, they feel they can’t stop. That is why they need constant support in their careers, because not many players are going to pick up the phone and say ‘We’ve got a problem’. Not many will go into the changing room and tell team-mates. Issues like these have an effect on the way players play, the decisions they make, the things they say. They may suffer from depression and boredom, potentially leading to dark places.
We can see how widespread gambling remains even though the world has changed. Data provided by the UK Gambling Commission showed an increase of 115 per cent for online real event betting between May and June, with activity in June higher than at ‘average’ pre-lockdown levels.
Look at how many games you can gamble on, from a top-level game all the way to youth games. So you can imagine now what might happen to the players who have been released, who have no form of support and don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Look at players who sign for non-league clubs on £200 a week when they have been on thousands. What happens when someone approaches them, whether that is through Facebook or Instagram or in a social situation and says ‘Do you guys want to get something done and we can give you x-thousand pounds?’
If that person says ‘yes’, they may end up going through what we went through. We would be very naïve to think these approaches are no longer happening today.
To guard against this, I’d like the authorities to do more to ensure young players understand financial literacy. It’s absolutely fundamental for their parents and guardians, too. The way in which sports professionals manage their income has been a concern for decades, and there are so many examples.
We need to teach young players about how to keep their spending in line with their income, and the financial impact of retirement. The reality is that very few players stay in the game on a full-time basis after retirement, leading to a drop in income. Among those who do not, the lack of guidance and support can lead to serious mental health issues. So we need to do everything we can to educate the players from an early age.
In a country going through the worst recession since records began, there is an increased danger of players who are released, retire or take wage cuts turning to unethical methods of supplementing the income they are used to – opening doors to dangers they are unaware of. That is why football needs to do much more to make sure these dangers are given the attention they deserve, before it is too late.