In the 1980s and 1990s, Neville Southall was considered to be one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers. After winning two English league championships and FA Cups with Everton, as well as the European Cup Winners’ Cup and a record 92 caps for Wales, he was one of the continent's finest custodians.
What also added a bit of intrigue about ‘Big Nev’ was his career path. After starting out working in a café in his home town of Llandudno, he then moved to doing manual work for the local council before becoming a refuse collector.
Despite only doing the job for a few months before turning professional, his trade stuck in the memories of football fans. Indeed his recent biography, was entitled ‘The Binman Chronicles’; a tip of the hat to his former role.
Southall left school in the 1970s without a qualification to his name, but after hanging up his boots and gloves for good in 2002 at the age of 43 he earned a teaching certificate four years later. He is now mentoring ‘NEETs’: children who are not in education, employment or training.
“We began by giving excluded youngsters the chance of gaining an apprenticeship through sport,” he told FIFA.com. “They also did carpentry, bricklaying, art and other things. It’s alternative education.
“It’s about children who aren’t academic, who are good with their hands, perceived to be disruptive or who are actually disruptive. They don’t get opportunities that the academic ones get. It’s not that they aren’t bright, just not academic."
Just as in football, Southall and his colleagues have enjoyed success. One of his former pupils now has his own music business; others are in hairdressing, tattooing or back in mainstream education.
The Welshman believes that his “former life as a footballer” gave him a good grounding for his current role. “Being in the dressing room, dealing with people from all walks of life, helped make the transition between playing and teaching,” he continued.
“In a dressing room there are different characters, the intelligent ones, the silly ones, the loud ones and the quiet ones - and it's similar in the classroom as well. Mind you, I'm quite scatty. I'm not neat and tidy and I don't like being enclosed by four walls. I like being outside and the youngsters the same!"
When asked whether the youngsters were in awe of the legend standing before them, Southall smiled and said: “Their verdict was if you’re any good, you’ll be on YouTube. Also if their dad rated you, you were OK.”
Despite the glory days of his career, which saw him earn an MBE for services to football, appear in the PFA’s Team of the Year four consecutive times and win the 1985 Football Writers' Award, Southall now appears to be more than content to look forward rather than relive times past.
“I never have been one to look back,” he said. “If you look back to what you have achieved you’re not going to want to achieve much more in your life. There is always something else going on tomorrow.”
Southall’s next challenge is the growth of his Community Foundation. “It’s about giving people from all walks of life a chance through sport,” he said. “It could be helping out a kid who can't afford a pair of boots or transport to their training sessions. The current economic climate means that there are so many people struggling – and if I can help them, I will.”