Amid the glamour and entertainment of modern-day football, with its widespread television coverage and world-famous players, it is all too often easy to forget that careers in the game are usually short. While there are others forever waiting in the wings to become tomorrow’s stars, a number of clubs around Europe – including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Rangers and Hamburg - have come together to form the European Former Players' Association, which aims to ensure that yesterday’s heroes are not forgotten.
The genesis of this European-wide body was on Merseyside. Although many clubs provide care and support for former players on an informal basis, England’s Everton took the lead in forming an organisation – the Everton Former Players’ Foundation – which could grant financial and medical help to ex-professionals in real need of support. The foundation was the brainchild of Dr David France, who saw at close quarters how some former players were living and decided that “something had to be done."
Dr France began working on his project in 1999, initially suffering repeated rejections in his attempts to register the foundation as a charity. In the final months of that year, however, the EFPF was registered as an official charity, existing to aid former footballers with medical issues and other problems. It was the first body of its kind anywhere in the world, and the real work could now begin.
Then manager Walter Smith and current club chairman Bill Kenwright both made considerable donations at the outset while, vitally, Everton supporters took up the cause from the very beginning. The EFPF has since raised more than £1million and spent over £100,000 in each of the ten years it has existed. “Most of the fundraising was provided by the fans," Dr France told FIFA.com. "It never ceases to amaze me that the most generous people are those who can least afford it. They give because they want to, not because they expect something in return.”
The foundation raises money through fundraising events, including auctions, raffles, testimonial fixtures and social functions - which are attended by many of those former players the EFPF tries to help. The club also host a pre-season friendly at Goodison Park every other year from which all gate receipts go to the Foundation.
With the help of EFPF chairman Laurence Lee, who helped to guide the organisation through the legal process of becoming a charity in its formative years, the guidance of club chaplain Rev. Harry Ross in dealing with those in need, and the diligence of foundation secretary Pat Labone – whose late husband, former Everton defender Brian Labone, was a key figure in the creation of the EFPF – the foundation has become recognised throughout European football for the work it does.
Any player who has made an appearance for Everton is eligible for support and all grants remain confidential. Latest figures show that the EFPF has awarded 135 grants and helped 85 people with medical procedures. Kenwright said: “As a patron of the Foundation, I see on a day-to-day basis what the organisation is already achieving in meeting the medical needs of some of Goodison's heroes.” Other patrons have included the likes of former players Graeme Sharp, Alan Stubbs and Duncan McKenzie.
While some players have chosen not to publicise the support they have received, others have been effusive in their praise of the EFPF. Success stories include: former goalkeeper Gordon West, who suffered from knee problems which prevented him from working and Alex Young, a championship winner with the Toffees in 1962/63, who revealed the foundation had “quite literally changed my life”.
The EFPF recently celebrated its tenth birthday with a special evening at Goodison Park, attended by many of the foundation’s supporters as well as former players. Those who have been helped were all eager to pay tribute to what the EFPF has done for them. So successful has Everton’s charity been, that in attendance on the night was Ramon Alfonseda, a representative from Barcelona on behalf of the EFPA.
The Catalan club had been so impressed by Everton’s model that they approached the foundation in 2004 with the idea of forming a European association for former players. Clubs from Scotland, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Greece and more have copied the EFPF’s approach and the EFPA – with Everton as a founder member – is now helping hundreds of individuals in need around the continent.
*The EFPF are hosting their Annual Dinner at Goodison Park on Friday 26 October. A host of legendary players are due to attend and ticket information is available by visiting www.evertonfpf.org