For most people the mid-thirties are a time of career stability. Having gone through their apprenticeship and learnt the ropes, thirty-somethings usually become key components of the companies they work for. But for footballers the reverse is true, and the closer they edge to their forties, the closer they come to hanging up their boots.

A footballer's career is a relatively short one and while there are a few superstars who make a fortune from the game, and others who pass on their knowledge and expertise by becoming coaches or taking on official roles with their clubs, the majority of players have to return to the workplace to make ends meet.

When the final whistle blows and the adulation of the crowd fades in the distance, the weekly routine of matches and training sessions comes to an end and the football writers generally stop ringing. What then do former players do to fill the post-career void, and to what lengths do the clubs who benefited from their talents go to help them?

In a bid to answer to those questions went around the world and discovered several long-term programmes designed to help retired footballers adapt to life outside the beautiful game.

Our journey begins in Japan, home to the J.League Career Support Center (CSC), which was founded in April 2002. The fundamental concept behind the centre was to provide recently retired players with a place where they could meet former colleagues who have embarked on new lives and new jobs to seek their advice and opinions. And while most ex-players go on to find employment in the sports world, the CSC also gives its support to initiatives in a host of other areas. The centre also runs a series of educational programmes allowing one-time footballers to brush up their technological and language skills among other things.

A meeting point
Over in Spain, the country's big two clubs go to every length to support their respective Veterans' Associations. FC Barcelona founded theirs in 1959 to help former players in a wide variety of ways and ensure a decent quality of life for them.

Not to be outdone, Real Madrid have a veterans' association of their own, with club idol Alfredo Di Stefano as its president. As well as offering a range of support initiatives for ex- Merengue stars, the Association also has teams in the Spanish National Indoor Football League and several other seniors football competitions. "We organise charity games everywhere and the money goes to help former players, their families and even their widows too," Association vice-president Ignacio Zoco told

One of the most innovative of these unique charity organisations can be found across the Spanish capital at Atletico Madrid. The club coached by Mexican Javier Aguirre has teamed up with the Incyde Foundation at the city's Chamber of Commerce to provide a business start-up course for active and retired sportsmen and funded by the European Social Fund. "We can't cater for all the club's ex-players and the course is a way of encouraging every player to take control of their lives," explains Atletico's marketing director Emilio Gutierrez.

"What we are aiming to do with these programmes is give sportsmen who have not had a formal education some kind of training in the world of economics and business," comments Javier Gomez Navarro, the President of Incyde. "This can help them set up and run their own businesses and also give them the expertise they need to invest the money they earn during their careers wisely."

Similar groups can be found on the other side of the Atlantic. Buenos Aires giants Boca Juniors set up a Former Players' Benefit Society to give their retired stars a place where they can get together and talk about old times and also help out former team-mates in need. Domestic rivals Club Atletico Independiente are another Argentinian outfit to have a similar society. Founded in August 2005, in the words of the organisation's website, its aim is "to help out ex-players and anyone connected to the club by providing leisure and sports activities, a day-care centre, grocery store, purchase orders, and funeral, education, health and tourism services."

These are just a few of the projects that clubs around the globe have set up to lend their former employees a helping hand, and no doubt there are many more solidarity initiatives out there. So why not let us know what your club is doing to help its old pros by clicking on the "Add your comment" link below?