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'The stress of hanging up my boots and having no direction or purpose in life, my hair fell out'

Former Tottenham star Clive Allen reflects on adapting to life after football.

Clive Allen (file pic).
Clive Allen (file pic).
Image: EMPICS Sport

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from Up Front by Clive Allen.

I TRAINED EVERY DAY FOR 18 YEARS. EVEN ON A DAY OFF I WAS still focused on conditioning. Suddenly it was gone. There has never been enough support to help players deal with that transition.

Shortly after I finished playing, people talked to me about de-training: gradually winding down after so long in a daily rhythm.

One morning, I was supposedly starting that process and left the house to go for a run. I got 100 yards along the path, stopped and walked back to the house.

My wife was in the kitchen. ‘I thought you were going for a run?’

‘I can’t do it anymore. What’s the point?’

There wasn’t the goal of a match at the end of the week. I wasn’t getting fit in pre-season to play. I couldn’t go through it.

I loved training. I was the world’s worst when I was injured, complaining about not being able to get out there, but now the motivation had gone. I’ll always remember that day as a result. It felt totally disorientating.

I didn’t de-train at all. I committed to a few days here and there in the gym but couldn’t follow a structure.

I put on weight. I lost my strength. I lost a sense of purpose. My family were there and of course I loved them dearly. Olly, Ed and Mimi made sure there was plenty going on at home. But professionally, it was like the end of the world.

Having had so much control for 17 years as a player, the discipline suddenly disappeared. Missing football is the main thing but being on your own is also a huge shift. The camaraderie is something I missed terribly and still do to this day.

Even with a wonderful family and friends, you feel lonely. A version of this probably exists for people in other walks of life when you work somewhere where you all have a common goal. But it is possible in many professions to change companies and find a similar version of what you enjoy.

When your career as a professional footballer ends, that’s it. The dressing room door, as you know it, closes for good. There’s nothing comparable to walk into. Coaching or management is the closest thing, but even the dynamic there is completely different.

Where else will there be 20-25 guys all of a broadly similar age, all dealing with the same pressures, all embarking on the same emotional journey? You define yourself to an extent by the people you are surrounded by and when they all disappear, there is a loss of identity in what feels like a new world.

Some of the corporate activity I now perform at Tottenham allows me to reunite with other ex-players and it is like walking back through the dressing room door. The chatty ones are still chatty. The jokers still joke. But there is no way of recreating that atmosphere in any other walk of life.

I started work at Sky Sports towards the end of the 1995/96 season, which helped in that regard, especially the new format Mark Schofield devised.

soccer-fa-cup-final-tottenham-hotspur Clive Allen pictured during his Tottenham days. Source: EMPICS Sport

Mark was the producer I had worked for on Granada Television in Manchester when I was at City. I’d had no formal training but it gave me another medium through which to express my passion for football.

As a result of my upbringing, I didn’t want to be there to criticise but to analyse the details and try to give people an insight from the players’ perspective.

Sky Sports was then in its infancy and Mark came to me with the blueprint for a show called Soccer Saturday. It had six pilot shows at the end of the season as a test to see if it would work for the following year, the 1996/97 campaign. Mark sold it to me as ‘radio on TV’.

‘You can watch the games live because we have the feeds coming into the studio but we can’t show the public because of the Saturday afternoon broadcast blackout,’ he said.

‘So my idea is to put former players who come with a little authority in front of a screen to tell people what’s going on in the match they are watching.’

It is a staple part of Saturdays for people up and down the country now but the show was a gamble at the time. They saw me as someone who had recently retired after a decent career with experience of the Premier League who could provide analysis on the matches.

I enjoyed it. However, whatever pleasure it gave me, it wasn’t enough in isolation to fill the void created by retirement. As a consequence of the stress of hanging up my boots and having no direction or purpose in life, my hair fell out. When the alopecia truly began to kick in, I found clumps of hair — in the shower, in the bed, the car, everywhere.

I told Lisa she had to be honest with me because I was in full flow on Soccer Saturday and on air with Sky in some form three times a week. Could anyone see it? I wasn’t
bothered about my image too much but you always want to look right, especially
on camera.

Lisa told me it never came across. One night, I did a phone-in evening show with Rob McCaffrey called You’re on Sky Sports which finished really late.

I returned home, got into bed and flicked on the television. I never used to watch shows back but Lisa must have been watching some of it earlier on and left the television on the same channel. I watched a few minutes of the repeat. Rob and I were talking and then suddenly it cuts to an overhead shot of the studio. Nobody told me that camera existed. You could see a huge bald patch on the back of my head.

I looked at Lisa. ‘You said you’d tell me!’

‘Honestly, I’ve never seen it before. I dozed off!’

I had to address it. I went to see a top skin specialist in London who had been recommended to me as a ‘miracle-worker’. His luxurious London office contained a beautiful big oak table and we sat at it across from each other as he
began his assessment.

‘Have you had a bereavement, a divorce or a real fright in your life recently?’

‘No,’ I replied.

‘Okay, tell me about yourself — what’s happened in your life?’

‘Well, I’ve just finished playing professional sport. I’d class it as since the age of six but technically from 17 to 34 – 17 years.’

‘Okay, fine.’

ca

He got up and walked around the table in a slow, methodical circle passing around the back of me yet without leaning in for a proper examination before returning to his seat. A period of silence ensued before I broke it.

‘Lotions, potions, tablets — what do I need to take?’

He didn’t reply. Instead, he picked up a pen and began writing on a piece of paper. He signed it and pushed it across the table.

‘This is my bill,’ he said.

‘What? I’m not paying that until you tell me what I need to do.’

‘Do you really want to know?’

Slightly more incredulous, I said: ‘Yes! That’s why I’m here. Do you think I’m going to pay you for nothing?’

‘Okay. Don’t look in the mirror.’

‘Are you kidding me?’ By now I was furious.

‘If you want my advice, that’s it: don’t look in the mirror. I’m 99.9 percent sure you have a classic case of alopecia. The hair follicles are still there and so within six to 18 months, it will grow back.’

‘So what do I do in the meantime?’

‘Don’t look in the mirror.’

The following day I went to the barbers. I’d had basically the same haircut all my adult life but I knew I had to shave it right back, although the barber told me I had about twice as many bald patches as I thought.

It felt weird. I went home and sat in the bath, adjusting the mirror as I became accustomed to my new look: a grade one but with absent patches, albeit less pronounced than before. Mimi, who was just four years old at the time, came into the bathroom.

‘Dad, it’s alright. I still love you.’ I could have cried.

Sky helped me no end. Two weeks before the season was due to start, I phoned Ian Condran, a producer at Soccer Saturday and told him about my new, enforced blotchy hairstyle. He told me to leave it with him for a couple of days, by which time I was due to come into the studio for a brief hit on Sky Sports News.

‘We’ve got this idea,’ Condran said. ‘The make-up girls will fill in the patches and make it look like you have really cropped hair.’

They essentially coloured me in, experimenting with how long it would take in make-up for a short hit on Sky Sports News to see if it would be effective for Soccer Saturday, which is obviously a much longer programme.

It looked fine and the procedure was fairly straightforward so I went into Soccer Saturday as normal. On the first show with my hair made up, Jeff Stelling introduced us all along the line and – referencing the fact shaven-headed Italian striker Gianluca Vialli had just signed for Chelsea – he said: ‘… and on the end is our own Vialli, Clive Allen!’

That was the only mention of it. It was done and dusted. But I found out several months later that the Sky bosses wanted me to wear a wig. Instead, Condran came up with this idea to hide the patches with make-up and they allowed him to try it. Thankfully it worked.

I had to have make-up applied to my head each time I was on TV for about six months. Eventually the hair grew back a bit stronger each time and got to a point where I returned to a full head of hair.

That period coincided with my stint playing American Football for the London Monarchs, which only helped me get away with it because I kept hearing people say: ‘Look at that idiot, he wants to look all tough in the NFL so he’s shaved off all
his hair.’

Up Front by Clive Allen is published by deCoubertin Books. More info here

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This extract was initially posted on the42.ie

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