Young people up and down the country have dreams of playing football professionally growing up, but the harsh reality is that the vast majority won’t make it. There are countless stories of players getting within touching distance of securing a deal, only for their dreams to be crushed.
This was the case for Max Noble, a former Fulham and Wales international whose career was cut short after double knee surgery. After Fulham released him, Max had no qualifications and limited help which resulted in him having to reinvent himself.
After two and a half years of visits to the job centre, Max finally managed to land an internship with Burberry. Hard work lead to a permanent position with the design team – and in turn lead to a new dream being born.
Following his experience working in-house at a high fashion brand, Max went on to create Certified Sports; a brand fighting injustice in sport.
Conscious of his own personal experience aligns with many others who have tried to make the grade in professional athletics, Noble and Certified Sports directly give back to former athletes in similar positions to him – with percentage from each sale going to sporting organisations helping to provide aftercare to all young athletes.
To start their fight against this injustice in sport, Certified Sports have released a short film, ‘Chasing Shadows’; a film documenting the turbulent journey of a player who falls out of the game and highlighting the mental health issues they face when they don’t ‘make it’.
We spoke to Max ahead of the film’s release to understand why he was passionate about helping educate and raise awareness on “rejected football players”.
VERSUS: The ‘Chasing Shadows’ visuals touch on the story of what many footballers within the UK will have gone through. What is your personal story?
Max: At 8 years old I signed for The Crazy Dons, Wimbledon FC – we trained on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, Saturday mornings and then had match days on Sunday. After 6 years, Wimbledon had plans to move their facilities to Milton Keynes which made me look for another club as I wanted to stay in London, so I signed for Fulham.
I started my Fulham career at the age of 14 – during my time there I was also called up to the Welsh International teams. I was fully committed to football, so much so I left school a year early, missing all my GCSE’s, so I do not have any formal academic qualifications.
At 16 I snapped my MCL knee ligament, leaving me unable to play for a whole season. Following my recovery from this injury, progressively my knees got worse and by 18 was diagnosed with Tendonitis which meant double knee surgery. I was still with Fulham but they declined to cover the cost of the surgery as my 3 year scholarship was coming to an end.
Fulham didn’t end up renewing my contract and I was left to pay for my double knee surgery and post rehab treatments – which, all in all, took 3 years for me to recover from. Adding to this, I was in a very unstable mental state: sleepless nights, financial uncertainties and countless worries about being under qualified for anything else.
So what were your next steps?
It was then I developed severe depression and anxiety. Months after my recovery I found myself at the local job centre in an effort to kick start my life. I thought it impossible to find any other career than football – but having received universal credit for 2 years, I luckily qualified for an internship at Burberry’s head office.
After working hard, I landed a role in Burberry’s marketing team, before beginning a full time role in the product development team. This is where I found a spark for fashion and decided to be a creative. I started to create hoodies and tees with screen printed graphics, however the athlete in me always wanted to create sportswear.
I used the income I had from my full time job and graphic merch, found a factory and started to make sportswear. This is when Certified Sports began. I left Burberry and started to work at a high end fitness studio to purposely learn more about people and how they are with activewear, where I sold to people over the counter, on top of the sales I was making on my website.
After a year and a half, I left my job in the studio to take on running Certified Sports full time. It felt great to finally have a career, however I couldn’t forget about my friends who had been through similar or worse and are still dealing with the traumatic consequences of being released without aftercare by football clubs. Certified Sports is committed to giving percentage of all sales towards psychologically supporting young athletes who have been ejected from sport.
What do you think needs to be done to help footballers with anxiety and depression?
For too long, football clubs have got away with providing no aftercare to vulnerable young athletes. Young footballers that have given their whole lives, sacrificed their futures only to be cast aside with no job opportunities, no courses, no guidance, no internships and in most cases… not even a phone call to see how they’re coping.
We know that telling any young boy his dream is over – despite them giving everything – will have serious, psychologically damaging effects; yet still, nothing is done. Clubs that choose to take young boys/girls into their academies should be committed to having an aftercare program in place to help support them after being released as these will prove to be the most difficult years of their young lives.
There are only an infinite amount of spaces in the pro game and the stats presented are a harsh reality of how tough the industry is. Can young players be better prepared for this?
All young athletes and their parents must be informed of the realities of committing to a life in sports. Statistics show there’s a 0.012% chance of an academy player becoming a professional footballer. If parents and players were made aware of the potential suffering to come, I think other options might have been explored.
As academy players we’re promised the world. We’re told if we work hard, make sacrifices, focus on Plan A and listen to everything the coaches say, we’ll make it to the top – but that’s not the case. Every young boy dreams of being a footballer. I just want them to be aware of the pitfalls and not have to go through the years of depression I did after not ‘making it’.
What would you have benefited from knowing that you learnt after your career?
The truth! And to be honest, If I had it, I wouldn’t have dived head first down this path. There’s been way too much pain, heartache, suffering [both mentally and physically] in my adult life as a result of the trauma caused by not ‘making it’ to even come close to justifying the few years of enjoyment.
Your path now sees you helping people like yourself who have faced similar circumstances. Why do you find this important?
My friends. People I played football with for years, I consider to be my brothers; seeing what has happened to the majority of them, I just can’t accept it. There shouldn’t be an industry where young adults and children are treated like this, especially when that industry is worth billions. Football clubs, the FA and the PFA need to do more but they’ve proved over years that they don’t care about this issue! It’s down to us to make them.
Why was clothing the route you chose and what are your future plans?
The first job I had after football was in a fashion house – so the idea of starting my own clothing brand became the new dream, despite it coming with a different sort of agenda. Certified Sports makes all black, premium sportswear that gives a percentage of each sale will be donated to help support young athletes, permanently ejected from sport. To anyone who is reading this and has suffered from this issue I am fully reachable via my Instagram.
You can watch ‘Chasing Shadows’ on Certified Sports’ Instagram in the link above. Take in some BTS shots from the film below.