Riches to Rags: Millionaire footballers who lose everything

By Rajeev GuptaBBC Radio 4 You and Yours Reporter
Lee Hendrie playing for Aston Villa
The former Aston Villa player currently turns out for conference side Tamworth

At the peak of his career, Lee Hendrie was earning more than £30,000 a week playing for Aston Villa in the Premier League.

He won an England cap and was considered one of the best young English players of the late 1990s, in the same generation as Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard.

But at the age of 35, his days of luxury cars and million-pound houses are well and truly behind him. In January 2012, faced with spiralling debts and repossession, after twice trying to take his own life.

Hendrie, who is still playing for non-league side Tamworth, has spoken of his dramatic fall from grace and, according to sporting charity XPro, he is just one of a number of footballers facing serious financial problems. The group claims as many as three in five Premier League footballers face bankruptcy within five years of retiring from the game.

Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, disputes these figures, saying it is closer to 10% or 20%, but the fact that many multi-millionaire players fall on hard times is not in question.

It is hard to feel sympathy for footballers, especially when they're happy to showcase their flash lifestyle, but Hendrie's story is an interesting one.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme, Hendrie told how financial mismanagement and the breakdown of his marriage led to his economic downfall.

He says: "I was earning spectacular sums of money from when I burst onto the scene from the ages of 21 to around 33 - the point where I left the football league. At one point, on bonuses, you're talking £30,000-plus a week.

"I ask myself how I managed to spend that sort of money all the time.

"I suppose you get use to having the niceties of life and doing the things that the average person can't do. Football is known for that: nice cars, nice houses, nice holiday, nice clothes. It's easily done when you've got the money."

Hendrie's father, former Scottish professional footballer Paul Hendrie, encouraged him to invest his earnings wisely and, with the help of financial guidance, he amassed a property portfolio worth over £10m. However, his fortune was short-lived and by 2010 he had lost everything.

"If I was to say I wasted my money gambling or that I just didn't care about my money, that wouldn't be true," Hendrie adds. "My intentions were to look after my family and put my money into investments.

"But along the way I had a divorce which hit me hard in the pocket and then I bought houses which turned out to be a bad investments and I couldn't sell them.

"It seemed like all the people who were advising me didn't have any answers anymore, so I had nowhere to turn."

Hendrie's situation reached rock-bottom when he tried to take his life in two separate incidents: the latter resulting in him being put on a life-support machine. He is now rebuilding his life with a new partner and starting children's soccer schools in the Midlands.

Peter Kelsey, who advises wealthy people, including footballers and TV presenters, says he often has to tell his clients that their fame and wealth can be temporary.

He says: "I tell them that their careers aren't likely to last as long as they want them to and stress the importance of financial planning but it's a difficult reality to accept.

"Footballers fall into a group who aren't as well educated as other rich people around them and have role-models who aren't always the best examples. That leads to some of the problems like Lee Hendrie has faced."

Other high-profile football bankruptcies include former Manchester United player Keith Gillespie, former Newcastle defender Celestine Babayaro,external-link and Eric Djemba-Djemba,external-link who played at Manchester United. Former Liverpool players John Barnes and John Arne Riise have also been declared bankrupt previously but subsequently applied for annulments.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Taylor also questioned the role of players' agents in their financial dealings.

He says: "I have to be careful what I say about agents, but they are there during the good times and a bit like butterflies in the bad times.

"All the players come to the PFA for advice when things have gone badly wrong.

"It is about saving, about being sensible, about being careful - it's about not expecting to have the same lifestyle.

"Not everybody can adapt. That exit strategy is important."


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