Ben Purkiss | Meet the new PFA Chairman
In his first interview since taking up the role as PFA chairman, Swindon Town's Ben Purkiss describes the work that lies ahead and the continuing importance of the PFA to players at all levels…
How does it feel to become a figurehead as chairman of the PFA?
It's difficult to describe. I'm proud, honoured. You look back through the list of chairs and there haven't been that many. I'm really looking forward to doing my best for players up and down the country. I've been part of the management committee for five years and supported Ritchie [Humphreys, former PFA chairman], so I'm not coming in blind. I understand the scale of the role and I'm not daunted by it.
What are your main priorities?
To make sure the PFA evolves as the needs of the footballer evolve. Representing a diverse group – from those in the Premier League to those in League Two – is a real challenge. We need to be a union that supports anyone with any issues arising out of their employment. That's issue number one.
We need to work towards helping players deal with concerns such as their working conditions. We're launching a study alongside the FA around dementia, for example. And we are proactive in dealing with the other issues: the welfare department under Michael Bennett has grown and we need to invest in that. It's about how we make life easier for footballers.
PFA Chairman, Ben Purkiss addresses players at the PFA AGM.
How important is helping players transition out of the game?
Very. The issue applies to everyone, including players in the Premier League who earn fortunes. Some stop playing and haven't invested properly. Or they have to deal with issues like the loss of adrenaline or the loss of the routine and they're left searching for things outside the game.
Some players in the lower leagues are on short-term contracts, are quite insecure and have families to support. They finish their careers and need to transition into a job that pays the bills. We really need to make sure we guide and mentor the players so they can complete that transition.
What is your take on the state of the game generally?
It's a challenging environment. You're in the glare of the public eye, depending on what level you play at. At the top end you have all the pressures with social media, people almost monitoring your life 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And you have that pressure to perform on a Saturday. One mistake and you're judged. One issue and you will be judged and it will snowball.
Lower down you get judged by your manager, your chairman and coaches. If you let people down your next contract might not be forthcoming. You have the pressure to protect your livelihood. Where other people invest in their career and progress, a footballer goes back to square one and begins the process everyone else has done since leaving school. It's a privileged profession but it comes with its downside.
Is money sufficiently filtering down into all areas of the game?
Market forces and the exposure of players at the top end mean they do get more. But, you would like to see more investment in the lower levels. Probably, if you invest in the facilities, training and playing contracts lower down you would then see better players who have a greater platform to perform in the Championship and then the Premier League. It would be hard to get people at the top of the game to buy into that, because they feel like they generate the funds and they see that as their right and don't want to give it away for free.
How important is the PFA in the modern game?
It's crucial. It's fundamental. In the short-term, it's the players at the lower end of the pyramid who see the benefit and the need. But we're also looking to make sure the players at the top aren't exploited. People are looking for every opportunity to market those players, see them as commodities and abuse their power. We are there as that layer of support. There is no bias, no vested interest – we're completely independent. The union is there for the sole purpose of protecting the player.
Do players always see the importance of the union?
Perhaps not until they need to rely on the PFA. But if there are situations such as the Eni Aluko issue, the players need to realise the PFA is there and will 100% support the player. They will support Aluko, but they will support her team-mates equally. It's not limited to one individual on the team.
You're passionate about the wellbeing service offered by the PFA...
Yes. It's a service completely independent of the football leagues, independent of the physio and club doctor – it's there with complete confidentiality to support. It's run by people who have been through the same issues the players of today are going through and have firsthand industry knowledge to provide help.
Is it important players get involved with the PFA for the everyday and not just when they really need it?
I fundamentally agree with that position. My work in the union, attending events, has given me a massive platform to do other things. It has helped me look after myself so when I have to hang up my boots I will be in a really good position in the future and complete that transition. Players at all levels need to engage.
If you're looking after your welfare, you should be looking to do things outside football. Often it helps if football isn't your sole focus. I think there you can have fantastic experiences through the PFA. We have fantastic courses and fantastic staff who are there to guide and support. I would encourage players to go to as many things as they can. You don't lose out by going and finding something is not for you. You learn about yourself and about the union and it enables you to find out where you want to be in the future.
Find out more about how the Professional Footballers' Association supports both current and former members.