From the pitch to prison: The cautionary tale of Mark Ward's football afterlife

Author Alan Gernon spoke to Newstalk's Team 33 about his story

Mark Ward, West Ham

Mark Ward. Picture by: PA / PA Archive/Press Association Images

At the height of his career in the mid-80s to the early 1990s, Mark Ward was a regular for some of English football's most storied clubs.

The Everton youth product made over 300 appearances for Manchester City, West Ham and the Toffees.

But life after retirement in 1999 took a turn for the worse as things spiralled out of control.

Retired: What Happens to Footballers When the Game's Up author Alan Gernon mentioned his case on this week's Team 33 as we discussed the pitfalls for players after their careers come to an end.

"[Ward] was a player I would have watched growing up with West Ham and also playing with Man City and Everton as well. He was a nippy little winger and he was playing at the start of the Premier League era. His maximum wage was £2,000 which he said was £1,200 after tax so he admitted that even as a player he was spending beyond his means," said Gernon.

Picture by: Neal Simpson / EMPICS Sport

"So when he retired, he bought a pub and started drinking himself and then sort of a downward spiral where it culminated in him going to Australia and his Visa ran out. He wanted to go back and set up a soccer school. So he was desperate for money back in Liverpool and some guys offered him £400-500 a week to rent out a house in his name, no questions asked - which he did.

"He ended up getting an eight year sentence for drug offences of which he served four. He admits it was a huge mistake on his part but it all stemmed from the financial issues."

As the BBC reported at the time of his sentencing, he was initially arrested after 4kg of cocaine was found in a house in Merseyside and "admitted knowing the drugs were on the premises".

And statistically about 150 retired footballers are in prison and Gernon discussed the reasons for that, saying: "Well, it's 90% for drug offences and when we say retired footballers, they're typically guys who have been let go from their clubs in their late teens or early 20s, so that's the first wave of retirees."

You can listen to the full interview with Alan Gernon on the podcast player or on iTunes: