The Tom May Column
I'm retiring from rugby - so now what happens?
Tom May
February 20, 2015
A fresh-faced Tom May celebrates scoring a try for Newcastle in the 2001 Tetley's Bitter Cup final © Getty Images

"Retirement? Why are you speaking to me about retirement - I'm only 21?"

It only seems like yesterday I was saying that. It's gone by in a flash. As a young professional sportsman, I didn't think it would ever happen to me and most don't. That just happened to the old lads. Well, now I am that old lad, it's here and it's happening. It's scary but at the same time it is liberating and exciting.

Announcing my retirement back in January was strange to say the least, but I was talking about it with my close friends and family for a while and it felt like the right time to be making the decision to call time on what has been the best job in the world since I was 18 years old.

Talking about it is one thing, it doesn't commit you to anything, which is great for a while, but you can talk forever. Until you've actually committed to it, there is no line in the sand for you to aim at, giving you a timescale with which you can move on in your head. For me, this was really important and something I needed to do; some might not and it is no doubt an individual thing.

I've still got some months in this incredible job to go before May 16 arrives and I am looking forward to enjoying what the rest of the season brings, no matter how tough that is.

Tom May trains with England, Buenos Aires, June 9, 2009
May was part of England's 2009 tour to Argentina © Getty Images

I am enjoying playing now as much as I ever did; it's getting from Monday to Friday which is the tough bit and recovering from the games at the weekend. That takes up to about three or four days sometimes now which is not good. Ask anyone over 30 how they feel post game and they will all say the same. I've been asked days after a game just why I am walking around if I need a trip to the toilet. I wish I did. Unfortunately it's my back or legs (or both) that are causing me to walk like that.

Having been proactive throughout my career I have formed a plan for when I retire. Gradually, I am piecing it together for when the day comes where it's up to me to go out and earn a living for real. Let's face it, having played rugby - essentially rolling around in the mud and staying fit for a living - I haven't had the toughest job life can throw at you.

What I have learnt over the past few years, though, is just how difficult it is to earn a living in the "normal" world. Rugby and the life of a professional sportsman has allowed me to live in a bubble. People have told me where I have to be, at what time I have to be there and what clothes I must be wearing when I finally arrive throughout my life since I was 18.

I don't think this helps players in the long run. Some of them couldn't organise the proverbial in a brewery. Someone else always will on your behalf. For me now, it is a case of focusing myself on generating a framework within which I can work, allowing me to earn a living. The sporting bubble bursts pretty impressively when you hang the boots up and I worry for many young lads that don't take the time or make the effort to develop their lives outside of rugby. It's vital and there are far, far too many who take it too easy. I fear for them in the long term.

When you start to think about life after sport it's interesting to look at what others have gone on to do. It's amazing to see what some people get up to and I love hearing success stories about those who have started their own businesses and gone on to make a huge success of them once they have finished playing.

Tom May views with Nicolas Jeanjean, Toulon v Brive, Top 14, Stade Mayol, February 12, 2011
Wearing the red of Toulon in 2011 © Getty Images

Their drive and competitive nature follows them throughout life, long after sport has gone, allowing them to generate continued success. I can only hope this helps me develop the businesses that I have worked on for a long time, especially (@E4Rugby) which will enable me to give back to the game that has given me so many incredible experiences.

Everything 4 Rugby focuses only on rugby at the grassroots level and we aim to benefit everyone involved from clubs, their members, supporters and players. Hopefully it can be a success in time.

Some lads have great businesses and have achieved high levels of success since they have finished their careers. It's great to see. One sportsman stands out in my mind. I was looking into it and read about the mighty Peggy Arphexad who was a goalkeeper for Liverpool and Leicester City in the late 90s and early 2000s. He retired after 16 years playing (granted he only played 39 games in those years!) but he returned to Guadeloupe and after being unlucky when trying to become an actor, became a star in adult movies. His name? The Stopper. Now that is a transition from sport to 'business' that sounds interesting to say the least!

Joking aside, I will miss what rugby brings, especially the brutally sharp banter from the lads - well, most of them anyway - it's something to get you through the day and I know it won't be replicated in "the after life". A couple of guys who retired from rugby both achieved written warnings from their employers for the way they were speaking to colleagues in the office and it didn't take very long for that to happen either. Hopefully the guys I am working with in the future will get my quick-witted gags; I hope so anyway, they seem to have fallen on deaf ears for the past 17 years or so.

I am going to leave the game with some great memories, some great friends and having played for some great clubs with big histories. It's been a privilege to play for them and it will only really sink in when I look back on my career in a couple of years time. For now though, I'm going to enjoy every session that comes my way knowing that there aren't that many left before what seems like a lifetime association comes to an end. Rugby, I thank you.

May will retire from rugby this summer with a few more grey hairs than when he started © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Football

  • Cricket

  • Rugby

    • Days
    • Hrs
    • Mins
    • Secs

    F1 - Mexican GP

  • OtherLive >>

    Snooker - China Open
    Tennis - Miami Open