Ex-Sheffield footballer steering young players from drink and gambling

Second chance: Andy Browning.
Second chance: Andy Browning.

SHEFFIELD footballer Andy Brownrigg beat the bottle and no longer bothers the bookies – now he’s helping young players steer clear of the twin demons.

Andy seemed destined for stardom when he was snapped up by Norwich City at the age of 18.

But just 10 years later, he was on the footballing scrapheap with his life consumed by addictions to alcohol and gambling.

Now he’s proving a winner by helping other up-and-coming professionals prepare for life after the game.

Andy, who is passing on his experiences through the Sporting Chance charity and the Professional Footballers’ Association, says his £100,000 transfer to Carrow Road happened too early in life.

And he’s blaming his obsessive nature for the way things turned out.

He said: “I think football became my first drug because I was a bit excessive about training.

“When I went out for a drink I would hit it for 48 hours. I went gambling until my money had finished.

“I can be obsessive about things and it’s taken me 30-odd years to address it.”

Andy, 34, who lives in Ecclesfield, retired from playing football last year after turning out for AFC Emley.

He’s now researching a doctorate which explores the transitional experiences of professional footballers.

On top of that he has a first-class degree in sport and exercise psychology from the University of Huddersfield.

And most impressive of all he’s not touched alcohol or placed a bet for three years.

He said: “My piece of research is on professional footballers who leave the game and it’s something I am very passionate about.

“For every player like Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard who will never have to work again, there are 169 people like me who will have to get a job.

“I am trying to get a group of players who are currently out of contract.

“I expect 70 per cent of them will probably be taken on by clubs and the other 30 per cent will be the focus for my research.

“There’s not been much research done into the experiences of players who exit the game at a young age.

“I am not sure whether it has ever been carried out by an ex-professional but, hopefully, it will help players who have the sort of problems I experienced.”

Andy got his first taste of league football at Hereford after being released by Rotherham United.

He made just eight Football League appearances for the Bulls before being sold for £100,000 to Norwich in March 1995.

In just four months, he went from captaining Hereford’s Under-18 team at Solihull to warming up at Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium next to Tony Adams and Ian Wright.

Then it all started to go pear- shaped. Norwich had four managers in six months and Andy said he eventually left without making a first-team appearance.

He later signed for Rotherham before another setback. He was struck in the face with a hammer. The attacker was jailed.

After a spell out of the game recovering from his facial injuries, Andy signed for Jan Molby’s Kidderminster and helped them gain promotion to the Football League.

He then left for Greenock Morton but his career was again in tatters because the Scottish club were in turmoil off the pitch.

Andy was later reduced to sleeping on his mum and dad’s sofa after a relationship broke up and, in 2008, he was admitted to Sporting Chance Clinic, a recovery facility inspired and founded by ex-Arsenal and England footballer Tony Adams, who successfully fought his own demons back to recovery.

“It was so hard to make that first call. I rang Sporting Chance and my life got better from there.

“I went in there as a broken man and, after four weeks in there, I came out with a lot of optimism and hope.

“Tony came in and spoke to us and he was an inspiration. I have now turned my life around. I can do the simple things in life and I appreciate them.”

Andy believes most professional footballers continue to chase their dreams without ever thinking about a career after the sport.

He said: “A lot of people outside football probably see footballers as overpaid and prima-donnas,

“Most footballers are vulnerable and don’t know where they will be from one year to the next.

“Football clubs will always be judged on the business-end of the game. It’s common for players to struggle to adjust to life after football.

“If a club had to pick up the pieces like the PFA does, then things might be different.”