AS YOU drop down the leagues as your playing days begin to wind down, how do you react as the limelight softens?

The career of a professional footballer can be all too fleeting, with plenty of ex-stars seemingly unprepared for a world outside of the beautiful game, but former Swindon Town defender Jerel Ifil quickly came to the realisation that he needed to invest in his life off the pitch as the time when football wouldn’t dictate his existence drew ever closer.

Even during his spell with Scottish giants Aberdeen, the 32-year-old began working towards plumbing qualifications before the penny seriously dropped when Ifil failed to receive his wages in the midst of his then-employers Kettering Town’s financial woes.

The man whose bullet header against Walsall on the final day of the 2006-07 season secured Swindon’s promotion back into League One is today still getting his kicks playing for Staines Town in the Conference South but has a host of other irons in the fire, something Ifil says was a must.

“When you’re young, most boys want to be a footballer. You’re looking at that luxury lifestyle, that way of life, the nice car, the money,” he said.

“It’s superficial and they’re the things that you look for when you’re young but when you drop down, if you haven’t played at the top level, which I haven’t, then you’re going to have to work when you finish.

“You have to realise that and you’re going to have to plan for that.

“I’m 32 and I’ve played football since I was 13 or 14, at a decent level. It is a big part of my life. The only other thing is my wife (Lorraine), who I met when I was 21.

“They’re big parts of my life and they shape and mould where I’m going. The football helps me to understand perseverance, sticking to tasks, being accountable to other people, being a part of a team but at the same time looking after yourself.

“You find those things out and when you take that to another level, they’re transferrable skills for the next stage of your life if you’re able to let go of your past life freely. If I’m holding on to my career, I won’t be able to invest in the rest.”

Affectionately nicknamed ‘the Beast’, the powerful centre-half utilised his love of exercise to set-up personal training business Ifil Fit, which operates out of the garage of the ex-Town man’s family home in North Swindon.

In conjunction with partner Danny Greenfield, Ifil also makes up one half of Iprovefit, which provides mentoring to young adults from challenging backgrounds across the Town.

Assisting a client in overhauling their fitness or helping a youngster with learning difficulties integrate into a traditional educational environment may seem worlds away from attempting to help a team clinch victory within 90 minutes but the sense of fulfilment isn’t too dissimilar.

“In the off-season, I was always trying to make myself bigger or lose body fat – I always had different goals ,” said Ifil.

“I rarely rested. Maybe about two weeks I would rest, and then I’d set myself another goal. So through that, I thought maybe I could help other people do what I’ve been able to do, so I qualified as a PT.

“Before I even starting playing (professional) football when I was 15, I was going to do sports therapy or sports massage; things to do with helping the body, how to improve the body and maybe heal the body.

“My mum bought me a weight set when I was maybe 14 or 15. I’ve always had that interest and I think it’s how you live longer. It’s not just about looking good, it’s not just t-shirt training.

“I’m taking a teaching course – personal development in sport – which will help me get qualified teacher status in those areas.

“I’m also doing an advanced diploma in psychology and a clinical fat-loss diploma as well; just little bits to keep myself topped up. It’s continuous professional development.

“In my gym, you’ve got little photos of my successes because they’re my achievements but there are new achievements to be had. You can’t rest in the past.

“I also mentor all around Swindon – I’ve worked with Swindon College, New College, Swindon Borough Council; loads of different educational areas where we mentor young adults with autism, ADHD, dyssemia, anger management and all kinds of behavioural issues.

“We get in through the sport aspect. Iprovefit is the company that will take a youngster that is going on the wrong path and trying, through being a positive mentor and someone they can look up to, to point them in the right direction.

“We’re mentors and we can be positive role models. It’s hard to find that in society nowadays.

“It’s a different kind of feeling. Playing for Swindon Town for as long as I did, playing in Scotland – I’ve seen a lot. I played around 300 games over more than 15 years.

“Playing in front of 64,000 in Scotland, scoring my first goal in front of 15,000 when we got promoted; those kinds of things are massive achievements and you feel a massive sense of pride when you do those kinds of things.

“And now to transfer it over; you might see a young boy that’s been taking drugs for a long time and you’re able to get him off it and say ‘okay, he’s going in a positive direction’. There’s that same kind of feeling.

“It’s a personal one. It’s about him. It’s not selfish. My achievements before were about me whereas these achievements are about the other person.

“It’s the same as when you see the leg shape is coming or someone says ‘oh, I’ve lost a bit of weight’.

“I think that’s where you go. You go through a stage in life where life is about yourself and then the next stage is about your family, the people around you and helping them to progress. I just turned it into a business.”

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Iifl puts a client through her paces at his home gym in North Swindon

London-born Ifil’s recent non-league playing days may have taken him to a cluster of clubs in the South East but he has settled in Swindon, where he lives with his wife and children Christian, 10, and Fayth, seven.

Having made more than 200 appearances during three separate loan terms and a five-year permanent spell at the County Ground, Ifil was in no doubt over where he wanted to make his long-term home.

Having made his professional debut for Watford back in 2002, is his career nearing its end as Ifil dedicates himself more and more to his family life?

“Yes - by choice,” he says. “I feel I can still play at the levels I used to playing at but am I willing to live or drive 200 miles away to do it? No, I’m not.

“Am I willing to move my family for the fourth or fifth time? My son’s 10 and he’s moved with me three times. That’s him going in and out of different schools and making new circles of friends, which isn’t easy.

“I’m not willing to do that to my family anymore. So I’m now saying ‘I’m going to personal train’, literally outside my house where my kids can call me.

“And then when I do finally stop playing football, I’ll have my Saturdays back and my Thursday nights back. I have the things back that I sacrificed when I was young and that will all go into my family again.

“Now, I take my kids to school in the morning. I wake up and I’m making breakfast and ironing clothes.

“Straight from there, I’m mentoring young adults and there’s my teaching course that I’ve got to fit into a day. And then when the evening comes, it’s personal training for adults that want to change.

“And then I’ve got to go to training. And then I’ve got to go to a match.

“My wife’s been there since I was at Watford and she’s seen my high points and my low points. She was pregnant with Fayth when we got promoted and she came out with us, with her big belly, when we got promoted.

“But she was also there when we got relegated and when I went up to Aberdeen, when we were missing family back at home.

“I’m letting people know that I’m back in this area – this is where I found my success and this is where I grew as a person.

“My son and my daughter were born here, this is where we have our first big home together and probably will be the home we stay in for a long time. All the positive things that have happened in my life come back to here.

“And that’s partly because the town’s made me so welcome. I’ve had some good times on the pitch here and I enjoy being around here.

“I feel it’s a good place for my kids to grow up. I’m from north-west London originally; would I move back to that area to raise my kids? No, I wouldn’t.

“As much as that’s my home, it’s not somewhere I think I can give my kids the best quality of life. They’ve got a lot that I didn’t have at their age and it helps having me around to remind them, telling them ‘I didn’t have a bedroom like that growing up, sharing with my two brothers’.”

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