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The physical demands of one of the world’s toughest team sports can exact a heavy toll on young bodies and many players are denied the certainty of playing into their thirties.
The risk of career-ending injury is one of the reasons Rugby League Cares encourages all players to develop a career plan and to consider their future options at an early age.
For former Huddersfield Giants, Batley, Sheffield and Rochdale winger Bolu Fagborun, the need to find a completely new direction came at just 25, when he was diagnosed with patella tendonitis in both knees.
“Like a lot of players, I thought I’d play rugby forever and when I finished playing I still didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Bolu.
“I had started a degree in business management while I was at Huddersfield and moving on to play part-time with Batley gave me more time to finish it.
“Even with my degree, I felt a bit lost. I got a job as a warehouse manager, but never felt that was my calling, and had a go at a few other things trying to find direction.”
Bolu’s search for focus took him on a 4,000-mile journey to Africa and a venture that surprised everyone, himself included.
“Mum and dad had been going backwards and forwards to Nigeria all my life and I got it in to my head that I wanted to run a commercial farm over there,” he said.
“I’d not been there for 29 years and it was an idea really out of left field because I knew absolutely nothing about farming. But I needed to prove to myself that I could do it.
“After a lot of effort I bought 25 acres of land and established some crops – plantain, pineapple, cassava and palm, mainly – which was hard work but I loved it because it took me completely out of my comfort zone and built my confidence.”
The farm continues to run successfully with two managers and between six and 10 seasonal workers, and is a venture Bolu is clearly very proud of.
He returned home to find what he believes is his real sense of purpose after speaking to a career coach, who helped him focus on who he was, where he was at, and where he wanted to be.
“That was something I wish I’d done years before because it gave me a focus,” he said.
“I came home and decided to start my own company, Fagborun Limited, which at its hearts is a people development company, unlocking and releasing the unlimited potential inside people.
“I do a lot of work in the voluntary sector and am really keen to do more work with young and aspiring leaders.
“I’m on a little bit of a journey and feel like I’m finally in control of my life.”
Bolu has also invested in a local garden company near his home in Birkenshaw, West Yorkshire, helping the firm’s managing director grow the business and getting involved in operational activity.
“I really enjoyed my rugby career but like a lot of players, I felt a little lost because of it,” he said.
“When you’re 20 or 21, the days when you have to stop playing in your mid-30s seems a lifetime away. But not everyone is lucky enough to play for that long and the time goes really quickly.
“My advice to players is to start taking accountability for who they are, not just as a rugby player but as a person. Think about the things they’ve done to get them to where they are and work out how they can harness that talent and dedication away from the pitch.
“Professional players are good athletes because they have discipline, because they do the ‘extras’ and because they learn to handle pressure. To be successful outside sport takes the same qualities.”
Rugby League Cares offers grants to current and recently retired players to offset some of the costs of vocational and educational training courses. The charity also employs a full-time Career Coach, Julie Measures, who works with players to offer help and advice about the next stage of their life journey.
If you are a current player who requires more information about the help offered by RL Cares, please contact your club’s player welfare manager. If you are a former player who needs advice on what grants may be available, please email email@example.com