Sam Mincher

Oct 22, 2020

5 min read

My Motivations

Some people might be wondering why I’ve left a stable job in the professional football industry, during a global pandemic, to move to Greece to volunteer with a charity who provide humanitarian aid to refugees. Like most people, I find writing about myself particularly uncomfortable, but it feels like some initial context might be useful.

I had always been immensely passionate about football growing up. It was my main love from as early as I can remember. Through my teenage years, I spent as much time as I could either playing or watching. At the age of 18, when it became apparent that I was nowhere near good enough to play professionally, studying sport at university felt like a natural progression. The education I received at Cardiff Metropolitan University provided the perfect launchpad into the professional football industry as a Performance Analyst. For those who don’t know, the role of a Performance Analyst is essentially to analyse video and data with a view to improving the on-pitch performance of players and teams. After two unpaid internships at Bristol Rovers and Newport County, I landed my first paid job at Swansea City’s academy. To work at a (then) Premier League club was a dream come true, let alone to actually receive money in return! I initially experienced a severe case of imposter syndrome, as university can never prepare you for the realities of working inside a professional football club. Over the next three years, I tried to absorb as much knowledge and experience from the staff around me as I could; I was determined to build a successful career and make a name for myself in a relatively new and developing field. In 2017, as I was starting to feel like it was time to leave Wales after living in the country for 6 years, I was offered a job at Arsenal FC as the Lead Analyst at their Hale End site; one of the most productive academies in the country. This felt like the culmination of my entire educational and professional experience to date and I was excited to move to a new city and get started. The role at Arsenal had everything that an analyst could possibly want: what felt like unlimited resources, regular international tours, working with some of the best young players in the country, access to first team content, autonomy and freedom to pursue any project that took my interest and most importantly, free lunch! I couldn’t have asked for more. Regardless of all these advantages, during my first few months in the new job, I could feel that something just wasn’t right. I was expecting to love my new job and for everything to fall into place, but something was missing. The truth was, the passion that I had always felt for football was no longer there. I had single-mindedly pursued this career move but I felt underwhelmed. I was disinterested in my work in a way that I had never experienced nor expected.

I have often wondered why this happened. I had been working towards this big move for years but I was now left with an empty feeling. Should I have kept my love for football and my work separate? Did I ever genuinely enjoy the analytical aspect of my role or did I just want to be involved in the football industry? Would this feeling pass after I allowed more time to settle into a new environment? This led to several months (probably more like a couple of years) of soul searching. I had worked so hard to thrive in an ultra-competitive field and had achieved a lot in a relatively short space of time. I had ‘successfully’ created a career for myself in professional football, gained a comfortable role in one of England’s most prestigious clubs and was earning more money than ever before, but I still felt a deep lack of fulfilment. Could I really throw this all away and go back to the drawing board?

Ultimately, I have landed on the following answer. People change over time. We are a product of our environment and we are inescapably shaped by our life experiences. As a result of my own personal experiences, coupled with the relationships I’d forged, I had changed a lot from the 18 year old who went to university to study sport. What I saw as important had shifted significantly. I no longer felt that I could live according to my progressively developing values while working in the football industry. I could not spend 40+ hours every week for the rest of my life working in something that I didn’t believe in. Football just didn’t seem important to me anymore. For too long, I had tried to balance who I was with what the football industry demanded of me and maintaining such a dissonance took too much of my energy and was affecting my mental health. I had come to terms with the fact that it was time to make a change.

My interests had broadened and I was now aware of how much more the world had to offer. I had become passionate about music and nature. I developed a love for media in the form of books, documentaries and podcasts, especially those related to human culture and behaviour. Documentaries in particular have the ability to provide a snapshot into someone else’s life, a world away from our own. Except they aren’t a world away, they’re right here. I was becoming increasingly aware of how privileged I was to live in the UK. Through sheer luck, I had been born in one of the most developed and affluent countries on the planet. As is human nature, I normalised my experiences and took my freedom, safety and liberty for granted. Through my intentional consumption of media, I was starting to understand the extent to which people in certain countries overseas were having these human rights taken away. This was especially true of those forced to leave their country because of persecution due to their race, religion, social group or political opinion. In the UK, it’s very easy to detach ourselves from such events, but the plight of such people became a pressing issue that I could not ignore.

I was being told about the perceived importance of football-related matters while at work, while developing an appreciation for the suffering of displaced people at home. I had been looking for a route out of the football industry and here my path was being drawn ahead of me. My research pointed me in the direction of the grassroots organisations who are providing humanitarian aid on-the-ground in Greece, supporting refugees who have fled countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. I started communicating with these organisations in the hope of using my skills and experience to play a very small part in alleviating the suffering of people whose start in life has been less fortunate than my own.

I left my job at Arsenal in September and after a couple false starts due to covid, I agreed to volunteer with the InterEuropean Human Aid Association based in northern Greece. I am currently in quarantine, due to start volunteering in a couple of days.

This is the most I’ve ever written about myself (it feels like way too much) but I hope it can shine a light on my motivations and if there’s anyone who feels unfulfilled in their line of work, don’t leave it as long as I did to make a change. If my experiences resonate with you, please get in touch. I’m a couple of years into the process of changing careers and I would love to help in any way I can. I know how difficult it can be.

Future posts will focus on the work that IHA do, as well as the immigration situation in Greece.