This is Neill Wood, the Founder of Football Finance Professionals. Welcome to my journal, my thoughts, my experiences, my failures and my successes. The aim of this content is to inspire you to dream, to set goals and achieve them, to tell you that it is possible no matter what people might say and to let you know that your career in sport doesn’t need to end the last time you kick a ball, score a basket, a try or take a wicket. Sporting success can come off the field of play. We all need to hang our playing boots up at some point, but our passion for sport will not leave us.
Growing up in the 1990s, with the formation of the Premier League in 1992, football dominated my childhood. Like many others with a passion for football, it was my dream as a young boy to become a professional footballer. Football has always been the defining sport of the English culture but also has the ability to transcend cultures and engage people by bringing them together with a common passion.
Following each day at primary school, my friends and I couldn’t wait to play football at the top of the street – our playground, our pitch, our escape from the world around us. There would be a core 3 or 4 people that would play everyday, emulating players from the Premier League, FA Cup Finals or World Cups. All we needed was a ball and some make-shift goals, which for us, came ready made in the form of the gates to the power station at the top of the street.
A career off the pitch
When looking back, for me, the signs were obvious that I would “go pro” in something other than sport.
I would finish my homework before playing football. I lived by “work hard, play hard” in that order. To become a professional athlete, you need dedication, passion and obsession for your craft. Your work would need to be your sport and play would come in the form of something else, if you could spare the time to switch off.
I had a humble upbringing, in a small town called Oldham, north east of Manchester. Oldham Athletic, one of the founding members of the Premier League was my team. I was lucky enough to experience life as a mascot on 31 December 1994 when Oldham drew 1-1 against Swindon Town at Boundary Park.
Never without anything I ever asked for growing up. It was clear to me that education came first – the traditional way to a “better life” – and sport became a reward for me, an outlet to develop and grow and a way to stay out of trouble.
I would spend every moment I could playing basketball. I was dedicated. As were my parents. They wanted to see me develop but they probably knew I wouldn’t be a professional athlete. The skills I learned through sport would serve me well into my professional life. Discipline, time management, leadership, physical health, achievement of a collective goal…the list goes on! They took on roles that allowed me to focus on the task at hand. Driving to training and minibuses to away games, manning the tuck shop and creating a community. They would console me in the dark moments following defeat. Even officiate tables where my father gained more accolades than I did on court!
I will be forever grateful to my parents for sacrificing so much for my benefit. To my parents – thank you for everything!
Like the vast majority of student athletes, I would go pro in something other than sport. As a 5′ 9″ aspiring basketball player, the odds were against me. I did, however, play basketball to a relatively high level in England, proudly leading the Under-16s and Under-18s Manchester (now Magic) basketball teams to final four competitions as captain in consecutive seasons. Looking back, I had to use my brain over brawn to be successful and create a competitive edge.
Sport continued through university
Despite me not playing football, the most popular sport in the country, my passion for the game continued. Upon leaving Loughborough University, where I studied Sports Science and Maths (a strange choice some might say – but not for me), I reviewed my potential career options. Off-pitch sporting careers were limited. Any roles would likely be voluntary. Having applied for various roles on summer internships, I was successful in an application to partake in Ernst & Young’s Summer Internship Program in 2005, the year before I graduated. The offer of a training contract was too good an opportunity to turn down, after all, 3 more years of study and on-the-job training in a Big-4 environment and…
“The world is your oyster”
with reference to options upon qualifying as a Big-4 trained CA
At the time, I was based in Manchester. Still living in Oldham I would drive passed the Etihad Stadium on my way to work each time I would head into the office or the city centre in general. I used to say to myself “it would be amazing to work there, one day”. the passion for sport still burning inside me.
Upon qualification, I did what most newly qualified Chartered Accountants do. Especially those who listen to those describing the world as your oyster. We were told we could work anywhere and do anything with a skill set which was in high demand. I met with a recruitment consultant to discuss my career options.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
When I met with the recruitment consultant, he asked me “what is your dream job?” What I heard was “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. The young boy inside me still wanted to say “professional footballer” but that ship had sailed. Without too much thought, I responded…
“Financial Controller of Manchester United or Manchester City”
Neill Wood 2010, in response to being asked what is your dream job
City Football Group was yet to be formed. 2 years earlier Abu Dhabi United Group had acquired Manchester City and started their plan to create City Football Group, the most unique and complex sports organisation in the world. For me, my response was obvious and it needed little thought. It was instinctive, a blend of my passion and my skills. I loved sport, I always have and I always will. I truly believe it has the ability to transform lives for the better.
Having qualified, I could command a certain level of salary. Football was becoming a business and in some clubs, the business of football had already started to creep beyond sporting merit. So, football was the obvious sport, that could pay a salary that I felt I could command. The choice was limited. I wanted to live and work in Manchester, so there was almost no choice to make!
When asked the question “what is your dream job?” all my brain had to compute is a simple question – red or blue? I hedged my bets, just like I did when I chose Sports Science and Maths. At the time I gave myself two options – to become the Financial Controller of the red or blue club in Manchester. I was instantly told by the recruitment consultant that I would not have any chance of getting either job unless I knew someone in either club. I knew nobody who worked in sport, having thrown myself into life as a Chartered Accountant.
That didn’t stop me…it made me more determined to fulfil my ambition. 5 years later I secured the role of Financial Controller of City Football Group – a role that delivered an experience beyond my wildest dreams.