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Where are they now: Ray Warburton

29 November 2012

During a lengthy playing career, making the right decisions on the pitch becomes second nature but one of the biggest choices facing any pro comes at the end of their career.

Having made the decision to hang up their boots, the options of what to do next can be as limitless as limited.

One thing will remain the same, however, and that is the needs of their families.

In recent years, deciding what to do for the best has been a challenge faced by Ray Warburton, a former defender who can name Rotherham United, York City and Northampton Town, who he captained to two Wembley Play-Off Finals in the late 90s, amongst his former employers.

The 45-year-old has gone from being a warrior-like centre-back, who amassed more than 500 appearances and achieved five promotions across 21 years in the game, to a full-time director of a home care company.

Not a career route many take, perhaps, and Ray agrees with that notion - there's an interesting story behind it, though.

While his illustrious career was coming to a close in the non-league ranks with Aldershot Town, a team who he won the Ryman Premier Division with in 2003, Warburton was working for a property developer on the outskirts of London. He had a post-football career in the pipeline, but it didn't last.

"I was made redundant in 2009, which was when I first started looking into care," the colourful Yorkshireman recalled.

"I had no care experience at all; I just thought it would be a growing market and a good business sector to get in to.

"I then got a job back at Northampton Town as a part-time technical development manager, and I was doing that for the last two years, as well as refurbishing houses on my own in Northampton. I refurbished two houses, and did okay, then the third one I did I couldn't sell.

"I had got to the stage where I had no income apart from the part-time football money, so I needed to get myself into gear. I just thought, do I stay in football and try to get a job as youth team manager and work my way up the ladder and see what happens, and manage on a relatively low income until I got the break? Or, do I try and set up my own business to secure my own future?"

Ray took the plunge and to his own astonishment set up a home care company with the help of his wife Jo.

The business, which offers care and assistance for residents across Northampton and in the surrounding villages, is now flourishing.

"It's going really well. It's extremely hard work but it will provide me with a future. When you play football you get used to a certain level of lifestyle but I was only working part-time, and my wife only had a part-time job, so we weren't surviving.

"I knew I had to do something significant but when you're 44, after a long career in football, it's tough. You haven't got a trade. I looked at everything but soon realised that I would be 50 before I got to a good level within a job.

"I still can't believe to this day what I have done - from being a footballer to running a care business. When I look back I can't believe I had the courage to do it."

The company began trading in September 2011 and initially Ray was overseeing the business start-up while still working part-time in football for the Cobblers.

The part-time role then became a full-time position, which he had been waiting, and hoping, for.

For a while, Ray tried to juggle both roles, which was a huge commitment, but he eventually had to admit defeat and resign from his role in football due to his growing business commitments.

That decision was one of the toughest he has ever had to make, as the role at Northampton was the perfect job for him.

Ultimately, his success in the short time he had owned his business meant he couldn't fulfill what he really wanted to do.

"I wanted to stay at the Cobblers, I was desperate to stay, but I just couldn't do it. My wife was coming in to run the business in my absence but it needs two people - we have around 35 members of staff with a full-time care manager and full-time admin assistant.

"The gaffer [Northampton manager, Aidy Boothroyd] was different class, he offered support saying we'll help you with sessions and let you get off early and they did, the club kept saying go on, get off. But it wasn't fair.

"I had 16 scholars in need of coaching. For me to keep disappearing up to the office wasn't fair on them.

"It's typical really. I used to sit at my desk when I worked for the property developer and think to myself how happy I would be if I had the youth team job at Northampton. Something close, something that I love doing - it would be great."

Although he had to leave his desired job in order to get his business started, Ray knows he has given himself and his family a sustainable future.

When assessing what he should do, it was some advice from a former manager at one of his old club's, Rushden and Diamonds, that stuck out.

The post-career exploits of one of his former team-mates also helped in his decision.

"Brian Talbot once said to me, and I'll never forget it, 'always be in a position where you have an option. Don't have one club wanting to sign you, have two.'

"He always said get an option and I've always thought I would like a business that runs itself, which provides me with an income.

"I had a lot of success with Ian Sampson at Northampton and what happened to him in management is probably the reason why I have done this.

"I looked at his route - six or seven years with the kids then a couple of years as assistant before getting the main job, which didn't work out.

"I didn't want to go down that route. As much as I love football, I have too many commitments and I just wanted to make sure I could look after my family."

Although he's now out of the game, Ray admits football is not finished for him and his boots certainly won't be thrown away any time soon.

While he remains away from the training ground and the pitch, he will have to make do with his 35-strong squad of carers.

"There's a lot of stress involved, but we are making a difference to people's lives. We provide a really good service to the people we look after.

"We have a good team together, they could do with some more team spirit but it's just about getting all of them together in meetings.

"What a football manager goes through on a Saturday afternoon, and his preparation for a match, we have that on a daily basis.

"If we have any little holes, where people can slip through, they will. There's that many things that can go wrong, if you're not on your toes, they do go wrong.

"It's been a massively steep learning curve. We have a care manager who looks after the care side but I've never run my own business - done pay roll, marketing, or the rest of it - I've been a footballer for 20-odd years.

"I've enjoyed it but this new venture has been one hell of a challenge."

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