Legion Worldwide Director, Leon Lloyd, ex of Leicester, Gloucester and England, spoke to Alex Bergin about the launch of his new book, ‘From Boot Room to Board Room’.
Playing professional rugby was living the dream, but I was more aware than most that it would soon be over. I knew my rugby career could have ended at any moment and that it wouldn’t leave me set up for life, so I started taking steps very early on to prepare for whatever would be next.
Despite the fact I had started a couple of businesses with team-mates that went quite well (Lewis Moody being one of them) I found the transition to working life far harder than I expected.
I hadn’t looked much farther than what would most likely be a huge drop in salary, so preparing myself for that was my priority. As it turned out, almost everything else proved more difficult.
I’d spent 15 years being told where to be and when, what to eat and what to wear. Everything I did was while enjoying the camaraderie of close friends and we had the added benefit of a huge rush each weekend as we ran out onto a rugby field in front of thousands of passionate supporters. It’s losing that part, not the finances, that 95% of sportspeople struggle to cope with.
There were some rough times as I adjusted, during which I had help from a lot of good people, and in time I found myself back on track and in a good place. Tim Nichols of the RPA was one of the guys who helped throughout that period and it was his colleague Alex Anderson who first suggested I might write a book, as other sportspeople could benefit from my experiences.
I’d never considered it and certainly didn’t think I was the sort of personality whose autobiography people would be clamouring to read, but what Alex said did make sense, so I decided to give it a go.
I started to write a few notes on the transition from life as a player and I found it surprisingly cathartic. The more I wrote, the more stories and memories came back that either helped give context or were just worth sharing. I ended up writing for the first 30 minutes of every journey I took and soon had a lot of material.
I’m no author, so there was little structure at first, but there was definitely a thread running through some fantastic memories and some lessons learned the hard way.
I spent about 2 years writing regularly before I got close to thinking I was about finished. At that point, it was funny to see how things I’d written about when I started, having been out of the game for five years, seemed odd when I read them again just two years later. It highlighted what an unusual experience professional sport can be.
In the end, the main problem was that every time I’d think I’d finally made the last addition, I’d bump into an old team mate who’d share a memory long since forgotten, something would jog my mind or someone would ask advice and I’d feel it had to go into the book.
I realised that would always be the case as I could never cover everything that happened in my career and the looming prospect of never actually finishing gave me the kick up the backside I needed. It turned out one of the most difficult things was finally drawing a line under the writing stage and being happy that I was done.
It was a daunting task and not the easiest process, but I wasn’t aiming to win the Booker Prize and I’m now very proud of the book.
It’s not an autobiography as I assumed the main interest was the rugby and the sporting lifestyle rather than just me. I hope it’s offers some unusually candid insights into life as a professional rugby player, as I’m not sure people realise the highs and lows you get when playing the sport you love for a living. It’s not all one big laugh with your mates.
The achievements on the field and the friendships are always accompanied by the stresses of switching clubs, letting down your friends, being dropped, injuries, etc. That, combined with the fact you know your dream career will be over in your thirties (if you’re lucky) and doubting you’ll ever be appreciated in that way again makes it a bitter-sweet experience and one that people are rarely fully prepared or equipped to deal with.
It was a really valuable experience for me and not something that now needs validating by sales. It’s out there and I’m glad I did it. If my story adds to some fans’ understanding of our game or helps a few professional athletes make some better choices during their sporting lives, then I’ll be a very happy man.