Robbie Simpson is unique in the football world. He is one of the few player-managers in English football. He is also a founder of a successful business and a financial advisor.
Today, across the Premier League and Football League, there is just one full-time player-manager – Burton Albion’s Jake Buxton. While Wayne Rooney also currently occupies this role at Derby County, it is only on an interim basis.
Moving down the pyramid and into the National League South – the sixth tier in English football – there are only two.
Former Championship striker Simpson is one of those who fulfils this role at National League South side Chelmsford City, with Jamie O’Hara the other at Billericay Town.
After signing for Chelmsford in August 2019 as a player, the 35-year-old suddenly found himself in the hot seat in January 2020.
It is a position Simpson is still in today, even though it was a role he was not considering just a year ago.
Simpson said: “Management was not in my head at all. I was at Milton Keynes Dons in the previous season and we got promoted to League One. Manager Paul Tisdale and I chatted over that summer about me staying on as a player but then helping out in his backroom staff in some aspect. I kind of said that wasn’t really for me.
“If I was going to reduce my playing time and start a new career, I would drop down to a part-time team [which Simpson did, joining Chelmsford] and start the career I always saw myself doing, which is what I am now, a financial advisor.”
However, despite this, in January 2020, Chelmsford’s manager departed and Simpson, being the most senior player in the dressing room and with a UEFA B coaching qualification in his pocket, took temporary charge.
As his interim period wore on, the results and style of play improved. This led chairman Steve Shore into pleading with Simpson to take the gig on a permanent basis.
Simpson was reluctant at first, feeling his time was limited due to his intense financial advisor training occupying him constantly.
However, by March, this had eased off as Simpson neared his qualification in that field. This resulted in the former Brentford attacker eventually agreeing to the player-manager role on a full-time position.
After eight months in the job, Simpson believes he has coped with the transition from just playing to also managing the team reasonably well, despite the additional workload.
He said: “The transition from player to manager was not too bad. I was a senior member of the changing room anyway, and already had an influence on the younger players, so I just carried that on but to everyone in a more formal setting.
“The hardest part is the little things that no one sees. For example, choosing the training kit, scheduling training at a time everyone can make after work. Planning the training sessions, watching the game back from the weekend. It is far more than just picking a side on a matchday, but I am really enjoying it.”
Simpson is one of the youngest bosses in the division. With this comes the challenge of managing players older than himself, with goalkeeper Lee Worgan, 36, an example of this.
The striker, however, has found Worgan and former Coventry City teammate Elliot Ward, 35, extremely supportive, with both buying into his philosophy and helping him with the younger players.
They have even persuaded Simpson to start himself in the side more, with the striker featuring occasionally from the bench late on this season. Simpson is happy with his role for now though on the touchline, stating he feels greater pressure when competing now as manager, despite having played at Anfield and Old Trafford in his career.
“It does feel different. There is certainly more pressure to perform. If I am on the pitch and not fully focused on my performance but on the team’s performance, then that is not going to have a good effect on my game,” Simpson adds.
Simpson on LAPS
Alongside guiding Chelmsford to a mid-table position so far this season, Simpson is also very busy away from football. Aside from being a financial advisor, he also runs his own business, Life After Professional Sport (LAPS).
LAPS provide an important service. It helps athletes find work after their retirement from sport by offering advice – regarding interviews and CV’s – networking opportunities, salary information and what qualifications are required for certain roles.
It is a business that Simpson set up alongside Rob Stead, an internal recruiter, back in 2016.
The idea first came into Simpson’s head however, in November 2013. Aged only 28, his football career looked in danger after he struggled to find a club following his departure from Oldham Athletic.
“I had not written a CV in many years and didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. Then I looked on the PFA [Professional Footballers’ Association] website and there were 300 or so other players on there, unattached.
“I have a degree and have saved my money and if I compare those two things to the 300 or so others on that list, the majority will have neither. Therefore, if I am feeling anxious about the future with both of them in my back pocket, what must they be thinking? That was my lightbulb moment for trying to create something for that scenario.”
Simpson then connected with Mr Stead on Linkedin, who explained that a number of companies he worked wanted to recruit sportspeople. This was an important moment for Simpson.
“Even though I knew there was a need from the football side, I didn’t know there was actually that attraction from companies to hire sportspeople, so that was a big moment.”
Today, LAPS has nearly 4000 members and has a growing relationship with governing bodies such as the PFA. The spring lockdown led to an uptake in members and resulted in LAPS changing its support strategy.
“During lockdown, we thought it would be good to be ready when we came out of lockdown to have a more hands-on service. We actually hired some more people and created a new placement service.
“We are a personal service, helping people directly with their CVs and interview techniques rather than just being an online platform.”
The former Loughborough graduate’s long-term goal for the company is for it to be the go-to place when athletes are thinking beyond sport.
With that aim in mind, Simpson will continue to work hard away from the pitch while trying to guide Chelmsford up the table on it.