Andrew Fenby is a former teammate of mine at Blaydon RFC and a fellow Newcastle University graduate. He had an atypical journey into professional rugby, being a standout junior squash player and only really discovering himself on the field once he joined Blaydon, becoming a rightly feared try machine in the National Leagues, able to score from anywhere on the field.
After stepping up to the top flight with Newcastle Falcons, he signed for Scarlets where he became a fixture and regular try scorer on the wing, before moving to London Irish. A first team regular at Irish, Fenners actually retired from the rugby to pursue a new career path before accepting a 3 month stint at Saracens to cover a spate of back three injuries.
Compared to most players of my experience, Fenners has prepared himself unusually well for retirement, spending his off-seasons and free days furthering his career prospects and he’s very well placed to advise a younger generation of athletes with their professional journeys, on and off the field.
How did you end your career?
I retired following London Irish’s relegation from the Premiership in 2016. I was out of contract that year and Irish made the decision not to renew my contract.
Despite receiving several offers from other Premiership clubs, they would have meant leaving London and that was not something I was prepared to do. I was unlikely to win any silverware and all it was effectively doing was prolonging a nice lifestyle.
I was ambitious in what I wanted to achieve post rugby and always had it as a goal to go out at the top, retiring on my own terms. Over the course of my professional career I had proactively prepared for what I would do after rugby and that paid off with a job offer at a top investment fund.
Were you happy to end your career when you did? Why?
I turned professional at 22 and felt I had plenty of rugby left in my legs when I did decide to retire. Ideally I would have liked to play another year and retire at 32 but only if that was with a London club.
Ending my career experiencing relegation was never how I had imagined bowing out, so that was a little disappointing. At the same time the job offer was incredibly exciting as it was exactly the role I had wanted and with an incredibly successful firm.
How did you prepare for retirement while you were playing?
During my first few years at the Scarlets, my off season would entail heading back to Newcastle to continue working as an auditor for PwC. At the time of signing with the Scarlets I was part way through becoming a Chartered Accountant but still needed to fulfil the time requirement, being 70 days short.
It wasn’t the easiest time, my phone would constantly ring with calls from teammates to tell stories of partying in Ibiza or Miami, while I was stuck on a chemical plant in a room with no windows, looking at spreadsheets. Eventually it paid off and once I became fully chartered, I was able to able to enjoy the off season and come back with my own stories!
From then on it was a case of regular work experience on my days off. This enabled me to explore different professions and industries, whilst growing my network and adding to my CV.
On reflection, I don’t think there was too much more I could have done, maybe I would have undertaken a few more qualifications such as the IMC (investment management certificate).
Are you still involved in rugby in any capacity?
I launched my own rugby agency in 2016 with the aim of helping players achieve their ambitions on the pitch whilst also making sure they don’t ignore what is waiting for them when they retire. It's something I am all too aware of having seen many a former team mate struggle with retirement.
Do you compete in another way now?
Yes, I think it is massively important to find a “release” for when you retire. It’s challenging enough adapting to your new way of life, so to go from training, playing and competing 5/6 times a week to doing nothing only compounds the frustrations you are likely to be experiencing.
As well as the physical exercise, I also needed the competitive release, so I have returned to playing squash. Growing up I had played at a high level but when I signed with the Scarlets I was forced to abandon it as I simply couldn’t risk getting injured.
I am now back playing 3/4 times a week and have set myself the goal of becoming the club champion at Queen’s so I can get my name on the boards. Fortunately there are a fair few members who like playing at 7am otherwise I would never be able to get that much squash in.
What did you do immediately for work?
My contract with Irish ended in June and I started my job with Generation Investment Management as a credit analyst in July.
How did it go?
Amazing, loved it. It provided everything I wanted! A steep learning curve, expectation for me to contribute to every group discussion, fascinating work, all whilst surrounded by incredibly smart people who were very welcoming and prepared to spend time coaching me.
At the same time it was also intimidating as everyone was so smart, personable and had come from a top academic institution (Oxbridge, Ivy League) as well as having a stellar career in the city.
In contrast, here I was with a 2:1 from Newcastle University and unable to work diary invites on my computer. I learnt quickly though and I can now set up a diary invite in seconds!
What are you doing now?
I founded my own rugby agency, Certo Management, in 2016 following a year at GIM. A brief stint at Saracens to help with an injury crisis made me realise that so many players get caught up in the rugby bubble without a clue of what is waiting for them once they finish playing.
I believe it is the agent’s role to help guide players through life decisions both on and off the pitch.
With large sums of money at a young age it is easy to make decisions that will be regretted in the future, the harsh reality is that 98% of players will never earn these sums ever again in their lives. Your twenties are relatively inexpensive years when compared to your thirties and forties when you will have mortgages and dependants to worry about.
Unfortunately, I see it all too often when a player inadequately prepares for what they will do after rugby and as a result they are forced to take any job to help pay the bills.
Is this something you see yourself doing long term?
Yes, I find it incredibly rewarding pushing players to become the best player they can be and also mentoring them through the highs and lows of a career in sport.
What does it provide for you apart from money?
I get to stay in and amongst the game. The more I get to look into the running of each club, the more I become interested in performance, culture and how clubs are run.
The job also provides flexibility, so long as I have a phone I can work anywhere. It is also incredibly rewarding watching a player achieve his goals and knowing you played a small part in that.
What support did you receive with your transition?
The RPA were in contact offering help but I was very well prepared so I didn’t really need anything.
Would you say that you have transitioned?
Did you experience any mental health issues as a result of retiring?
I thought not at first, but on reflection what I have really struggled with is training like an elite athlete for nine seasons to then having no time in the day to train at all.
I doubt many other players feel the same, but I loved the fitness training and gym sessions. Pre season was a favourite time of year, I always enjoyed working towards making the best physical version of myself. Post retirement I have struggled to find the time to fit regular exercise in during the week.
When working at GIM, I typically found myself hitting the gym around 8/9pm (after a long day of work), to make matters worse, it would be a public gym filled with idiots flexing in the mirror. Mid workout I would say to myself, “What are you doing here? Go home, relax, see your family. You’re not a professional sportsman any longer, there’s no need for you to be here.”
A few days later having done no exercise at all I would then be feeling horrendous and thinking, “You are getting fat, all that hard work you put in over nine seasons and now you’ve let yourself go. You need to get yourself down the gym.”
This cycle would keep going round and round in my head, and nearly three years later I am still fighting it.
What has sport given you?
Incredible memories, great friendships and unique life experiences. I will always look back at my 20s thinking I had one hell of a time and couldn't have done it any better.
What’s your best memory from your career?
Debut for the Falcons. Came off the bench, scored the winning try, had a great night celebrating until the early hours, then had to be in work at PwC for 9am the next day with a monstrous hangover.
If you had one piece of advice for retiring athletes, what would it be?
It is never too early to start preparing, don’t leave it too late like so many do! It's very possible that you will be earning £25k for two years after retiring.
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