Ex-Queens Park Rangers (QPR) pro-footballer Elliott Cox switched his studs for a two-year degree course in Business Management at GSM London and hasn’t looked back since.
The 25-year-old from Sydenham, south-east London, has played a key role in developing the student voice within the higher education institution and most recently was appointed to the position of Student Union President. He has also been awarded a first-class honours degree and plans to eventually set up his own marketing business. We asked him what prompted his career change and what plans he has for his new presidential position.
Elliott started playing football around the age of 10 in 2002 and had always had a real passion for the sport, all my friends played football and his dad played rugby. Elliott would spend all of his free time playing and eventually secured a Youth Team Scholarship in 2008 at aged 16 and was signed to QPR. After the two-year scholarship, he secured a professional contract also with QPR.
“It was a dream come true for someone like me who had a childhood love for the sport,” he said. “I was getting to compete with some of the best players in the country and meeting some of my footballing heroes. But about a month into my professional contract, I was involved in an awkward tackle which resulted in me rupturing my ankle ligament. I remember feeling a burning sensation after the tackle but did not realise the extent of the injury I sustained. I later learnt that I had ruptured about 80% of this ligament.”
“I had started my professional contract and had seven and a half months left to honour on it but due to my injuries, was not well enough to play. I underwent ankle surgery and luckily had a fantastic surgeon –a foot and ankle specialist called James Calder – who helped with my recovery. As well as that, I was having specialist hospital treatment, injections in my ankle and was trying to get fit as well. But all this recovery time meant I was losing fitness and was unable to showcase my talents.”
In the same year that Elliott was released from QPR (due to his injuries), the club entered the Premier League – the highest professional league for men’s association football clubs. The experience was difficult because it was the first time he had been released from a contract. He went on to spend around five years playing in the non-league as a semi-professional footballer for clubs such as Hastings United, Maidstone United, Margate and VCD Athletic – a semi-professional football club based in Crayford, south-east London.
He did not realise at the time but that was the catalyst for ending my professional career and my move into higher education.
He noticed the difference financial from being a professional player and a non-professional one.
“When you are a professional footballer and you sign a contract, you are guaranteed a certain amount of money,” he said. “The money I was making previously was helping to support my mum, who I was living with, and my sister. On a semi-professional wage that money was lower and had to stretch further. Because I was injured it meant that I couldn’t play and I was on half as much money, which did not cover my travel expenses.
Having said that, he had some of his best moments playing semi-professionally.
“One moment, I will never forget was when I played to one of my biggest crowds when I was with Hastings United. I played against Middlesbrough FC in the FA Cup third round. Although we didn’t beat them (the final score was 4:1), it was such a euphoric feeling playing to a crowd of over 12,500 spectators,” he said.
While he was on scholarship, he was doing a BTEC qualification in Sports Excellence and studied sports science, which was compulsory, and learnt about nutrition and the human anatomy. But becoming a semi-professional footballer made him think that I needed to have another trade.
“When If you look at it statistically, the majority of players do not always make it, even though many of them are fantastic players,” he said. “I did not want to come across as a one-trick pony with my only training linked to sport. I wanted to show my versatility in pursuing something else.”
Thanks to his sister, who had graduated from Brunel University in International Business with a first-class degree, and his girlfriend, who studied Law at Bournemouth University, Elliott made the decision to go into higher education.
“Business Law was my first-ever module and my girlfriend was amazing at helping me get to grips with the subject, which seemed extremely daunting, especially as I had been out of education for five years.
“A friend called Eku Deen, who was doing Business Management and IT at GSM London, recommended I come here. I enrolled on the accelerated Business and Management degree course in June 2015, which allowed me to focus on topics including marketing, accounting and strategic management.”
Elliott believe that having the background in football has given him transferable skills that he has been able to use in his academic life.
“It is a very competitive environment and I am used to that, I am accustomed pushing myself. I think I transferred those skills into my studies and that has pushed me to achieve higher,” he said.
“Being at GSM London has really helped to boost my confidence too. The lecturers have been really supportive. Through the course, I have learnt to give presentations, gained management skills, participated in group tasks – and activities like this have helped to force me out of my comfort zone. I have always taken an interest in marketing and consulting and business strategy and these transferable skills will be invaluable as I plan to start my own business in the future.”
Student Union president
He hopes to use these skills as he develops in his role as President of GSM London’s Student Union.
“I will be creating an active Student Union and with that helping to support the student voice, lead the Student Reps, and make improvements to the student experience at GSM London.
I want to ensure that the GSM London experience for students does not end. I want them to be advocates for the institution, because they feel it is a place that embraces their wants and needs and encourages them to be the best they can be. I have already had a chance to talk to students about the kind of things they would like to see develop. Areas such as more contact with employers, work experience opportunities, and extended library opening times are among that list. I will make an active effort to ensure we focus on areas that need improving, as well as not overlooking the areas which are currently popular among students.”