Ex-foot­baller Chris­tian Ed­wards on why his PhD means more than his Wales cap

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - John Mor­gan

Chris­tian Ed­wards, a for­mer pro­fes­sional foot­baller for Swansea City, Not­ting­ham For­est and Bris­tol Rovers, is se­nior lec­turer in sports coach­ing at Cardiff Met­ro­pol­i­tan Univer­sity. Dr Ed­wards won a cap for Wales, and his PhD is said to make him one of only two in­ter­na­tional foot­ballers to gain doc­tor­ates, along­side Brazil’s Sócrates. Since 2009, he has been di­rec­tor of Cardiff Met’s men’s foot­ball team, which reached the Welsh Premier League for the first time last season after win­ning three pro­mo­tions in four years. They fin­ished sixth and only nar­rowly missed qual­i­fy­ing for the Europa League after los­ing out in a play-off fi­nal

Where and when were you born?

I was born in Caer­philly, a mar­ket town in South Wales, in Novem­ber 1975.

How has this shaped you?

Caer­philly is very much a work­ing­class community and my fam­ily is no dif­fer­ent. When I was a young­ster, the close-knit community of Caer­philly meant that ev­ery­body knew one another and you learned from a very young age to re­spect those around you. I be­lieve that grow­ing up in such a small place, with a good friend­ship group, was vital in shap­ing how I ap­proached both my foot­ball ca­reer and now my aca­demic ca­reer.

You’ve de­scribed gain­ing your PhD as out­weigh­ing the hon­our of play­ing for Wales. Why is that so?

When I was an ap­pren­tice at Swansea City, my fel­low play­ers would laugh at the fact that I en­joyed learn­ing and frowned if I ever read on the team bus. It wasn’t the done thing at the time, and I was called “busy” for do­ing so. As time went on I paid less and less at­ten­tion to study­ing as foot­ball took over. It wasn’t un­til I gained my doc­tor­ate that I looked back and felt that it was a big­ger hon­our than rep­re­sent­ing Wales in foot­ball, as no­body ex­pected me to be­come a doc­tor. After all, foot­ballers are sup­posed to be thick!

What made you de­cide to do a doc­tor­ate?

Upon re­tir­ing in 2006, I went straight to Cardiff Met­ro­pol­i­tan Univer­sity (for­merly Univer­sity of Wales In­sti­tute, Cardiff) to study. I grad­u­ated with first-class hon­ours in 2009 and then un­der­took an MSc in the same year. It was in the fi­nal year of my mas­ter’s that I first thought of do­ing a PhD, but I was adamant that I wanted to be a PE teacher. How­ever, op­por­tu­ni­ties arose for me to start some part­time lec­tur­ing at the univer­sity and the rest is his­tory. I found a new thirst for univer­sity life and de­cided that I wanted to work in one.

What is the big­gest mis­con­cep­tion about your field of study?

That it can’t help in­form coach­ing prac­tice. While the harder sciences have an ap­plied na­ture and do as­sist sports sci­en­tists and coaches, I be­lieve that there is value in coaches bet­ter un­der­stand­ing the mi­cro-po­lit­i­cal na­ture of the in­ter­ac­tions that they face on a daily ba­sis.

How has Cardiff Met’s team achieved such suc­cess?

In 2009, I was asked by the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the stu­dents’ union, Mike Davies, to take charge of the team. It was tough to be­gin with, but I used my own ex­pe­ri­ences re­gard­ing val­ues, be­liefs and prin­ci­ples to start to change the cul­ture of the team. We lost more than we won ini­tially, but I stayed firm on what I wanted and in 2011 a group of first-year stu­dents bought into what I wanted. That year we reached the quar­ter-fi­nals of the Welsh Cup, which was un­prece­dented [for a univer­sity team] at the time. We have won seven tro­phies in eight years with three pro­mo­tions. But above all, the suc­cess has come through the hu­mil­ity and loy­alty of our play­ers, who have now cre­ated a club, not just a team.

Is Cardiff Met a gen­uine stu­dent team?

Yes it is. Ev­ery player in the club is ex­clu­sively a stu­dent apart from one: Char­lie Corsby, who was one of those first-year stu­dents who bought into my vi­sion all those years back, re­cently gained his PhD and is now a mem­ber of staff at the univer­sity. As for the rest of the play­ers, we cur­rently have two PhD stu­dents, one taught

doc­tor­ate stu­dent and 11 MSc stu­dents in our first-team squad alone. A mix of un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents makes up the rest of our squad and sup­port­ing teams. For me, what makes us even more unique in the league that we play in [the Welsh Premier League] is that the stu­dents don’t get paid to play ei­ther. They have to pay a £100 mem­ber­ship fee to play for the club.

Have at­ti­tudes to ed­u­ca­tion in foot­ball changed since your play­ing days?

Most def­i­nitely. Back in 1992, when I started out at Swansea City, it was frowned upon to even like school. How­ever, the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion and the Pro­fes­sional Foot­ballers’ As­so­ci­a­tion have made great strides in ed­u­cat­ing play­ers about the im­por­tance of life after foot­ball and what play­ers

Gain­ing my doc­tor­ate was a big­ger hon­our than rep­re­sent­ing Wales in foot­ball, be­cause no­body ex­pected me to be­come a doc­tor. Foot­ballers are sup­posed to be thick!

will need to suc­ceed. A lot of play­ers are now go­ing back into the game as phys­io­ther­a­pists, per­for­mance an­a­lysts and nu­tri­tion­ists, hav­ing stud­ied for de­grees and post­grad­u­ate de­grees once they have fin­ished foot­ball.

What’s your big­gest re­gret?

Prob­a­bly that I didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate my time as a pro­fes­sional foot­baller as I should have. Look­ing back, I could have em­braced it more, par­tic­u­larly the lat­ter parts of my ca­reer.

What one thing would im­prove your work­ing week?

Like all aca­demics, time! There never seems enough time in the day or week to get my work done, re­search up to date or spend qual­ity time with my wife and three chil­dren.

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