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