https://iiiimag.com/articles/interview-br-footballer-jody-craddock
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At the End of the Day
Interview with Footballer Jody Craddock

Jordan Harrison-Twist

01.09.18

¶ Could you begin by telling me a little about your playing career?

Yes, well, I started playing football at Cambridge when I was eighteen, straight from school. I did my A-levels and then went to Cambridge United and managed to get in. It was fantastic there — I stayed there for four years under Gary Johnson and then Tommy Taylor — then I was bought by Sunderland. I stayed at Sunderland for six years before I moved to Wolverhampton Wanderers, where I stayed for ten years. Wolverhampton was the last club I went to, and I live near there at the moment — it’s my base. I’m happy here, you know, I was born in the midlands in Redditch, moved to Bournemouth when I was twelve, up to Cambridge, Sunderland, and then back here — full circle.

¶ How old were you when you retired from professional football?

About thirty-eight, after a twenty-year playing career. Retirement kind of coincided with my son’s diagnosis of leukaemia. I was going through a tough time at that moment, and I would not have gone anywhere other than Wolves — just because of the convenience, for my son’s treatment in Birmingham. Ståle Solbakken came in as manager and he just didn’t want me in the team. He didn’t give me an opportunity to prove myself. I had been there for ten years, and he didn’t give me the opportunity. I may have had a year, two, left in me — but it wasn’t to be. So that is why I retired.

¶ That is why we are asking these questions. I always thought that if a player, about to retire, returns to a club that matters to them, or to a club which represents a region that matters to them, that it must be tough to be forced out to make room for young blood. Did you find that a painful experience?

It was hard to retire. Considering I had been involved in the team, I had been playing, and then Mick McCarthy got sacked. Then Terry Connor stepped in and said to me: ‘If I get the job, I will sign you up’, and I said ‘great’. I was as fit as I had ever been. My son was going through what he was going through at the hospital in its early stages; but we were coping with that. That was okay. So I managed to do the whole season, and my tests had proved that I was fitter than I had ever been at the age of thirty-seven, thirty-eight, but I just was not given the opportunity. The club was going to Ireland to do a week of training for a pre-season tour, so I asked the question: ‘look, you are going to Ireland, are you going to give me a fair crack of the whip? My son is in hospital. Don’t take me there if we are just going through the motions before you say “no, thank you”.' And I was told ‘no, we don’t want you’. And that was the end of my Wolves career. It was bitterly disappointing, and really frustrating. The player who was brought in to replace me didn’t even play. But, that is football. That is how football works. Like it or lump it, that is something all players have to deal with.

¶ If it does end as abruptly as that, what was your experience of the post-playing career options afforded to you and your fellow professionals? (Were you told what the transition might be like?)

I don’t think that gets covered. I had my head screwed on, so when I started playing at eighteen, that was really late. I did a few courses — Fitness & Nutrition, Sport-Psychology — but I did think that at some point, it was going to fall apart around me. I always had that mentality, but it made me work harder and harder and harder to make sure that didn’t happen. But we didn’t ever get told. Maybe when you are eighteen or nineteen now, it would be a little different to what it was like back then. Now you have to do your tests, and get your education. But there was nothing to say ‘make sure you get something lined-up for when you retire’. I’ve only been out the game four years, so whether anything has changed, I don’t know. Any player with half a brain would get something arranged for when they retire. They need to: it is a long time retired. You might make your money playing football, but then that money has to last for the rest of your life.

¶ In your case, you studied A-Level Art, so you must have developed your skills before you embarked on a career in football. Did you put any subjects/job prospects on-hold for your decision to play?

Not really. I did A-Level Art, I enjoyed it, but I scraped through with a D or an E or something. I did not want to be an artist. I had always planned to go into coaching or managing. I did my coaching badges as I was given the opportunity to do that while I was playing. Painting was a hobby I took up three or four years after finishing school, mainly when I went to Sunderland. I had more time in the afternoon, more money to buy materials. From taking up that hobby again and doing it more and more, I got better and better to the stage where when I retired I had the option to follow my heart or follow my head, I chose the heart and became an artist.

¶ It is a difficult market to enter. Did you find that with your name being eminently well-known in certain circles, that it was easier to find representation as artist — to get your work into galleries?

A little bit, I suppose. With the football came a little bit of notoriety: I played in the Premiership, but not at as high a level as the big boys. There was a little bit of media interest, I guess, which you can use to your advantage, but a piece of artwork needs to sell itself. And it will only sell if it is good enough. I’m not so famous that I could draw a line on a bit of paper and sell it for £300. It doesn’t work like that for me. Nor am I Lionel Messi — never have been. The work has to be of a good enough quality to sell itself; my name is just a back-story. People need to love the work.

¶ One could call your mode of painting hyper-realist. Would you accept that?

Yeah, I guess so. Classical-contemporary, maybe, but hyper-realist? I wouldn’t say hyper-realist: it is realist, though. But it’s that sort of category…

¶ Because you are trying to achieve with this mode of painting an exact visual likeness, do you start with the eyes?

If it is a small face — about a hand-size on the canvas — yes, I start with the eyes. You know what it’s like, if the eyes aren’t right, a portrait can look really quite strange. I do find, though, that the bigger a canvas is, the easier it is. But if I can’t get the eyes right — there is no point doing anything else.

¶ And what are footballers like as subjects? I know you have been commissioned by John Terry, and you created the matchday programme covers for Wolves.

On-pitch action, definitely. A goal-celebration, a slide tackle. They are steeped in emotion. There’s more going on than the image.

¶ And have your teammates been supportive of your new career in the arts?

A couple, here-and-there, Matt Jarvis came to an exhibition I had in London a few years ago. I do keep in contact with many of them, but not so much in the art-world, no.

¶ Could you talk us through your current project and how you are finding life in the art world?

My project at the moment is painting statues. As a footballer, my body was my ticket to success, really. I had to be in pristine condition to be able to play at the highest level. I try and reflect that in my statue paintings — statues are the epitome of the beautiful human form, strength, and power, and I try to reflect that on the canvas. They have body art across them to represent the demands of contemporary society. Are we expected to fit in, or stand out? That is what I am working on at the moment, and they are the pieces I am trying to get into the galleries. They are the pieces I want to be seen up and down the country: the pieces that when somebody sees one, they say ‘I recognise that. That’s a Craddock’. That’s the goal.

¶ When you say ‘that’s a Craddock’ — do you mean with this project you have found your style?

Yeah, my identity. You know, I do other things: I have done the Wolves programmes this season. But these statue paintings are me, my project. I’ve been working on them for a year-and-a-half now, and these are the ones I’m pushing in faces, sharing around — I want to be known for.

¶ Are they selling reasonably well?

They are, but, you know, it’s hard in the art world. They are selling, slowly. I’m not taking them off the easel and then they sell straight away. I have to get out there, go to art fairs, but they do sell.

¶ The wider culture of football has been under close scrutiny in recent years, with concerted efforts made by The FA to tackle racism and homophobia: what could football fans learn from the supposedly more progressive values of the art-world?

If you have thousands and thousands of people in a football crowd, you are always going to have someone who is homophobic. But I think the vast majority of people now are quite accepting and liberal of the fact there is no difference between being gay or straight — at least in my experience. Am I being naive? I don’t know. But it is a lot more accepting than it was — I’d like to think it was anyway.

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