Defender of the Art
Why Jody Craddock turned away from a career in coaching to starting at the bottom again - in the competitive world of art
Making the grade as a professional footballer is a journey of starting at the bottom and working your way up, convincing others and proving yourself better than the rest.
It is a path once trodden few are keen to take again at the end of their careers – but not so Jody Craddock.
Over a 20-year career, half of which was spent in the Premier League, Craddock carved out a reputation as total professional who had worked tirelessly to make the most of his talents to perform at the highest level.
The ideal character, then, to embark on a career in coaching – a pathway he had been working towards having started to take his badges during his mid-twenties.
But when push came to shove at the end of his career, Craddock decided against the logical choice in favour of giving into to the growing passion in his life, painting.
In doing so, the former defender threw himself back in time by having to start from the bottom all over again, this time trying to carve out a name as an artist in an industry as fiercely difficult to thrive as football.
Craddock said: “When I came to the end of my career I was like ‘do I follow my heart or do I follow my head?’.
“The head was to stay in football, the heart was to do the painting which I loved. So I decided to follow, my heart.
“I was doing my coaching badges, I thought I would be a coach when I finished playing. The art was just a hobby that got out of control, but it’s something I love doing even to this day.
“The more I did it, the better I got at it.
“I had started to sell some pictures before I finished playing so I knew providing I worked hard at it there would be something there for me.
“But I’m fortunate to have that background as a footballer to support me. If I didn’t have that, it’s not like the art is a lucrative career where you make tonnes of money.
“Maybe one day if I get signed up by a publisher, but until that point I am just an artist trying to get by selling paintings.”
Craddock studied art at A level having failed to get an apprenticeship as a footballer, but as a teenager making a career out of pictures was nowhere near his thinking.
Having finally earned a break at Cambridge, it was the move to Sunderland which saw him reach the top in football, at a time when art was nothing more than just a hobby.
“I had never intended to, I was just doing them as a hobby that’s all it was but it grew from there.
“I have always been of the mind I would never sell anything I would not be prepared to put on my own wall. I was playing football, loving football and making money from football.
“Once my teammates became aware of it, a few of them asked me to do a painting of them scoring goals, or pictures of their kids or their dog. A few of them were genuinely surprised, but when one bought one another one bought one and it went from there.
“They respected me. They were impressed, they didn’t give me any stick which was quite good. I was an older pro anyway so I had that respect in the dressing room.
“They could see I was serious about it so I never got any stick – they used to just buy the paintings which was great.
“I’d like to be at the point where I was taking on commissions where the stuff was selling before it was even painted, that type of thing.
“Just being respected as an artist, getting my name out there, people knowing my work wherever they are, they can say ‘yep, that’s a Craddock’. That’s where I want to be.
“I don’t want people to buy my work because I was a footballer, I want people to buy my work because they look at it and think ‘wow, I want to put that on the wall’.
“As a footballer, it is such a short career but you don’t see that as a young lad, how short a career it is.
“I was fortunate enough to get to 37-38, a 20-year career. There are not many people who manage to sustain a career that long, so I encourage any player any player at a young age, even though I know how difficult it is to be focused on something like playing football to think about doing something out of the game.
“Be it art, or anything, try and have something to focus on after football. You’re a long-time retired.”