Ex-Luton midfielder admits he found retirement tough before landing academy role at Kenilworth Road

McCormack thrilled to be involved in the game once more

By Mike Simmonds
Friday, 24th December 2021, 9:16 am
Former Town midfielder Alan McCormack
Former Town midfielder Alan McCormack

Former Luton midfielder Alan McCormack admitted that he had initially struggled to cope with retirement after deciding to hang up his boots following a career spanning almost 20 years in the summer.

The 37-year-old called time following another spell at Southend United last season due to persistent injury problems, something that had affected his time at Kenilworth Road during 2017-19 as well.

With his usual routine of getting up to go to training and preparing for a match day now over, the Irishman found himself at a loose end, something he didn't particularly enjoy or was ready for.

Alan McCormack gets stuck in during his playing days at Kenilworth Road

Thankfully, an offer to become U13s lead coach with the Hatters was soon accepted, McCormack also working with the other age-groups in the academy, but speaking about those first few months out of work and his decision to retire, he said: “It was mainly the injuries, the psychological side to that.

"I was just fed up picking up injuries all the time and the calves had kind of given up on me.

"Every time I would get a run of games I’d break down again, I’d have a couple of breakdowns coming back, I should have taken longer to come back but I was so eager to get back out on the pitch every time.

"Even at Northampton, I’d end up getting a recurrence or a breakdown and have to go back out, reset the clock and it just became very frustrating when you did that for a few years.

"It just became a little bit like, 'hold on, what’s more important, your health or your physical wellbeing, more than playing a few more games?'

"I’d been in the game a long time, I’d managed to squeeze as much out of my talent, got better each year, had unbelievable memories that the game has given me, so I decided last Christmas it would be my last year.

"I kept it to myself and just family, I didn't want to come out with the big final statement, I quite like to stay not so much private, but just wanted to drift into the background and start my next chapter and thankfully I’ve done that.

“The first few weeks were fine as it was your normal time being off and you get the seven, eight weeks break, cram a holiday in.

"Golf for me was my second love, I love being on the golf course, love having that challenge of trying to best your score each week.

"Golfers can only blame themselves, can’t blame your team-mates, it’s just you and I love that, that psychological battle.

"But that got a little bit, 'I’m bored of this now,' we were doing a house up at the time, so that kept me a little bit busy but then when everyone started going back to pre-season and training.

"My partner was going off to work, kids at school and then when you’re spending every day of the week on your own for seven, eight hours before you go on the school run, the school run became a big part of the day, I was looking forward to doing something.

"That became something I didn’t plan for, I hadn’t been told about, people don’t quite understand it.

"So after weeks and weeks of that, I was getting a little bit, probably lonely, but missing interaction with other people and not having a regime or a structure in the day.

"There were loads of little things, so I thought, 'right now it’s time to start going out and get something.'

"I just started looking at lots of things and just seemed to all fall into place, the role came up and big thanks to Andy (Awford, academy and development manager) and Gary (Sweet, chief executive) for allowing me to come back in, so happy."

McCormack had been making sure he was ready for what would follow at the end of his career, starting to take the relevant courses long before his playing days came to an end.

It hadn't been just the coaching side of things that he was interested in either though, continuing: "It was something I started to really consider back in 2013-14, I started taking my badges then and got into the A License pretty quickly.

"Then I went away from it a little bit, I looked at other roles in football that I was starting to get introduced to and thought, 'I quite like them.'

"One of them was a technical director, sporting director, and I started a Masters degree in that as well, so that’s taken up quite a lot of my time.

"I realised that’s going to be a role that later on in life will be perfect and there’s a lot of football you need to learn and coaching's a real big part of it.

"I like the recruitment side to it so I kind of dabbled my foot into those areas and kept coming back to the coaching and eventually made the decision that coaching is going to be the one I want to go down first.

"When I was at Northampton I managed to be allowed to help out with the 15s, 16s, that got the bug again, then unfortunately Covid hit, so that put a stop to quite a lot of coaching.

"I completed my A License, but I’m back on the road now and thankfully I’m in a job where I’ve been given the opportunity to learn quite quickly and at such a great club as well which is a bonus.”

On how the move back to Luton came about too, McCormack said: "I’m still really good mates with Alan Sheehan, Scotty Cuthbert, we’d always chat, a couple of players that are still here now and I happened to be at the golf day in the summer, Mick’s (Harford) golf day.

"It popped up that day that they were looking for a 15s, 16s coach, and I thought, 'great role to be in.'

"I’d dabbled in a little bit, so I contacted Andy, told him about my interest, we went through the process like everyone else that applied for the job, had an interview, a true experience and understanding the role, how full time it is.

"I hadn’t quite got that experience, but Andy was open to getting me into the club and opening a door for me and seeing the enthusiasm I had for the game and the experience and career that I’d had, somebody that matched the club’s philosophy and ethos and was able to come in and hit the ground running that way.

"So I'm delighted they’ve given me that opportunity and it’s been good, really good.

"There’s always stepping platforms at the club too, in a few years, can I make the step up into another role, maybe full time, that will all be seen in the next couple of years.

"I’m in no rush, I’m learning different scenarios, the 21s with Adrian Forbes (head of coaching & player development) has been a massive help, Dan Walder (professional development phase lead coach), I’m around these people quite a lot of the week and being able to learn quickly, but effectively as well.

"I'm loving it and I knew I’d always enjoy it.

"I'm delighted to be back in and starting that journey and I’ve been fortunate enough where I’ve got quite a few roles to help me develop as a coach."

It's not just with Luton where McCormack is cutting his teeth either, as he said: "I’m fortunate enough I’ve got a first team role in a semi-pro team, Heybridge Swifts, which I do twice a week, so I’ve got 13s, 18s, 21s and a first team.

“I do them with an ex-manager that I played with, Steve Tillson, so I go through those different scenarios each week, of kids always coming in bouncy, bubbly, smiley, U21s who are on the cusp of the first team, then I’ve got a first team which is pressure and results on a Saturday.

"You have to develop your players, but we only get them for two nights a week and you’re trying to get as much information into them without overloading them as well.

"So great challenges, really busy, put that all in with a Masters degree then it’s quite a challenging week for me, but I’m the type of person I like to stay busy, like to stay active, can’t just sit around.

"I’m learning every single day, it’s busy, a lot busier than being a player.

"You don’t have as much to worry about as a player, you just come in, get your training done then get home and make sure you just recover, so longer days, but definitely interesting, so enjoying it.”

Reflecting on his own playing days, McCormack crammed plenty in, starting out with Preston North End in 2002 following his move over from Dublin, before spells at Southend, Swindon Town and Brentford, earning promotion with the Robins and Bees.

He joined Luton in 2017 helping the Hatters climb from League Two to the Championship, moving on again to join Northampton in 2019 as the Cobblers won the League Two play-offs, before winding down his playing days with another stint at Southend.

Despite making just 39 appearances for Town, McCormack was hugely popular at Kenilworth Road, with hisimpact both and on off the field never in doubt.

Looking back at his time with Luton and his other clubs, he added: “I was never the most talented player, but the one thing I hope people remember me for, was the work-rate, that’s what I took pride in.

"I had two sides of my career, the first half was not as good, few relegations and just mediocre play and then the second half was kind of where it really kicked on.

"I went to clubs where it allowed me the education and the chance to have success and when you have a bit of success you want more.

"It’s just your personal goal to keep creating that and keep working for that.

"That’s something I’ve always been brought up with, the hard work, you get nothing free, so you’ve got to work for it and that’s what I tried to do the most.”