The legendary Howard Kendall won the league with Everton FC as both a player and a manager but Gareth Farrelly has a more unusual double to his name. He has now turned out for the club both as a footballer and as a lawyer.
“I was an Everton fan as a kid – it’s quite funny to be coming here to work every day on secondment. Things have come full circle,” Farrelly says, musing on the path that has brought him back to the North West. He is now a trainee solicitor at Peters & Peters in London but since that firm specialises in litigation, he is at Everton in order to fulfil the SRA’s transactional training requirement.
He couldn’t have arrived at a better time – this summer he has helped Everton’s legal team bring Wayne Rooney back to his boyhood club and worked on the biggest-ever transfer between two English clubs – Romelu Lukaku’s £75m switch to Manchester United.
Laws of the game
Born in Dublin, Farrelly began his senior career at Aston Villa before signing for the club he supported as a boy in 1997. A two-year spell at the club followed in which he memorably scored the goal that saved the Toffees from relegation from the Premiership in 1998 earning him a lasting affection from the blue half of Merseyside.
Farrelly’s route to the legal profession partially stems from his an experience later in his career, when he was at the centre of a case that went all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It was the 2006/07 season and he had ended a spell as player-manager of Dublin’s Bohemian FC before signing to play for Blackpool on a short-term contract.
After that came to an end Farrelly was offered a contract with Cork City, but FIFA denied him permission to play because of its rule that a player cannot turn out for three different clubs in the same season.
Farrelly’s lawyers contested the ruling, argued that that since the Irish and UK seasons run at different times, he should be allowed to play. They were unsuccessful, but Farrelly had discovered that law touches every area of life.
Then his career suffered a more devastating setback. In 2008, Farrelly had a pancreatic aneurism – something which kills most who are unfortunate enough to suffer one. He was lucky: his pancreas hadn’t ruptured completely and he was treated by excellent doctors who saved his life. But his football career was essentially over.
After his illness, he was on the books of Morecambe FC in League Two, but he put a final end to his football career after getting a place on a law degree at Edge Hill University.
A friend and mentor, John Kettle, recommended Peters & Peters to him: “I met the partners, we got on really well, and thankfully they offered me a training contract,” Farrelly recalls.
Has returning to football as a lawyer given him a different perspective on the beautiful game? “No,” says Farrelly, “but I have found that the game has changed a lot in terms of the money involved and the increased globalisation, and that means more input from lawyers is needed.
“When it comes to the legal aspect, people naturally think about the high-profile transfers, but there is a whole commercial side, as well as regulatory and disciplinary matters to deal with. One of the interesting things about Everton at the moment is that there is a new ground project going on which is obviously very exciting. It has been great to get a broad view of the club’s activities and get involved with lots of different things.”
Taking each game as it comes
“Sometimes footballers get a bad press,” he says, “but there are a few who have qualified as solicitors.” Former England internationals Stuart Ripley and Eni Aluko are probably the most high profile but there are others like Colin Murdock (Preston North End, Hibernian and Northern Ireland, now with Manchester firm George Davies) and Udo Onwere (Fulham, Lincoln City and Barnet, now a partner at Bray & Krais). “And it’s not just football – there are ex-rugby players and other sporting professionals who have also made the transition.”
Once he has qualified, Farrelly will join that small band. And what then – does he have any further plans? “No, I don’t think beyond getting qualified: that’s the first thing,” he says. “I’m sure the same is true for a lot of trainees – at first you think you’ll never get through the two-year training contract. I never thought I would see myself getting qualified. I’ve had a lot of help from good people and now I’m preparing for the next bit. People say that at qualification, that’s where your learning really starts.”
“I have been fortunate enough to reach an elite level in sport; now I am just concentrating on being an excellent solicitor.”