John Sullivan is loving life in America, after quitting his professional football career at an age when most players are reaching their peak.
Sullivan, from Lancing, played for his boyhood team Brighton & Hove Albion before spells at seven other clubs. It was a move to Portsmouth in 2013 and a subsequent loan spell at Cambridge which saw the now 27-year-old fall out of love with the game he had played all his life.
When Pompey paid up his contract a year early in the summer of 2014, Sullivan, then 26, a regular visitor to America on holidays, made the decision to move to Las Vegas. He has worked in real estate for The Craig Tann Group in Nevada since September, selling houses worth $56,000 up to $510,000.
His job is commission-based only but the former goalkeeper has sold 11 houses in just five months.
Sullivan admits some of his friends find it crazy that he has turned his back on a career in football, especially as he is now working 13-plus hours a day and getting up at 4.15am.
However, he said: “To anyone else it’s crazy. I’ll go home now and people will say ‘why did you quit, you had the best job in the world?’ But I probably fell out of love with the game slightly and I thought it was the right time to do something else.
“There’s a lot of similarities between football and this job, in the sense that you have to push yourself every day – and I’m self employed, which is similar to when I was playing football.
“At the end of the day, there were so many players with a similar ability to me out on the market, who were free transfers. I still have confidence now that I could play at a good level but I just felt it was the right time to leave that career.
“That was my biggest fear, leaving football. But the only thing I can see myself doing now is this career in real estate for the rest of my life, without a shadow of a doubt.
“There’s lots of things I’ve learned in this job and I’ve set high standards as there’s so many opportunities here to grow. I’m working hard to try to build a business and a career for myself.”
Sullivan played 17 times for Brighton after playing youth football for Thistle Youth and Lancing Rangers.
His Albion debut, a 3-2 win over high-flying Leicester in League One in 2008, was a highlight. He said: “I was behind Michel Kuipers who, as a big Brighton fan, I watched on the terraces. I remember in the morning we trained and he said he wasn’t fit.
“We went 2-0 down and I should have given away a penalty. That would have been 3-0 and it could have been my last game for Brighton, my one and only. But we ended up turning it around and we won 3-2.”
His only regret in football was that he was not at Albion longer. He said: “It’s not that I’m bitter about it but I just felt my time at Brighton was cut short. I think a lot of us in that team, the local lads, were a bit hard done by.
“I played 17 games for Brighton so I look back with good memories, but I feel like I could have played a bit more and was a bit unlucky. I felt like it was a club I could have spent my whole career at.”
From leaving Albion, Sullivan was part of the Millwall and Charlton squads who were both promoted from League One.
He also had spells with Yeovil and Colchester, before a loan move to AFC Wimbledon, who he helped keep in the league in 2012-13.
That summer, Sullivan was offered a full-time contract with the Dons but opted to head to Fratton Park. He said: “It’s easy in hindsight but I don’t think anyone would have made a different decision.
“It ended up being a worse financial decision moving to Portsmouth because I had a flat in Sutton, which was 15 minutes from Wimbledon’s ground.
“I had a good rapport with everyone at Wimbledon but Portsmouth told me I’d be their number-one keeper, playing in front of 16,000 to 17,000 fans.
“However, Portsmouth were just signing anyone, really. I don’t know if they’d even watched me. Then, I got the number 25 shirt and, as a goalkeeper, the number-one shirt is a big thing. Straight away it made me think that something wasn’t right.
“I ended up being in and out of the team and didn’t get any stability.”
A loan spell at Cambridge in early 2014 was the beginning of the end of Sullivan’s professional career. He did a candid interview after leaving Portsmouth which suggested he was suffering from mild depression.
Looking back on the interview, Sullivan said: “I’m so glad I did it as I’ve had players who have played at a much higher level than me call and say they’d gone through a similar thing and asked for advice.
“My thing was to show people there’s plenty of other jobs out there. Being a professional footballer is a great career but, trust me, from the outside it looks like you make lots of money and stuff but it’s just not like that.
“The money, especially in the lower leagues, isn’t there any more but I know players who have made fantastic businesses and careers after their football careers came to an end.
“There’s kind of an image you have to keep up with football. It’s stupid, really, but I just felt that people should know that it’s not glamour all the time.
“Going to Cambridge was my last-ditch attempt at staying in football. Turning up to a new house with other players out of the blue isn’t as easy as some people may think. It’s unsettling and puts you out of your comfort zone.
“It was a difficult time and I already felt I was looking for a new career. I wasn’t in the right mindset and I wasn’t as hungry as I had been before, so that definitely reflected in my performances. I’m so grateful they got promoted because there’s some great people there.”
And there is no chance of seeing Sullivan play professional football again: “I’ve let that career go. I’m still staying in touch with it but it’s just from a distance.
“I don’t watch it and think that I wish I was still doing that. Not even an extra-ordinary amount of money could tempt me back.
“I just look back on my time in football and feel that I’m very privileged. Although I didn’t really achieve what I wanted, to the average person I still probably achieved a lot because there’s so many people out there who want to be a footballer.
“I look back and I made mistakes here and there and maybe I could have done better. But the reality is I played for some fantastic clubs and I’ve got some great memories. I met some amazing people, who I still stay in touch with, and I’ve got no regrets whatsoever.”
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