These days you cannot move for former footballers loitering on the streets of the fourth estate.
Whether it’s Lawrenson yawning his way through an FA Cup replay, Souness snarling at Spurs or Brazil asking about Bob’s health, these people are part of our footballing diet and consumption.

Olé-ing Ole, clapping Klopp’s ‘press’, questioning Pep’s quadruple, the sport has never been blessed with so many ex-pros exchanging clichés, chipping in with expertise and explaining why VAR is good, bad or ugly.

Rob Hulse, however, has no intention of joining them.

The one-time Albion man is as articulate and insightful as his former Crewe pals Danny Murphy (MOTD2 and talkSPORT) and Dean Ashton (talkSPORT) but the media circuit isn’t for our ex-striker.

These days Hulse starts his days early, finishes those days late and, somewhere in between, he’s helping people recover from life-changing experiences.

He currently works as an outpatients physio at Russells Hall hospital in Dudley.

And he doesn’t miss football one bit.

Hulse remains a valued member of Albion’s more recent alumni. Amid the flurry of promotions in the 2000s, Hulse’s contribution was notable, scoring 13 goals in 35 starts during the promotion season of 2003/04.

Sadly, his spell at Albion was blighted by injuries.

And while he looks back on his time at The Hawthorns with pride and joy – “I laugh when I think of the characters we had in the dressing room” – the 39-year-old has no regrets about leaving football behind.

“I always knew that when I retired I’d want out of football – I wanted to do something different,” he said.

“When I was at Crewe I got injured with a spinal injury. It was touch and go whether I’d play again at one point. I spent a lot of time with the physio and actually went and studied psychology thinking I wouldn’t get into professional football but, at least, would have a decent career elsewhere.

“But it improved and from there on I stuck with football and enjoyed a decent career… but, after that, it was always my intention to become a physio when I finished playing.

“When I finally retired at 34 I just wanted a complete break from football. I wanted something totally different. No disrespect or offence to anyone else – we are all different in what we want from life – but I didn’t want to be that bloke sat in a pub going on about my football career.

“Yes, I miss it but I wanted to cut my ties and I don’t regret it.

“I have two girls. They’re not interested in football. It’s all ballet, gymnastics, horse riding.  And my wife knows nothing about football so I could always come home and switch off when I was a player.

“I didn’t have to talk football and that was what I was used to. Some people struggle with retirement – it’s a loss for them – but for me it was a new start, an opportunity to do something different.”

Many ex-professionals find life after football a curious leap into unknown territory.
Which is why the more articulate end up swapping their boots for a microphone.

Not Hulse.

He enrolled onto a physiotherapy course at Salford University, enjoyed a placement at Leicestershire County Cricket Club, before taking up a role at Russells Hall.

Besides, football can seem a fairly glib and frivolous landscape when, say, you’re helping an amputee through the initial stages of his or her rehabilitation.

“You have to earn your stripes as a physio so you go through the various areas and departments, expanding your experience and knowledge,” he added.

“You see different people, work on different wards. I’m on outpatients now but I had spent time with amputees which was incredible. Russells Hall is the hub for amputees in the Black Country and it involved working with people who have had prosthetic limbs and are coming to terms with life-changing injuries. Helping them to walk again from the very start following surgery and being part of that journey with them is immensely rewarding.

“I’m with outpatients now so I work with those who have had trauma. Every day you’re making a difference to people’s lives.

“I’m a big believer in the NHS, it’s amazing and, sadly, I think it’s been deliberately and chronically underfunded for too long, but that’s another story…

“The NHS is one of our biggest success stories – it’s a brilliant institution we should all be proud of. It’s a privilege to be part of this service.”

Hulse scored six goals in his first seven games for Gary Megson’s promotion-bound side following his £750,000 arrival from Crewe in 2003.

He later played for Leeds, Sheffield United, Derby before completing his career with a mini tour of the capital at QPR, Charlton and Millwall – kicking a ball for the final time in 2013.

“I loved my time at Albion,” he added.

“I went from a small club at Crewe, my home town club, where nobody shouted at you, even after defeats… to a big, proper football club and a manager who did shout at you – sometimes even after we won!

“It was a big culture shock and a growing-up period but I look back on it now and have good memories. I got off to a flier, which helped, and we ended up going up, which was brilliant.

“Scoring a goal is fantastic but to help someone back onto their feet, especially an amputee, walking again is something else. It’s a wonderful thing to be part of.

“Maybe one day I’ll return to football. But, right now, I don’t miss it – I love what I do way too much.”

32 thoughts on “by Chris Lepkowski”

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