‘I’d give back my medals to have had a 9–5 job’

Jon Pollock
Jon Pollock

SAY the phrase “Paralympic legacy” to Jon Pollock and he’ll roll his eyes, shake his head and a look of discomfort will cross his face.

It’s sad and depressing but for Jon, one of very few to represent the borough in the 2012 games, all the celebrations and back-slapping about the positive knock-on effect of the Olympics and Paralympics are farcical.

Jon Pollock

Jon Pollock

“I don’t believe in it,” says the wheelchair basketball star. “I don’t believe in the Olympic legacy, Paralympic legacy or London legacy.

“I think they knew they were saying it before it happened. It’s just something someone can write to a sponsor and say they’re attached to it but what is this legacy?”

But just why does Pollock have such a bitter taste in his mouth?

This summer marks the two year anniversary of the games and also the same milestone since the 37-year-old retired from a sport in which he gave blood, sweat and tears.

Since then though, he has found it impossible to get a job. Eager and desperate to work, the father-of-one has received rejection after rejection.

The barriers into work are immeasurable with no firm willing to let him know exactly why someone who is so dedicated put themselves to hard work is not good enough.

That is just one side of the problem though; what hurts Pollock just as much is the lack of support from a federation which he did so much for in a 20-year career.

“I blame the wheelchair basketball association,” he said. “They’ve done absolutely nothing to help me when I did so much for them.

“They had a game against Canada in Worcester and I went down for a presentation and they gave me a basketball.

“That was for 20 years of my life and that was it and I went out the door.

“In 2002, when we went to the World Cup in Japan, if we didn’t reach the final we’d lose funding and we made the final which was a huge ask and I was voted the best player in the world that year.

“I didn’t just give them 20 years, in 2004 if we hadn’t have medalled we would have lost funding and in the bronze medal game I hit 34 points and we won.

“In 2008, if we didn’t medal we’d have lost funding and I had the tournament of my life and we got the bronze.

“Through all those things I’ve helped the association keep their funding and the people who are there at an elite level are no only there due to the funding.”

Pollock is determined to get a simple 9-5 job but for whatever reason he is unable to.

He had a good life as a player, earning enough to look after himself while playing in countries such as Spain, Italy in Australia but never enough to save for the future.

“I retired after London and since then I’m not entitled to benefits because lottery funding isn’t taxable,” he explained. “So when I go and apply for a job, the woman in the job centre said I should do charity work. But that doesn’t pay the bills.

“I would absolutely love to just settle into a routine job and earn money for my family, it’s all I want.

“I’m involved in charities and I enjoy that but it doesn’t pay the bills, it’s charitable and that’s the whole point of it.

“The job centre have been absolutely useless. To find out that after 20 years of working since school that my stamp hasn’t been paid and I’ve no contributions so I’m not entitled to claim for anything, I’ve lived off my family and the money that I’ve had since I retired. If it wasn’t for my mum and dad, I wouldn’t have survived.

So just why can’t Pollock, a dedicated professional of more than 20 years, find a job when he is so desperate to?

Is it because of a lack of work experience? That’s hard to believe when you look at his dedication to one career over two decades and where that has taken him.

Or, as the Pemberton father believes, is his Spina Bifida which confines him to a wheelchair the biggest barrier of the lot.

“Recently the government said they would want to make more jobs available for the disabled.

“Even when I left school there were certain businesses that had to take on people who were disabled.

“I know Asda take on a lot of people who are disabled but there are so many that have slipped through and don’t do it.

“The world still has blinkers on in my opinion, people just see a chair and think I’m an invalid, you can tell with the way a lot act around me.

“I send off my CV and nothing comes back. What I don’t like about the world of job hunting is nothing comes back, they don’t tell you if you’re successful.

“Another thing I don’t like is that just because I’ve had 20 years in sport, do I have to have a job in sport? I wouldn’t mind if someone put me behind a surveillance camera desk.

“It might sound boring to some but I’ve been around the world so many times on a plane that even just a little job in Wigan would be perfect for me.

“Even going online is a minefield now. Going on a job application thing, the first thing you have to select is your speciality and there is no such thing as an athlete.”

The whole issue has had a huge effect on Pollock who was once such a happy, outgoing and positive person.

He now admits to a huge battle with depression that he can’t see ending because of his constant battle to find something which most take for granted.

The sad thing is that if he could, he would scrap his brilliant career in the click of his fingers if it meant he could have a steady career.

“I wouldn’t have done it,” he insisted.

“If I could take these tattoos off reminding me where I’ve been, I’d give back all my Olympic medals to have had a 9-5 job for the past 20 years, I’d do it.

“Just because of how depression has set in, how at the moment I sleep three hours a night.

“Sometimes I sleep on the couch so I don’t disturb my girlfriend because I’m so restless.

“I’ve given everything I have to my career and now I just feel like I’ve been tossed on the scrap heap. I don’t think I’m owed a living at all, I want to work and I want the opportunity everyone else would have.

“If I’d given two decades of service to anything else, I’d be fine but disability sport is just not recognised as a career it seems.”