From the football jungle to the jungles of Belize

What do footballers do next? Andy Hunt played for clubs including Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion, and Charlton Athletic. He subsequently moved to Belize with his wife, former MTV VJ Simone Angel, where they opened the Jungle Dome, creating bespoke adventure tourism packages for great people. You can connect with Andy on LinkedIn and find out more about the Jungle Dome here.

When football finishes, you have to have the ability to adapt. it’s like a light, the switch goes off, everything changes and it happens almost immediately. My retirement was enforced, really, because of ill health. I had to stop playing because I got chronic fatigue syndrome, glandular fever which I played through, didn’t rest enough and it hit me sort of twice as hard when it came back. I had to retire.

I’d been to college and worked before professional football. I can really sympathise for players who get selected into the academies at a young age who were perhaps built up to be superstars.

Their whole friends, family, everyone’s like, oh my God, you play for such and such. That’s great while it’s happening, but when it finishes, and it can finish at any time, if that’s everything that you’re all in for, you really have no other skills.

My pathway to professional football was rare, but that’s the way life worked out for me. I had a more ‘normal’ upbringing; school/college, then I had to start work. I worked for a pensions company for two years just before I turned pro. Understanding finance was key for me because when I started to make money at football, I was immediately thinking how to save and invest.

Planning for the future

When I was at West Bromwich Albion I initiated courses with Bournville College for some of our players and while living in Belize I set up a program whereby players could further their educations, either in the USA through football scholarships or assisting players to get into higher education within the country.

I meet so many ex-players in difficulties and it’s tough to see because these were friends and colleagues who I spent a lot of time with. I was recently back at West Brom because because one of our former players passed away and we were sharing our stories of our post-football careers.

Football can be such a difficult sport because you get put on a pedestal for so long and then as soon as you’re taken off it, that really is it. And that’s difficult for people to deal with, no matter who you are.

What do footballers do next? Head to Belize! My wife and I always loved adventure holidays. When I retired from football we went to Belize on a bit of a whim but ended up buying a house out there. It was a bit of a leap of faith!

Life in the jungle

We sold our house in London and moved out there in 2001. We were quite happy to enjoy the quiet times because we’d both had demanding and very public careers. My wife had been a VJ for MTV for a similar time as I’d been a footballer. And we decided, you know what? Let’s try something else.

Initially, it wasn’t going to be a hotel. We started fixing up the house, put in a pool, and neighbours were asking to come and use the pool, which was a bit weird at first but we got on with it! We’d had our first child, then the second came along. People would use the pool, and want a drink, so we started serving guests; then the guest rooms started to get used, then it just snowballed and we took the decision that we would do this ourselves.

We’d had a few years on our own, the batteries had recharged so we thought, why not turn this into a business? We rolled into it and went on to do it for 20 years!

It worked primarily because we’re both sociable people, and between us we have skills that, when you put them together, make for a decent partnership.

Simone gets on with people and she can tell stories all day long – which is exactly what you need to be a VJ. She was really good at all of that and I was good at the behind the scenes, the organisation and planning so between us, I think we put something pretty good together.

The power of human connections

One of the highlights of this sector is that you get to meet people from all kinds of backgrounds. We met US college athletes who’d come down on their break and I used to train them. We met all kinds of professors and scientists. It was just fascinating, sitting at the table, listening to some of the stories that people had. We were actually watching a satellite launch once on TV, which blew up, and one of the guests said, “that’s my satellite”. We got to meet some strange people, but interesting people, and it was great fun.

My background in football and Simone’s background as a VJ meant that we were always prepared. In both those professions, you can’t make excuses, you have to perform, irrespective of the challenges you face.

And those were the skills we took into running the Jungle Dome. Every day we were juggling guests, staff, itineraries, tour companies, and we just clicked into gear to prepare and make sure it all happened, in the way it was intended to.

The other thing we did well was talking to the guests, which again probably came from our previous careers. Whether it was in the changing room with the team, or getting ready to go on air, and managing guests, for Simone. We used to spend time with every guest, talk to them and make sure that they were okay. And I think people really like that. We live in a world where people seem to be very disconnected. Even when you check in to a hotel nowadays, you barely even see anybody. Everything is keyless, paid in advance and you don’t talk to anybody. But because we were small, we used that personal side of it better: we realized people wanted to talk and connect. We didn’t plan it like that, but me and Simone were both okay at doing this and people really liked it.

Andy now lives in Amsterdam, working as a Football Scout and managing the Jungle Dome remotely. To find out more how LAPS helps footballers choose what to do next, click here.