Iñigo Calderón is not your average footballer. For starters, the affable right back has a masters degree.
Brighton and Hove is a city which has fallen back in love with its football team. But there is more to the Albion than its first 11. Brighton and Hove Independent met first-team right back Iñigo Calderón to find out why the work being done in the community is just as important as footballing success.
Iñigo Calderón is not your average footballer. For starters, the affable right back has a masters degree in sport psychology. He is also a qualified teacher.
But, more than that, he is a player who believes passionately that the job of a footballer does not end at the final whistle or when the training balls are collected at the end of a session.
Since moving to Brighton back in 2010, Calderón has become a key figure in the club’s charitable wing, Albion in the Community (AITC), which engages with more than 50,000 people across Sussex every year.
Much of its work is targeted in areas of social and economic deprivation or health issues, spheres of life a world away from the existence of many professional footballers.
For Calderón, though, working with AITC represents a chance to give something back to the city which he has grown to love.
Speaking at the Albion’s new training complex, Calderón’s eyes light up when the conversation arrives at AITC. Pleasantries complete, he shifts to the edge of his seat and gets down to business, his passion for the charity immediately evident.
“It is important for the players to do things,” he says, “because we are in a great position. Kids listen to us more because we are football players.
“We have a lot of time in the week to do more than just play football, so it isn’t too much to ask for us to do stuff to help AITC.
“In Spain we do some stuff, but nothing to compare with what we do here. It was a surprise to find out how many people work with AITC.
“It is easy to be lazy and not do things, but once you have, you feel so good. It is always better when you give something than when you receive. Once you have done one thing you just want to do more.”
Calderón is far from alone among the Albion squad in helping AITC, but the softly-spoken Spaniard has become synonymous with the club’s community work. Ask anyone at AITC about his involvement and they will tell you he modestly underplays his role.
Where some footballers might be expected to turn up and answer some questions, Calderón will plan a two-hour session. And he never says no. In fact, he is often beating a path to the charity’s door to see what new schemes he can get involved with.
One particular success has been AITC’s Want to Work programme, which last year helped 46 jobseekers find employment. For Calderón, helping people to achieve positive outcomes is as rewarding as any clean-sheet or goal.
“I like doing the Want to Work programme,” he said. “In the beginning you feel a bit afraid to go there and talk to people, but afterwards it is good. If one person can take something from what I say, anything, even a little thing, that is more than enough for me.”
He has the same attitude towards encouraging youngsters to shun junk food (“If I can get just one child to go home and say 'Mum, I don’t want chips I just want a salad', I will feel so, so happy") and is surprisingly outspoken in his belief that top players should be doing more to exert a similar influence over their millions of fans.
“I would say it is embarrassing that footballers do not do enough,” he says, not pulling any verbal punches. “The top stars have the chance to change things, big things in the world if they want. They have massive power and they are not using it at all.
“Some players it is about more money and more money. For me it should be different. People are crazy about football. In England, we are crazy about football - but in other parts of the world it is more.They listen to these guys like they are more than God.
“It is about more than money. If Messi says 'Please, stop eating unhealthy food because it is not good for you', kids will listen.”
Not everything though comes easy to Calderón. He is the first to admit there are some things which he found daunting. A visit to local children's hospice Chestnut Tree House stands out. But, as he explained, it also proved to be one of the more uplifting experiences and something he got as much from as the children he was spending time with.
“When we go there and you are told what you are going to find, you think it is going to be a bad afternoon. You don’t want to go to see children dieing and families struggling, but after you arrive there you realise it is the opposite.
“There is great energy there. All the families try and enjoy every second. After that you go home and forget about any silly problems you have and try and enjoy your life.”
But why does Calderón make himself so readily-available to AITC?
“I just feel I have to do so. It should be part of players’ contracts that you do stuff for the community.
“Working with AITC has made me feel part of the community. I am very proud of the club, Brighton and its people.”
The feeling, Iñigo, is more than mutual.
For more information visit: www.albioninthecommunity.org.uk