Geoff Horsfield is wearing scruffs, driving his van around Birmingham and, just as he did in his playing days, getting straight to the point.
From no-nonsense centre forward he now earns a living as maintenance man to homes housing dozens of residents from difficult backgrounds.
There are vulnerable adults, former homeless people and some with mental health issues, but Horsfield will be on call to unblock toilets or change lightbulbs, while always taking time for a cuppa and a chat.
It is not a typical post-playing career, but Horsfield, 43, a bricklayer before he cracked professional football, is in his element.
‘I did all my coaching under Micky Adams at Port Vale and became assistant manager but I fell out of love with it,’ he explains.
‘The aggression — that side I was known for — has come out of the game. I had a lot of contacts around the Sutton Coldfield area and started doing maintenance for them.
Then a friend put me in touch with Kathy McIlroy as she needed work doing in one of these houses where people had mental health issues.
‘Her husband said after two days, ‘No chance will he finish the week, an ex-footballer going into a house that’s so chaotic, with alcohol and drug misuse’. But I absolutely love the job.
‘I feel as I did three years ago. The job satisfaction — seeing these people happy — is tenfold to scoring at Villa Park. This can change their lives.’
Horsfield and McIlroy are now business partners, looking after 19 properties of between five and seven rooms in the Erdington area, owning some, renting or managing others.
As well as providing housing for people unable to live by themselves they also offer support, formal and informal, which is where the man who has a cult reputation at Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion comes in.
Horsfield scored in two derby wins for Birmingham over Aston Villa and also on the final day of West Brom’s 2004-05 ‘great escape’ season which kept them in the Premier League, but now he is happy to go along with jokes at his expense.
‘They’ll say, “You can’t have played football, you’re too fat”. I say, “All right, leave it alone!” I like a laugh with the residents because sometimes they are really down. They have had s*** cards dealt to them and life is hard. I try to bring a bit of enjoyment.’
We are inside his company’s latest property in need of attention. The floorboards are bare but Horsfield, in his plain-speaking Yorkshire accent, insists his team will get it to the smartly finished spec of their others in three weeks.
‘Sometimes if we see someone on the streets we’ll ask if they need somewhere to stop,’ Horsfield adds. ‘But a lot don’t want the board, believe it or not. No rules, no bills is all they know.’
Those who do sign up use government housing benefits but Horsfield does not want them trapped in a cycle of dependence and tries to help them find jobs and their own accommodation.
That is why, seven months ago, he formed the Geoff Horsfield Foundation and is aiming to raise funds for courses and days out to aid wellbeing. He hosted a charity comedy night with Brummie comic Joe Lycett performing for free, and is organising a celebrity poker night with former Blues midfielder Paul Devlin and Troy Deeney, the Birmingham-born Watford striker, having agreed to take part.
‘Housing benefit can be stopped if some go on courses, so it becomes a revolving door,’ says Horsfield. ‘They can get in a bubble of depression. I’d like to take them to Blackpool or help out with a football course or cooking class. They are isolated. The Foundation is to try to break the cycle so they’re not stuck here for the next 10 years.
‘We help them get job interviews, and work towards having a “normal” life, where they earn their own money and get their own place.’
Horsfield is tremendous company, shirking no questions, and the warmth he shows to the residents is clearly not put on. His Barnsley upbringing can explain much of this, as does his brush with cancer in 2008, when he had a testicle removed.
‘I’ve looked at life a lot different to when I was 36 and had cancer,’ he says. ‘I was lucky. I got it early and I didn’t have to have any radio or chemo. I am all clear.’
Horsfield is used to fronting up. ‘When I played for Halifax in the Conference, no matter if I’d been sent off or scored a hat-trick, I always went in the bar with the fans because I’d want their opinion. I did that at Fulham too
At Fulham Horsfield was a main part of the club’s journey back from the depths scoring 15 goals from 28 games as Fulham won the Second Division title by 14 clear points. Another 14 goals in the First/Championship division made him Fulham’s top scorer for the 99/00 season. However the arrival of Jean Tigana and then Louis Saha led to Horsfield moving on to Birmingham.