Former West Ham apprentice Bobby Barnes has said receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of East London was like coming home.

“I was brought up in Leytonstone and I travel very regularly to City Airport and drive past the campus every day, he said.

“UEL opens up opportunities for Higher Education to people of all backgrounds, and that is the message to young people – that regardless of your background, if you have the desire and the motivation and the work ethic, you can achieve those dreams.”

Barnes began his football career with West Ham in 1981, going on to play for teams that included Scunthorpe United, Bournemouth and Hong Kong’s UhisportRangers.

It is not his 16 year football career that he was given the honour for though – it was for his work looking after the interests of footballers off the pitch in his role as Professional Footballers Association (PFA) deputy chief executive.

He said: “People think that when a footballer retires he is going to go off into the sunset, to play golf and sail his yacht. But the reality is that for a lot of footballers, when they retire, they have to go back into the workplace and find another profession.

“I studied business when I was a young footballer, and when I came to the latter part of my career I studied financial services. So my first step into work in the real world was in the financial services industry.”

After he was approached by former player Brendon Batson, who was running the financial arm of the PFA, he joined as a financial consultant, advising players how they could best invest their money.

After moving up the ranks to his current role, he is now responsible for the London office, working across all areas of the company including equalities, education and charity.

The university’s School of Health Sports and Bioscience awarded Barnes the merit at a graduation ceremony on Monday, November 16, in the Indigo At The O2.