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'I always felt sorry for the fans. They would never realise what is going on behind the scenes'

Former Ipswich goalkeeper Shane Supple discusses why he is back in football with Bohemians after quitting the game in 2009.

IT’S OVER SEVEN years since Shane Supple made the decision to walk away from professional football at the tender age of 22. For thousands of aspiring young Irish footballers, that decision would be incomprehensible.

It is not hard to see why; the game is full of hard luck stories from players who failed to make the grade. There are only so many prized golden tickets and Supple tossed his away – or so it may seem.

It was back in 2009 when the goalkeeper asked if he could prematurely end his contract with Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town in the Championship and step away from football.

Having become so disheartened by the self-serving characters in the game, Supple felt for his own happiness, it was preferable to return to recession-hit Dublin rather than play with players that had no interest in the club they were paid to represent.

But to the surprise of many people, he is back in the game with League of Ireland side Bohemians, having joined the club in June and has already agreed to extend his stay for the 2017 season.

“People will always think that I made a mistake, I will always have that,” Supple tells The42. “That’s life. That is what people will think. That’s their choice and their opinion, but I don’t care – that doesn’t bother me.

“I want to play for me – nobody else. It was my decision. It is something I wanted to try again and see where I end up.

Brian Gartland and Dane Massey battle against Shane Supple Supple will remain at Dalymount Park for at least another season. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I wanted to get out of the game when I left Ipswich. It wasn’t for me at the time and I’m glad I did. I don’t have any regrets. Obviously, people will say he’s gone back, he must regret that decision – I don’t. I believe things happen for a reason and I’m back playing for some reason or another – but I’m enjoying it.”

Supple, who also runs a goalkeeping academy, says he previously had no intention of returning to the sport. But late last year he felt duty-bound to help out Leinster Senior League side Crumlin United when they were short of goalkeepers as they were allowing Supple’s academy to utilise their facilities.

“Going to play for Crumlin in October last year was the big step really. I felt obliged to help the club, to be honest, so I did. From there, I started to enjoy football again and I decided to stay on.

“I was playing Gaelic with St Brigid’s at the same time, we were starting back pre-season, and I felt I could manage both of them. There was no pressure to attend training, they just needed me for the games.

“I enjoyed myself there and had some success winning the FAI Intermediate Cup. Offers started to come in then and I felt I wanted to try it again at a higher level.”

Shane Supple makes his debut Supple has launched a new online goalkeeping store 4thepitch.ie. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Several League of Ireland clubs chased Supple’s signature but Bohs manager Keith Long was the most persuasive. And since his move to Dalymount Park, Supple has gone on to replace Dean Delany as the club’s first-choice.

“Keith was on to me for a good bit before I signed, but I wanted to see out the rest of the season with Crumlin. I decided to go with Bohs in the end; I liked what Keith had to stay.

“For me it was all about getting in and playing games to see what I was like at that level. I managed to do that and I was happy with how I performed.

“It was definitely an easy decision to stay on for next season. I like the place, and especially the manager, who has been very good to me and very accommodating.

“Other clubs weren’t allowing me to play GAA at the same time, so that helped me make my decision. It’s a great club and the fans have been brilliant to me too.

Shane Supple goes on the attack Supple played for both Bohs and Brigids towards the end of last season. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“The atmosphere in the dressing room in Bohs is good. They are a good bunch of lads. I think they really want to play for each other. I’m really happy with that – that’s a good sign for me.

“It doesn’t take a lot in this league to create a good atmosphere in the dressing room and that could reflect on the pitch with the results.

“Before you know it you could be in the top four, competing in Europe. You just don’t know, look at the success Dundalk have had.”

As a youngster, Supple had a host of the top British clubs chasing his signature including Celtic, Everton, Southampton and the club he supported as a boy, Aston Villa.

“I got the opportunity to train with Peter Schmeichel when I was over on trial with Villa. They say never meet your heroes, and they are dead right,” Supple jokes. “He was very arrogant. I was only 14 or 15 at the time, and he was very dismissive. He was a great goalkeeper, but as a person, he’s not for me.

“In the end, I chose Ipswich because they had a really good coaching setup, they were located in a nice area and had good people around the club too. I thought it was a great opportunity and they had a good reputation of producing young lads.”

Supple enjoyed great success with Ipswich at underage level and helped the side claim only their third FA Youth Cup, and their first in 30 years, when they beat Southampton over two legs in the final.

The Home Farm graduate, who was already training with the reserves and the first team at the time, excelled over the two legs and lifted the trophy in front of a home crowd of 14,889 after winning the tie 3-2 in extra time.

The Southampton squad was littered with fresh faced-stars of today’s game including Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana and Gareth Bale, although the Welshman failed to feature in the final.

But it was two strikers, both of whom would go on to become Ireland internationals, that got on the scoresheet for the Saints in the first-leg with David McGoldrick converting from the spot before Leon Best ensured the game finished all-square after Cork-born midfielder Cathal Lordan scored twice for Ipswich.

Supple had already been living in England for seven years by the time he quit the game, and missing home was never a factor in his decision to leave Ipswich.

“I don’t think I was ever homesick,” he recalls. “I went over at 15, there was never any issue, and that is probably the time you’d have homesickness.”

Soccer - FA Youth Cup - Final - Second Leg - Ipswich Town v Southampton - Portman Road Ipswich won their first FA Youth Cup in 30 years in 2005. Source: EMPICS Sport

When the former Ireland U21 international made the breakthrough into the first-team squad at Ipswich in the 2004-05 season as a 17-year-old, he was tipped by many to be the long-term successor to Shay Given in the Ireland goal. But the culture within football had Supple questioning his future in the game.

“I had doubts for three or four years. It probably started when I was promoted to the first team. There was stuff going on that had me thinking, Jesus, I’m not sure this is what I want.

“Sunderland and Wigan got promoted to the Premier League that season and we just missed out and finished third. I was thinking we still have a chance to get promoted to the Premier League through the play-offs; surely we are all going to be fighting for the same thing.

“But some of the lads were complaining that they had to play for an extra three or four weeks and that they were going to miss out on holidays, and that they’d have a shorter break.

“Other players were worried that they wouldn’t get a contract extension for the following season if the club got promoted.

“I was surprised at what I was seeing around the place. That’s when the doubts started creeping in my mind, I wasn’t sure this is what I signed up for. It was probably a bit of naivety on my part.”

Ipswich would go on to lose to West Ham in the play-off semi-final 4-2 on aggregate, after drawing the first-leg 2-2 at Upton Park, with the Hammers sealing a returning to the top flight by beating Preston in the final.

Supple, however, would go on to make his senior debut in the Championship at the start of the following season and just three months after his 18th birthday.

The then-Ipswich manager Joe Royle summoned the young shot-stopper from the bench to replace the injured Lewis Price and the goalkeeper helped his side keep a clean sheet for the remaining 65 minutes at Leicester City.

Supple went on to make a further 33 league appearances for the Tractor Boys over a four-year period, with the club aiming to develop him into the future number one.

But not even the allure of lifelong financial security from the hundreds of thousands or potentially millions on offer could tempt Supple into changing his mind.

“I could have stayed over there and picked up my wages. I do believe I could have made a decent living for myself over there but it was never about that. I had to get more out of it really.

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Championship - Leicester City v Ipswich Town - Walkers Stadium Supple on his debut against Leicester City, Source: PA Archive/PA Images

“I’m not judging anybody. I know lads over there and they’ve barely 20 appearances to their name and I don’t know how they can look back on their careers when you’ve just sat around the whole time.

“That’s their decision, but that wouldn’t be for me either.

“I said when I came home that I fell out of love with the game. I genuinely thought I had, but it wasn’t, it was the people. I felt there were too many people ready to knife you.”

In 2008, a year before he quit the game, Supple asked the club to be sent out on loan, firstly to Falkirk then to Oldham, to test if what he was seeing at Ipswich was widespread in British football. Those temporary spells away from the club just confirmed what Supple already had believed.

“I forced the manager to send me on loan because I wasn’t happy at Ipswich and wanted to see if the culture was different elsewhere,” Supple explains.

“But it was the same during my loan spells. I always felt sorry for the fans. They would never realise what is going on behind the scenes.

“I’m sure they’d love to know. I could imagine how they would feel to know that some of their players don’t care for their club.

“It really didn’t matter to them. It could have been any badge on the jersey. It wouldn’t really make a difference. You just knew players didn’t care if the team won on a Saturday. They still got their wages at the end of the week or at the end of the month.

“Coming from my background in the GAA as well and knowing how much the team means and how much the club means, I found that very hard to cope with.

“Everybody was out for themselves. They are looking out what’s next for them. I don’t think many lads see themselves at any club long-term really. For me, I couldn’t get my head around it.

“But you’d see lads perform if the game is live on TV or you’d see players who are coming to the end of their contract towards the end of the season, suddenly turn it on for the last 10 games. And you’re thinking where was this guy earlier?”

Current Ireland assistant Keane was the Ipswich manager at the time of Supple’s departure from the Suffolk club, but the Dubliner is clear that the arrival of the former Manchester United captain did not lead to his decision to leave the club, despite reports to the contrary at the time.

In fact, Supple had just signed a new contract earlier that June, two months after Keane’s arrival.

And although Keane was shocked by the decision, which came just nine days after he saved a penalty in his last appearance, a shoot-out victory over Shrewsbury in the League Cup, he understood his motives.

Supple though was able to see first-hand the problems the Corkman was facing in his last role as manager, with Keane getting sacked just 17 months later.

“It was difficult for Roy but the way he managed the situation didn’t help. He probably would say it wasn’t the best way to go about it.

“There were some stories coming from Sunderland, but you have to give him a chance. I don’t think the squad did that.

Soccer - npower Football League Championship - Ipswich Town v Nottingham Forest - Portman Road In 2011, Ipswich sacked Keane after less than two years in charge, as the club suffered seven defeats in nine games, leaving the side in 19th place in the Championship. Source: Stephen Pond

“We were in the Championship; it wasn’t like we were in the Premier League. The quality and mentality of the players was quite different, and I think he found that difficult to understand.

“A lot of players were afraid of Roy and I think that is the way he managed – whether he knew it or not.

“You’d see some players go out and the pitch, and to be fair, some of the lads were afraid of their lives to do something wrong. He was tough on the players, and he’d let you know if you weren’t performing.

“It was probably more mental than physical. After the games, he would have a go. He wouldn’t hold back.

“The standards he set were very high. The players he had just didn’t have those standards. It was frustrating for him more than anything else. They weren’t putting the effort in.

“A lot of it was down to fear and I don’t think he realised what he was doing to some of the lads – the effect he was having on them.

“Some would be afraid to look at him directly in the dressing room because they were afraid to catch his eye. That’s the way it was with him.

“I personally never had any problems with Roy, as such. I liked him to an extent. But I thought he did go over the top sometimes.

“The odd time he would throw in personal comments. He’d know what players had been up to, places they go and people they hang around with outside of the game and I thought that just wasn’t the right thing to do.

“How can you have a personal dig at a player in the changing room and expect them to go out and play for you? I thought that was another reason why they are not going out and performing. Nobody likes to get slaughtered personally.”

From his time across the Irish sea, Supple is not surprised to see English players with so much potential continue to fail on the international stage.

“I think the money with the English players, especially the young lads, has really had a negative effect. You look at their results in the Euros and the World Cups, I’m just not sure the right mentality is there.

Soccer - Carling Cup - Quarter Final - Ipswich Town v West Bromwich Albion - Portman Road Supple says Keane understood his desire to leave the club. Source: EMPICS Sport

“You see some of the players coming through the academy’s from age eight and everything is done for them. Some of them get very big money early on in their career and they’ve achieved nothing in the game.

“They think they are entitled to everything and I suppose there is a lack of respect there too. I think it’s a real issue.”

On his return to Ireland, Supple says he wasted no time reviving his Gaelic football career with Brigid’s as he aimed to get some normality back in his life.

“I was back straight away. I think I was there that next night. I had a quick meeting with a couple of the lads I knew from my time there as a child and had a good chat with them, and got straight back into it.

“I don’t think people were cautious around me. I can appreciate why people couldn’t understand the decision, because really, who in their right mind would give up a career like that?

“But it was good for me. There was a lot of speculation and interest around me at that time about packing in football, but I just wanted to get down there and play GAA, and just not think about the situation. It acted as a release for me, I suppose.

“I was just trying to find my way again, really.”

Supple then decided to complete his Leaving Cert, but his plan to join the Gardaí was scuppered due to the force’s recruitment freeze amid the country’s economic crisis. A spell working as a physio’s assistant followed at the Mater Hospital before the opportunity to work in a sport management company arose.

His fine form for Bridget’s helped the Blanchardstown-based side to the Dublin Senior Football Championship in 2011 and led to his involvement with the All-Ireland winning Dublin side in 2013.

But a lack of playing time coupled with increasing work commitments led to Supple taking a step back from the inter-county setup.

“I wanted to see what would happen and get around the setup. When I went in, I knew I probably wasn’t going to play with Stephen Cluxton there.

“He is a massive player for Dublin and there were work commitments there too. I wasn’t going to get a look in and I wanted to play.

Shane Supple The goalkeeper was part of Dublin's 2013 All-Ireland winning squad. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“There was a massive difference between my time with Dublin and Ipswich. With Dublin the lads took complete responsibility. It was their team. They owned it and Jim Gavin allowed them to do that. There would be no messing. Every training session everyone would be on it.

“It’s obviously difficult to get into the Dublin starting line-up, everybody wants to be there. The A v B teams were absolutely savage.

“They were better than any Leinster Championship match we got that year. I’m not saying the management had an easy job, but it was player-driven, definitely.

“But there is no doubt about it, the demands are getting too much. I never trained as hard in my life as a professional in England as I did with Dublin that year. What was expected of us was unbelievable. Having said that, I did enjoy it. I would have enjoyed it even more if I was playing.”

“To ask players to do that year after year after year, it’s no surprise to see players retiring at 28 or 29 at that level of inter-county football. I think the training was a bit much but everybody seems to be doing it. Players need to keep up, teams need to keep up.”

Supple’s focus is now firmly with Bohemians, but he also has one eye on the future having set up a new business, 4ThePitch, an online store which supplies equipment for goalkeepers across different codes, and Supple sees himself possibly staying in the game when he hangs up his gloves.

“Some players want to get back across the water when they come back to Ireland, but there should be somebody giving them options, whether that’s getting a trade or going to college. And that is something I’d love to do long-term.

“Agents have a bad name. Of course, you need to make money but I think there should be a role, whether it is created by the FAI, that look after these lads, to have a mentor. That somebody is going to be there and give a shit about them. I don’t think there are proper structures in place when players come back here.

“I’m still only 29 so for a goalkeeper, I could potentially have another 10 years depending how well I look after the body, but I want to play for as long as I can now.

A return to English football in the future, however, is not in Supple’s plans.

“I want to play as long as I can but I think that’s going to be in the League of Ireland. Even if anybody was interested, I can’t see it happening.

“I’m happy now.”

4ThePitch.ie is Ireland’s newest online goalkeeper store stocking some of Europe’s top goalkeeping brands. 

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