'I may have been laughed out of the bank if I had been a League of Ireland footballer looking for a mortgage'

Former Ipswich and Bohs goalkeeper Shane Supple on life after sport.

Shane Supple is a former Ipswich and Bohemians goalkeeper.
Shane Supple is a former Ipswich and Bohemians goalkeeper.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

SHANE SUPPLE IS part of a relatively rare contingent of footballers who have retired twice.

The first decision to quit, in August 2009, was made when he was just 22. He was a highly rated goalkeeper who had been part of an Ipswich team that won the FA Youth Cup in 2005, beating a Southampton side that included Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott.

“Playing professional football is not something I want to continue doing,” Supple told Ipswich’s website at the time.

“As you grow up, you realise there are other things in life, and to be honest, the game is not what I thought it was.”

On then-manager Roy Keane, he added: “He was a bit shocked when I told him and I expected that but he understood my reasons — he’s been first class.

“People probably think I’m crazy, but I’m not going to stay in the game for anyone else, I’m making this decision for myself.”

Speaking in the present, more than 10 years later, Supple elaborates on the reasons behind the unexpected move.

I can explain it now better than I would have in the past,” he tells The42. “It’s the industry and the nature of some of the people in the industry. How money-oriented and money-driven it is, and the types of people that it attracts. The lack of honesty and integrity in the game just didn’t sit well with me. They were the drivers behind my decision. I didn’t want to be part of that industry anymore. I love the game itself in its purest form, but when you bring money, business and other things into it, it can create a different beast altogether.”

Looking back, Supple has no regrets over the decision itself, though he does wish he had focused more on his education as a youngster.

“I would have looked into my education a bit more when I was over there and have something a bit more concrete or useful when I finished altogether,” he explains.

“When you come back and your mates have gone off to college and have their Leaving Cert and their degrees, it’s tricky. On that front, it was difficult to get back on the educational side of things, as well as to upskill.”

soccer-npower-football-league-championship-ipswich-town-v-nottingham-forest-portman-road Supple worked under Roy Keane at Ipswich. Source: Stephen Pond

Simply figuring out what he wanted to do next was another significant challenge for Supple, particularly given that he arrived back in an Ireland hit by recession.

“It was the worst possible time to be coming back, trying to get a job I suppose. It’s not too dissimilar to what’s going on at the moment. 

“What road I was going to go down — it was trying to figure that out. And you’re not maybe equipped to do that or have enough understanding maybe of where you fit in the real world as such, when all you wanted to do was play football.

“It was tricky enough navigating through that time initially, coming home. I wanted to join the guards, but there was a freeze on recruitment for five years from the time I got home, so that kind of put that on the backburner.

“I had to look into other areas. I went back to doing my Leaving Cert to get the qualifications to apply for the guards. Then I worked in the hospital for three or four years just to do something until I figured what I was going to do with the guards.”

Supple believes some of the problems he experienced were symptomatic of deeper issues within football. All too often, he believes, the cossetted lifestyle players live renders them ill-equipped for life after the game.

That was one thing I always tried to do, look after my own affairs financially. I think we get a bit mollycoddled and things are handed to us. Financial advisors and agents, people in the club helping you with houses, who get all those things sorted out with mortgages, which I’ve always tried to do myself as much as I could and get an understanding of how things work in the world, because I wanted to be independent. 

“A lot of the time, for players, it’s taken away from them and they trust other people, which they maybe shouldn’t in terms of agents and other people that they think are looking after them. But they’re actually only looking after their own interests.

“So that would be something I definitely noticed and I think has evolved even further in the game nowadays, when you look at some of the players that are there. It’s unfortunate that the independence is not there and they don’t necessarily want to have that or they’re not educated enough maybe to take that on.

“If you compare it to other sports like GAA or rugby, the lads are well capable of looking after themselves, or they’re more polished I suppose and comfortable in situations and around certain people than soccer people would be… That’s just the way the game is I suppose and the nature of the demographic within it. And again, it’s big business, so it’s a tricky one to take ownership of from time to time for players and if they’re not brought up a certain way.

“It is like that with a lot of players in terms of getting everything done for them. When it is gone, they’ve no structure on their day in terms of managing their own time and having the coping skills that are needed. So I just think preparing them for life after football, that doesn’t tend to happen at all really.”

shane-supple-lifts-the-trophy St.Brigid's' Shane Supple lifts the trophy after the Dublin Senior Football Championship final in 2011. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Supple continued to play sport when he returned home. In November 2011, he helped St Brigid’s win the Dublin Senior Football Championship and even had a stint on the panel for the Dublin GAA team, though the form of Stephen Cluxton ensured he was invariably restricted to a place on the substitutes’ bench at best.

“When I was back here, I was keen to get back down to the club and play down there and that was massive for me to have that and build a new identity.

“It opened up a couple of doors as well in terms of opportunities for work and that, because of the people involved with the club and the GAA.”

In 2015, Supple made the decision to return to football on a part-time basis. He had been doing some coaching and initially, linked up with Crumlin United “as a favour” and soon found himself “getting a taste for it”.

An FAI Intermediate title followed, as did a move to League of Ireland outfit Bohemians in the summer of 2016.

Of his reasons for returning, he adds: “Whether it’s sport or business or family, it’s important for me to be around good people that I can trust and would share similar beliefs with.”

This second stint as a footballer could hardly have gone much better. His impressive performances for Bohs saw him called up to Martin O’Neill’s Ireland squad in May 2018 for friendlies against France and USA, though a senior appearance narrowly eluded him.

His domestic success continued, however, as Supple was named Bohs’ Player of the Season for 2018, while also making that campaign’s PFAI Team of the Year. But then, another shock retirement announcement ensued. And this time, the decision was a reluctant one, as a recurring hip problem left him with little choice but to leave the game behind once again at 31.

Despite the sense of disappointment it prompted, the decision proved beneficial in the long term.

I felt the body was tired and it had kind of had enough of what it was being put through and it was obviously time for me to step away from it. I didn’t want that. I could have played a lot longer because of the position I was playing in as well.

“I would have tried to look after myself as best I could, but the hip just wasn’t right. Long term as well, for the quality of life, it was better for me to step away.

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“It opened up other doors for me that maybe wouldn’t have been opened. Playing in the League of Ireland, whether it’s going for a mortgage, a job or whatever, it’s quite difficult for players in those situations at times, because of the league and the financial situation of it.

“I’m in a position where I can get a mortgage, and that’s because of the career I have now, whereas I may have been laughed out of the bank if I had been a League of Ireland footballer looking for a mortgage for x amount. So it’s helped life kick on a little bit in that sense, whereas football would have held that back for another few years potentially. So there are pros and cons to [retiring early].”

shane-supple Supple spent two and a half years at Bohs before retiring. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

These days, Supple works for Executive Connections, a recruitment company based in Baggot Street, Dublin.

“It’s dealing with people and helping them find their dream job, so it’s something I enjoy doing,” he says.

Next week, he will host a career preparation webinar, in conjunction with the PFAI, for players from the SSE Airtricity League and Women’s National League entitled: ‘Second Career & CV Preparation’.

After playing, the players I would have played with, [a lot of them] don’t really have a plan, what direction they’re going to go. They’re just kind of living in the moment. So it’s kind of giving them a bit of help and advice, areas they can look at, and just some ideas really to help them figure out where they fit after football or during football, so they get a bit more of an understanding about themselves and what they value and what they’re passionate about. Just going after stuff in that space, whether it’s a degree or a job in that kind of area, how to go about it.”

On a related note, Supple believes more needs to be done when it comes to providing a pathway for young Irish players who return home from England after failing to make the cut at the elite level.

“There needs to be better structures put in place. I envisage it would come from the FAI in terms of those structures to support the players coming back.

“It’s happened with the likes of Bohs and what they’ve done for so many young players coming back from England, helping them get back into the game and building them back up again. They’ve done a great service to Irish football in that regard, as have other clubs.

“The PFAI are doing the best with what they have to work with as well, it’s about awareness with these things also.

“So I’d hope, with the new FAI coming in, there’ll potentially be a role there for someone to facilitate and support these lads when they’re coming back and while they’re over there as well.”

And while the challenges facing footballers seeking work outside of the game are significant, Supple says that experience in high-level sport can also be an advantage.

“If [employers] have an interest, it can help. People do want to chat to you and they want to hear about your experiences, get an idea of the person and what you’ve gone through.

“We’re a sport-mad country, so there are a lot of opportunities for guys out there who are coming from a sporting background with the skills that they have, in terms of working within a team and communication. And then you have the educational side to things, which can only enhance players’ opportunities.”

Athletes can book their ticket for the PFAI’s webinar series, which begins on 7 October, for free here.

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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