Category: Archive

Supple’s decision is not hard to fathom

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

They shouldn’t be. The reality of the footballer’s life is far removed from our perception of it. From the moment they sign on for English clubs, Irish boys become emigrants. Think about it. They catch planes instead of boats, bring football boots instead of steel toe-caps, and get paid better for less work than the navvies used to, but they are still heading away from home to a foreign country to work. Many of them even end up living in academy dorms, the modern football equivalent of the boarding houses of yore.
Of course, most of us have to leave Ireland at some point even if it’s temporarily. Hardly any of us have the guts or the need to go at 16, the age most of our best footballers depart. Imagine how difficult it is for them to arrive in a strange place and to quickly discover that, having been the best players in their home cities, they are now competing with dozens of others just as gifted as themselves. And they don’t have the luxury of going home to moan to their parents in the evening either.
From the moment they touch down, these children (for that is what many of them are) are treated like oversized babies. They are told where to be, what to eat, and what to do at all times of their daily lives. Even if it’s all done with the noble purpose of turning them into superstar footballers and potentially millionaires, it’s still a cloistered lifestyle that mightn’t suit somebody with any sort of individuality. Or, indeed, as the cynics might say, anybody with a brain.
The latter point is harsh yet relevant. The ability to make decisions and to think freely for themselves off the field is taken from these youngsters on day one. At the big clubs, they are even given media training so they can deliver the requisite platitudes when the Sky cameras are on them rather than to trust their instincts. They also forfeit their passports and many go through entire careers without ever learning how to check in at an airport and/or to book a flight. Inevitably, they become so used to every little thing being done for them at all times that the present generation of footballer is renowned for being utterly out of touch with society’s norms. Stories that illustrate the cluelessness of these players, a condition caused by the way the game treats them, are legion.
There’s the one about the agent having to do grocery shopping for his client because the player wasn’t sure of what to do in a supermarket. There’s the club where the manager discovered some of the younger players didn’t have driving licences, car tax or insurance for their (pounds)200,000 vehicles. Upon further investigation, he found out these men in their early 20s simply didn’t know such formalities were necessary. Why? Because nobody had told them so.
If the football world is a wonderful cocoon for many, it’s not for everybody. We forget that much when we glimpse the more glamorous aspects of the game on our television screens each weekend. It’s only when somebody like Shane Supple declares he’s fallen out of love with football and can’t pretend he wants to play anymore that we are forced to accept the reality may be different from how we perceive it to be.
“I think it is refreshing to read comments from Shane Supple that are honest and from the heart,” wrote former Ipswich Town defender Jason de Vos. “It isn’t often that we see someone express their thoughts with so much openness and integrity, despite the obvious backlash that will occur. We live in an age of badge-kissing players and false loyalty, and it isn’t often that we see a professional turn his back on money and fame to be true to his own beliefs.”
Think about what lay ahead for the Dubliner had he chosen to stay in England. It didn’t look like he was ever going to be first-choice at Portman Road so eventually he’d have to move. Where? A loan spell down the divisions for starters. Then, if he’s lucky, a permanent move. To Hartlepool United maybe? Scunthorpe? Wherever the club decided to sell him, he’d have to go. Not so glamorous now.
How many of us like being moved around like that in our own jobs? How many would fancy being told we have to swap bucolic Suffolk for some grim outpost in the north-east of England? How many would take a job knowing that we’d be switching locations at least four times in the next decade?
And all those moves around England and/or Scotland would have come to pass only if Supple was deemed worthy. The alternative to that is falling through the cracks of the game completely, something that happens to dozens of Irish kids every year, the ones we never read enough about in the papers. Fifteen seasoned Irish pros, including senior squad member Liam Miller, started the new season without clubs, unemployed footballers, victims of recessionary economics impacting managerial decisions.
Against that background, Supple choosing to restarting his second life sooner rather than later looks smart. He hooked up with the St. Brigid’s Gaelic football team last Tuesday night and he may play in the Dublin championship for them later this week. There are reports too that he’s planning to start training as a chef. More power to him on both legs of the journey.

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