Tuesday 25 August ~

The news that Ipswich Town’s Shane Supple is to quit football is unlikely to register as a major story outside East Anglia and yet it should give some cause for thought. At 22, the FA Youth Cup-winning, Republic of Ireland Under-21 international goalkeeper has, he says, “fallen out of love” with football. After 38 first team games, plus a handful of loan appearances, Supple could not point to a single factor that influenced his decision, but recognised that the game was not what he thought it would be and his heart was no longer in it. He now plans to take a break back home in Ireland and consider his options.

Supple's rise through the ranks was unremarkable, having joined Ipswich straight from school. Doubtless, in some programme filler, he will have said that playing football for a living was a dream come true, that he was getting paid for doing something he loved and thriving on the dressing room banter. Roy Keane, expressing admiration for Supple’s “bravery”, commented that many players simply stay in the game irrespective of whether they continue to have a positive view of their career. In this context Supple’s decision is unusual.

Nevertheless, he isn’t the first player to realise that there is a life outside football and to abandon it out of choice. At one level the most notable example might be George Best, but he is in so many ways a special case. More prosaic is the case of Chris Hall, who quit to follow a career in acting after a few first team games in League One. The draw of parts in Hollyoaks, Spooks and Shameless was clearly stronger than that of a wet Wednesday evening in Hartlepool or at the New Den.

Both Supple and Hall left football before their careers had become established, but others have taken similar decisions when seemingly well set. Perhaps the best known was Peter Knowles. An established player with Wolves, and with every chance of going with England to Mexico to defend the World Cup, he left football to follow his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness. As Billy Bragg put it in his song God’s Footballer, he heard “the voices of angels above the choir at Molineux”, swapping “scoring goals on a Saturday” for saving “souls on a Sunday”.

Rory Allen became Portsmouth’s first £1 million player when signed from Spurs by Alan Ball in 1999. He managed just 15 appearances and three goals as a result of a succession of injuries to knees and ankles. Despite this, Harry Redknapp’s view at the start of the 2002 season was that all Allen needed was to “get fit and get some goals under his belt”. But Allen had a different view of what should come next and instead resigned to spend the next few months watching England’s 2002 Ashes tour in Australia. He brought little luck to the tourists who lost 4-1, but enjoyed it enormously. Asked to reflect on his decision to leave football a few years later he said he “missed the dressing room camaraderie sometimes, but not the football”. This seems a sad comment that stands starkly at odds with his former manager Alan Ball’s view of “a boy wide eyed about football”. Allen now works for the Foreign Office.

If others have had more powerful or obvious reasons to move on, Supple should be admired for his honesty in giving up a potentially lucrative career for the simple reason, to take him at face value, that he just doesn’t enjoy football anymore. Brian Simpson

Comments (8)
Comment by The Exploding Vole 2009-08-25 12:58:23

Where is Peter Knowles now?

Comment by Clance 2009-08-25 13:11:53

I'm surprised this kind of thing doesn't happen more often, especially when you consider how much pressure players are under at the top level.

OK, doctors and blah de blah are under far more immense pressure and get paid less and... blah, but it is worth noting that even though somebody may be a brilliant footballer, he or she may find it diffcult to adjust to the idea of playing the game in front of 60,000 people who will love you and hate you in equal measure, switching at the drop of a hat.

There are probably some very shy talents out there, undiscovered.

It's a big decision to quit though. I guess it's refreshing to find those pros not driven by money.

Comment by studavis 2009-08-25 14:39:08

Peter Knowles is still a Jehovahs Witness in Wolverhampton, still involved heavily in the church and can be seen out knocking doors from time to time. He rarely talks about his football days.

I know a lot of people see it through rose tinted spectacles, but the majority firmly believed that he could have been one of THE great English midfielders...

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2009-08-25 15:41:00

Thanks for that, studavis. I used to live in Wolverhampton, but after Peter had stopped playing.

Comment by Jon 2009-08-26 09:46:59

I've read that he works in the loading bay at Wolverhampton Marks and Spencer.

Can't verify if this is true or not though.

Comment by enzee199 2009-08-28 11:50:39

At first this seems almost incomprehensible, walking away from what is, for most of us, the realisation of our childhood dream. It certainly makes you think. Would it be much fun being an out-of-favour benchwarmer in League Two, but there are many who do at even a lower level, through wind, rain, injury, not to mention sacrificing family stability (even premier league players have been known to crash on a mates sofa when on loan, then there's the kids schools, partners job, family etc).

Comment by studavis 2009-09-05 18:42:15

Thought I would post this update about Peter Knowles - nice article:

Comment by studavis 2009-10-03 12:23:48

Some more interesting reading on Knowles, including a recent interview:

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