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