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The grass is not always greener – The Shane Supple Story

Shane Supple gave up a career that most young men would snatch at. However, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

On the 13th of August 2005 eighteen year old Shane Supple arrived in professional football as a first half substitute for Ipswich Town against Leicester City keeping a clean sheet. The future looked bright for a young man who had travelled across the Irish Sea to a town in Suffolk, England to pursue his dream of becoming a professional footballer. Eager to gain experience Supple had loan spells at both Falkirk and Oldham over the coming three seasons. Heralded as a long term successor to Irish goalkeeping great Shay Given, Supple was destined for a long, successful career in professional football.

However, disillusionment beckoned.

At the tender age of twenty two Shane Supple made a decision that on first instance most football fans find difficult to comprehend. Sat in front of Roy Keane, the then Ipswich Town manager, was a young man whose idealist views of what it was like to be a professional footballer never materialised.

From a young age Supple along with Darren Randolph, who’s now a permanent fixture in the Irish national squad, was earmarked to follow in the footsteps of Packie Bonner, Shay Given and Alan Kelly. With an abundance of goalkeeping talent and having signed a new contract with Ipswich Town, what made the young Irishman turn his back on the acclaim and financial rewards of professional football? The answer to that question is simply happiness.

The ambition, enthusiasm and determination of Ipswich Town’s youth team saw them lift the FA Youth Cup in 2005, beating a Southampton team which included Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale.  Upon reaching the holy shrine of the first team at eighteen, Supple found that his ambition and motivation wasn’t matched by his senior teammates. His will to win, his desire and his love of the game wasn’t matched by his Portman Road peers.

Here stood a young man who walked away from the opportunity to live out his dream, my dream, and your dream. Criticism and confusion surrounded Supple’s decision, but what is clear is that this young man possessed the ability to make a decision that a lot of people cannot grasp.

Should this young man be ridiculed or applauded for the decision he made? From one perspective he walked away from a life that most could only dream of, where financial worries are virtually non-existent and adulation is bestowed upon worthy performances. On the other hand, he marked his foray into professional football as a lesson learned and chose a new, more fitting path.

The game Supple, like most of us, grew to love wasn’t influenced by financial trappings, instead it was born from purer principles, a last ditch tackle by a hardnosed defender, a mesmerising dribble by an Argentinian attacker or a finger-tip save from a goalkeeping giant. Yet, upon reaching his goal of playing first team football Supple realised that the profession he dreamed of was dominated by financially motivated players eager to maintain their lifestyle.

We’re often quick to criticise the ‘mercenary’ footballer who admits his primary concern is earning money. Assou-Ekottu and Nakata are two players who have been labelled in such a way, however, in a sense their honesty is quite refreshing. Over the years we have become increasingly familiar with players proclaiming their loyalty to a club through a kiss of the club crest and their appreciation of supporters, only to see them repeat this gesture several months down the line after being tempted elsewhere by the lure of financial rewards.

A strong argument can be made that respect for the game is at all-time low, with players, managers, agents and owners all looking to capitalise for their own good. Our initial interest in football wasn’t the car a player drove or the amount of money he earned, it was the pride in which he wore his shirt and the desire he had to win. Supple has alluded to a care-free attitude amongst players who gave no concern to whether their own team won or lost. This attitude completely contradicted Supple’s view of how professional footballers should conduct themselves. An idealist view that most of us grew up with, and in recent times have come to regrettably abandon.

So, where is he now?

Who better to offer advice to impressionable youngsters on the potential perils and pitfalls of professional sport than a man who experienced the greed that threatens the purity of our sport? Supple now combines his work as a Soccer Consultant advising and nurturing talented youngsters with a near full time Gaelic football schedule for local club St. Brigids and 2011 All-Ireland champions Dublin.

Supple is a man who got to live his dream but abandoned it in the pursuit of happiness. His love and respect of the game acted as an impetus for his decision, a decision which should be applauded. Not everyone will agree with or understand his decision, but it’s a decision that should certainly be respected if only to appreciate the strength of character it took to walk away from a career that promised so much.

Pundit Arena, Ciaran Carr.

Featured Image By Just-an-Ipswich-fan at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.