Ipswich Town goalkeeper Shane Supple has stunned his club by quitting football with immediate effect. The Tractor Boys have agreed to end the 22-year-old’s contract by mutual consent following the young Irishman’s shock decision. Highly-rated Supple came through the Town academy and was part of the 2005 FA Youth Cup-winning side that beat a Southampton team containing Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale. The Republic of Ireland Under-21 international has said there were several factors that influenced his decision but, in essence, he had
Supple has thanked Ipswich manager Roy Keane for his understanding reaction towards his announcement, although the former Sunderland boss was understandably surprised when the young keeper first approached him: “He was a bit shocked when I told him and I expected that but he understood my reasons. He’s been first class,” Supple said of Keane. As yet, the manager has made no public comment on the issue but it is likely he will echo the sentiments of Ipswich’s chief executive Simon Clegg: “It’s obviously disappointing news for us but we respect Shane’s reasons for wanting a career change and we wish him every success for the future.”
The goalkeeper, who made 38 first team appearances for Ipswich and also spent time on loan with Falkirk and Oldham, is yet to make any decisions on where his future lies but has stated that it will not be in football. He is understood to be planning a return to his native Ireland to take time to consider his options with the help of his family. Supple had been understudy to Richard Wright since the experienced Englishman returned to Ipswich in 2008 and had found his opportunities limited, but he did feature last week in the Carling Cup against Shrewsbury, saving a shoot-out penalty. It is not clear whether his disillusionment with the game came from the lack of playing time but he has said it is not a sudden decision: “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long while. It’s obviously a big decision but I feel that playing professional football is not something I want to continue doing as a career.”
The wisdom of Supple’s decision is somewhat questionable considering the current economic climate. He has abandoned the luxury of a regular healthy wage from a job that many others can only dream of. Even if he has become tired of the day-to-day realities of being a professional footballer, the security offered to him by his contract with Ipswich Town is not to be taken lightly when making such a decision. Although Supple’s educational background is not known, the average footballer does not possess the same academic qualifications as many other people their age due to the necessity to focus on their footballing education at an early stage. Many football academies do provide opportunities for young apprentices to continue with their studies with regular attendance of college courses, but the chance to devote themselves to A Levels and University courses simply does not fit with the demands of making it as a professional player. This puts young adults that do not make the grade in football at a considerable disadvantage, and it is surprising that Supple has made this choice himself.
For footballers in the Premier League earning seven-figure yearly salaries, the need to worry about what to do once their short career comes to an end is not as important as it once was before the hyper-inflated remuneration of the modern game. The reality outside of the top flight is stark in contrast. Whilst even the wages in League Two would be considered comfortable in most other vocations, the majority of non-elite players simply can not afford to just collect their pension when they retire from the professional game. The reality for anyone at all but the biggest of Football League clubs is more akin to that of the pros of yesteryear for whom the end of their playing career meant the beginning of 30 more years of working in another industry. Supple is extremely unlikely to be in a position whereby he could retire from working and is not a famous enough name to be able to walk in to a comfortable punditry job. He will now be forced to join the millions of unemployed people struggling to find work.
Supple is by no means the first footballer to suddenly walk out on a career in the sport. Eric Cantona announced his retirement from the game at the end of the 1996/97 season, still shy of his 31st birthday. Cantona had just won a second successive Premier League title with Manchester United and was still at the peak of his ability when he made the decision to walk away to become an actor. He was replaced at Old Trafford by Teddy Sheringham, 52 days his senior, who went on to win the Treble with United – the England striker’s first major career honours.
Brazilian World Cup striker Adriano Leite Ribeiro quit the game suddenly whilst at Inter earlier this year to return to his homeland aged just 27, saying: “For now I’m quitting. I no longer find any joy in playing. I lost the want to train, I no longer want to play. I don’t want to return to Italy, I want to live in peace here in Brazil. I’m not sick, I only want to live here in Brazil tranquilly with my family.” He has since returned to play for Flamengo but at the time it seemed that the man known as The Emperor was serious about his decision, having suffered depression since the death of his father in 2004. Another player to make what proved to be a temporary retirement announcement was Argentine goalkeeper Carlos Roa, the man whose penalty save from David Batty eliminated England from the 1998 World Cup. Roa, a Seventh-day Adventist, believed that the world was about to come to an end and retired from football to devote his last days to Jesus. When the Apocalypse did not arrive, he put his gloves back on at Mallorca.
Whatever the reason for a footballer retiring early, whether it is through a loss of enjoyment for the game or more ludicrous-sounding reasons, it is always sad to see talent go to waste. Supple has clearly lost his passion for the sport where he made his name but he now faces, voluntarily, an uncertain future. One hopes that he finds a vocation that makes him contented but the real fear is that he ends up like so many other young talents that leave the game prematurely, struggling with the rest of society to make a living. In the current global economic crisis, the Irish goalkeeper may find this harder than he imagines and it would not be a surprise to see him back on a football field one day.