What do they know of football, who only football know? Questions asked of retiring footballers (“So, coaching or the media?”)

In recent days, we have seen the announcements of the immediate or pending retirement of three fine players, Hayes, Maxwell and Cassisi, and doubtless the next few weeks they will be joined by many more.

All three played over 200 games for their clubs, were one-club players, all captains, with two saluting on Grand Final day and the other one going close twice, with a Norm Smith to boot.

In amongst all the platitudes and tributes though, a comment that came through in relation to the first two, and possibly about to be asked of the third, rang clear for me. These were questions all variations on a similar theme, asked of them or about them constantly following their announcements:

What next, Coaching or the media?

Are you interested in a role in the media? Do you see yourself as a coach? He’d be great as a special comments man? Will you be joining the club as an assistant coach? He’ll definitely coach somewhere.

I was struck by the view that this was where all players immediately go to. Yes, a quick look at the TV coverage, boundary riders, commentators, columnists or within the coaches’ box shows that this isn’t an unreasonable opinion.

But, nobody ever seems to ask, “So, are you going to get your travel agent’s licence now?”, “Are you going to open a green grocery?”, “Are you going to TAFE to get a trade?”

Likewise, few players seem to have a plan for beyond football, or at least one they are able to share upon retirement. Few say that they are going to complete their unfinished Uni degree, or become a builder or follow their dream to be a farmer/accountant/sales rep/policeman/teacher/butcher/doctor, etc.

It made me think of how clubs and the AFL prepare players for life after football or how players prepare themselves.

I know there is admirable work being done by both the AFL and the AFLPA on preparing players for life post-retirement, both financially and emotionally. I believe that a page has been taken from the US experience, where an astonishingly high percentage of ex-NFL players suffer depression or bankruptcy not long after finishing in the sport. NBA suffers a similar situation too.

So I worry about the fact that few players seem to know or have their plan ready for when they finish. Bear in mind the three I have mentioned chose to finish, and have had long careers. Many others are faced with the end of their dream and one stage of their life/career/high earning capacity, much earlier and often not of their choosing. They don’t get big press conferences when they finish.

We seem to get excited by the isolated examples of careers players have post-football or those who have careers or plans whilst playing. Wow, Leigh Colbert is now a pilot! Did you hear that Chris Dawes is actually studying law? Hey, that great charity is run by that ex-Essendon bloke Mark Bolton.

Being an AFL footballer in the modern game leaves little time for outside study or employment. And it is fair to say that with the earning capacity many of them have, well above the average for people their age, and with less education normally (at least at a tertiary level due to training commitments) there’s little interest or need to do so.

With the vast majority of the modern footballer population, this has been their home since they were 18 years old. And it’s full time.

However, if the view of football observers or the football media is that a player will naturally gravitate towards the media or coaching, it belies the fact that there are still few roles available in those fields. And that even fewer make it their career in either arena.

There has been debate recently about raising the age for players to be eligible to be drafted. Part of the thinking here is that it will give players at 18 years old the ability to concentrate better on their final year of school, instead of having the pressure of TAC football and draft camps whilst doing VCE. This at least would give them some base to return to should football not eventuate as a career, or if it does, when it eventually ends.

So why do we only see Lenny Hayes as a potential coach? Or Nick Maxwell as being a natural for Friday night on Channel 7. Maybe they both will, that could be their dream.

But I am intrigued by the small number of players who seem to be able to approach finishing and have a plan to look outside the norm, or their industry, and seek new opportunities. Or, have the skills to do so.

The irony is that the AFL athlete is becoming a full time professional yet his tenure in the game at the same time is probably becoming shorter.

There are enough stories of players who will say that their career dream was to play AFL. Or, that if they hadn’t made the AFL, then they would have fallen on hard times, like many of their colleagues as teenagers. AFL saves many people, sets many up and creates opportunities for people to be successful.

But, after that? When they are discarded or delisted. When they retire, unable to go on? When their bodies can’t do what they need it to do?

And when the income stops? Not to mention the attention, regimen and mateship. They can’t all become coaches or work in the media.

What’s next?

What do they know of football, who only football know?

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Dr Goatboat says

    The Adelaide model seems to have worked well over quite a period of time….get into a pub! From Peter Darley, Jimmy Dean, Teaser, Bob Shearman, more recently the Roo dog….and so it goes….was extended to umpires, witness KG Cunningham, and even Test Cricketers, e.g. Timmy May…..
    The back- up was proven to be the used car arena….the Phillis boys, Kenny Eustace…..
    Yes, no shortage of career opportunities in the cIty of churches..

  2. even Dom Cassisi, as an example, has earned more than I will in my whole life. Add the contacts and associated kudos and, I have to (possibly with envy) admit to feeling no associated responsibility to ex-players and their prospects…the life of Riley indeed!

  3. aussie80s says

    At least Juddy will be OK, he is already the Blues’ environmental planning manager. He knows how to separate his recyclables from his compost and considering that such a job pays $250K a year he will be set up for life.

  4. Dr Goatboat, pls add Kevin McCarthy’s stint at the Holdy to your list.

  5. Rick Kane says

    Michael Tuck, plumber, still running his business out of Berwick. You can have the fame and a ‘normal’ life. Cheers

  6. Paddy O'Peace says

    Footballers like the rest of us have a myriard of options open to them post playing careers. We are privileged & blessed to be living in Australia where possibilities are unlimited and dreams can be realised.

  7. E.regnans says

    I’m with you Paddy.
    I reckon it’s similar for former footballers as for us others walking the earth.

    Opportunities turn up for some, not for others.
    But even then, the same opportunity offered to two people would have different end-results. Movitations and interests differentiate people.
    Life circumstances, luck, race, religion, family, etc etc. all play a part.

    From my limited understanding, many opportunities are afforded today’s professional footballing youth. But that old saying about the horse and the leading and the water and the drinking still applies.

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Sean is correct in that there are a lot of run of the mill players who when cut at the age of 23 or so do have to find out what the real world is about and are starting in general from behind the 8 ball re career path and depression is a huge concern
    While football is full time in general guys can study to some extent with the chances offered evolving re on line etc improving , hopefully clubs are being responsible and continually going thru the options available with all there players and also educating and explaining in detail the chances in being on a afl list re networking and what possible career opportunities this can lead 2
    ( hopefully all clubs are concerned about there players re life and there well being hmmm ! ) small point yes , Cassisi has captained , Port but not to a flag thanks , Sean good subject

  9. daniel flesch says

    Perhaps a sign of the times , Rick Kane : while Michael Tuck returned to plumbing post -football , i read recently Jordan Lewis has given up his plumbing apprenticeship in favour of studies in …football coaching.

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