Player Column – Nick Suban Round 8

Friday, September 4, 2020 - 6:18 PM by Nick Suban

LOOKING back to my last year at Freo, in hindsight you can see that the writing was probably on the wall but when you are in the actual situation and you have high hopes of still playing AFL footy, and sticking around at the club that you love, you kind of don’t think about it in that way. 

But I was actually pretty lucky in terms of that last year because I still played 12 games including 10 in-a-row to finish so the conversation I had with my management was about not being sure what was happening and waiting until the end of the year to see how it all was shaping up, and then make a decision from there. So when you look back and you think about it, the writing was on the wall but when I was playing those last 10 games I couldn’t help but think I was a chance to go on. 

I still wasn’t naïve and I knew that it was probably pretty unlikely I would be back the next year, but I still had hopes of being able to contribute. I felt like I was getting played out of position a little bit too so I felt if I got another pre-season in and got fitter, and got back to playing my normal position instead of up forward then I thought I could make the most of that one more chance. 

That was kind of my mindset at the time and I thought if I could get one more year and see how it goes, but in saying that in the back of my head I had a bad feeling I was being played out of position and felt like every little thing I did wrong was amplified by the coach. So you felt in the bad books and the writing was on the wall, but you only really see that in hindsight.

I certainly was still hoping things would turnaround but in saying that I did kind of know it would be my last year at Freo and then after the season I did look elsewhere to other clubs. I got some other offers but when you want to try and play at another club and move, you would have to play at a high level to get that chance and I probably wasn’t as consistent or performing as well as I would have liked. Those conversations pretty much dried up and a few did say they were interested dropped away even though GWS were the ones that stayed interested.

I had a meeting with their coach Leon Cameron and then footy manager Wayne Campbell, and actually got offered a rookie contract to join them. But basically I had to make a decision if I took that up and grind out another year or two in the AFL on not great rookie wage money and potentially be playing reserves footy because they were had an exciting, talented list. Then to move my young family to a city where we don’t know anyone so I had to make that decision and obviously I decided to stay in Perth and get a job, and play my footy with South Fremantle.

Because the AFL is such a highly scrutinised industry, people might read this and think I'm kidding myself, but I honestly think if I went down that path at GWS I think I could have kept contributing at AFL level. I still had that belief but it was more about being 27 or 28 and I'd just had a young child, and being an AFL footballer means that your family's life resolves around you. The partners and family members kind of get pushed aside so for me it was about if I wanted to put my wife and family through this massive move which was all about me.

They would be alone in Sydney not knowing anyone so in my mind I will always think I could have continued to play a role at an AFL club for these last couple of years I've been playing at Souths, but it was more about the off-field stuff with the family that I had to weigh up. 

There's an old saying that everyone in the AFL industry regardless of who you are always ends up getting fired and sacked, so it was only a matter of time for me and I had been delisted so I could either take it on the chin after 156 games and move on to the next phase, or do I try and dig out another couple of years. I made that decision for the family and what was best for us to move forward, and start our next phase of life and get on with that a bit quicker.

To be honest, it's pretty difficult moving onto that next phase. I literally left home when I was 18 and I had just finished school, done my exams and then a month later I was drafted to Fremantle, and moved everything I owned over to Perth. I didn’t have any sort of experience of working any jobs because I never had time. I went to boarding school from Years 10 to 12 and previous to that I used to travel up on a bus an hour a day. My time was all taken up by school, footy and coming home so I never had time to get a job when I was growing up and then I was straight into the AFL system.

So it was a challenge once I was delisted to think about what to do. I didn’t have any degrees or anything like that even though I'd done a few courses and bits and pieces, but i had no idea what to do. But I was lucky through networks and people I know that someone offered me a role where they trained me up in insurance broking to see how I'd go. They couldn’t guarantee me anything, but they wanted to give me a try and I decided to give that a go to see if I liked it but it was quite a challenging time because I had no experience or qualifications behind me in the real world.

I do feel for guys who are coming out of AFL footy because it's tough to start your new life. Looking back now, I think if you could have the perfect career it would almost be better to get drafted as a 21-year-old and have those couple of years before going into the AFL to get out and do some work or study, and figure out what you want to do outside of footy. If Gil McLachlan asked me what the perfect model was, I would definitely say being drafted at 20 or 21 and give the kids a chance after school to get some life experience would set players up better for life after footy for sure.

I feel lucky to be in the same role that I started when I left footy. I'm still in insurance broking at the same company, Unity Insurance Brokers in Osborne Park, and I'm really enjoying it. I've got no doubt that if you ask my boss he would say that Nick tries really hard and is giving it his all. But I wouldn’t lie it is challenging because all I've ever wanted to do is play footy. When that gets taken away and you have to find something else, you have to find another drive and passion, and it's quite challenging. It's hard, I have no shame in saying that but I am enjoying and it's a new challenge every day.

The juggling act of my life is certainly challenging now too. I work from 8.30 to 5 most days but I am lucky that on training days I get to leave a little bit earlier. It is challenging, though, in terms of I'm not the fittest guy naturally and staying in shape can be a challenge because I probably am carrying a bit of extra weight than I should be. But at the end of the day, it's just what you have to do to be a WAFL player. 

You have to juggle your work commitments and your family time, but I'm pretty lucky that my wife is really good and she understands that footy won't last forever and I want to try to play for as long as I can. Whether that's another year or two, I'm not sure but she is really good with the kids. But when I do get some nights off or on a Sunday, it's great to spend time with the family and give her a bit of a chop out.