Former footballer Brent Griffiths' journey has been met with ups and downs. (Photo: Supplied; Design by Theo Dimou)

In and amongst the fame and glory of a professional footballer are often met with the cold, hard reality of facing difficult challenges when least expected.

Football was always the desire for former A-League defender Brent Griffiths who played with the Perth Glory, Wellington Phoenix, and Central Coast Mariners as well as six different clubs throughout a hectic career.

Growing up with his older brother, Rostyn, the pair began their youth career in England with Blackburn Rovers in an attempt to kick-start promising futures in the game.

Experiencing the highs of claiming the A-League championship with the Mariners under Graham Arnold’s tenure to the lows of bouncing between clubs – one moment overseas triggered a lightbulb moment that would change the 33-year-old’s ambitions to chase a new life after sport.

Now plying his trade as a sales and leasing director at Realmark Commercial, the journey to find himself in that position took months of soul-searching.

In this next part of the Life After Sport series presented by The Inner Sanctum accompanied by careers coach Max Kalis, Griffiths hopes that his story can inspire athletes to take action early to set a post-retirement plan.

Q: How was your journey growing up around football in Australia?
A: My family and I immigrated to Australia in 1996 and my brother and I were told we couldn’t play football in Australia because it’s not played here.

I remember my brother and I were always keen footballers but didn’t have a local team until we found a club in Kingsley with our dad coaching the team because no one else was available.

There was an affiliation with Southampton in England where age groups would travel to play against each other with a contra-arrangement. It worked well and was ahead of its time because back then the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) was around but not as accessible.

The teams I was part of had similar age and demographic backgrounds, so a lot of players came through the system such as Rhys Williams and Nick Ward which spurred me on to realise that professional football was a real avenue.

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Q: What is your proudest moment when you reflect on your career?
A: It’s difficult to answer because different events have resonated, but most traditionally I would turn to being part of an A-League winning team and being coached by Graham Arnold was a cool experience.

My proudest and most fondest moment personally came when I was playing for Wellington Phoenix against my brother’s Central Coast Mariners, which was the first time we faced each other on the pitch at a professional level. I ended up on the losing end, but it was definitely a moment to cherish given the journey

Q: When the moment arrived to ponder about life after sport, where were you and how easy or difficult was that process?
A: I bring up my brother first because he’s two years older than me and lives and breathes football. I did as well at one stage, but he still has those same feelings and hasn’t thought about life after football and he’s 35 which I feel is a concern.

For me, I was always trying to look at whether to open a cafe or a gym with my brother to start a franchise because that business aspect always interested me to the point where I was reading educational books and seeking advice.

Throughout my life, I was never really keen on studying because nothing in particular struck me to pursue a passion. The moment when everything changed though was when I was playing in Malaysia where I was paid good money, I remember sitting there at one in the morning after training late due to Ramadan and essentially said to myself ‘What the hell am I doing?’ I didn’t have a partner, I couldn’t buy a car due to constantly moving around, so that was when I began to plan out post-career aspirations.

My catchphrase is that my aspirations were greater outside the game than to stay in it which was the wake-up call for me to explore options and see what I could find.

Q: When you were going through that transition phase of planning your next career path, were there any negative thoughts or doubts that crept in?
A: When I was going through that period, I knew it was time to look ahead. There was self-doubt about whether I would be a failure, and I must admit I turned to drinking and going out a lot on weekends to cope with the pressures I was feeling.

I took it as a blessing that I almost had to do that to feel as terrible as possible to the extent of saying ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ and I built myself out of those habits. That’s when I relied heavily on my sporting background and turned to simple things such as drinking water, stretching, going for a run, and sleeping at the right times – and to this day I still do.

It was about managing the process of feeling really bad, working myself up to a positive mindset, and as I feel better mentally and physically those negative voices seem to go away which can be challenging at times.

Q: What do non-athletes most often misunderstand about life as an athlete?
A: I think everyone thinks it is an amazing life filled with glitz and glamour, not realising the hard work and sacrifices it takes behind the scenes.

I was a lucky unlucky person in football, and I say that because I had a torturous career and I’m not sure how I played for as long as I did – lots of rejections, one-year contracts, and not much consistency. When I entered the real world after suffering from those obstacles, I received rejection almost every day of my job in the property market but I persisted in not giving up.

If I was a non-athlete, I would probably struggle to identify the different levels of playing the game with the daily challenges that sport presents both on and off the field.

Who were the people in your life who helped you prepare for life after sport?
A: Naturally it was my family and most notably my father whom I was very close. Although he didn’t necessarily help me in a professional athlete aspect, he did guide me through advice as did my mum.

My wife is someone who sympathised with my situation and she supported me in a long journey through the transition process which involved completing my MBA, real estate course, coaching, playing football, having a kid, and planning to get married.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I have always been good at calling people out of the blue and maintaining relationships and connections, so having those familiarities with people that I might have played with in the past assisted me because it made me realise the endless opportunities and ability to succeed in another career.

Q: What message would you send to your 18-year-old self?
A: Everything will work out as long as you stay true to yourself which ultimately I think I have throughout my life.

I didn’t know who I was at 18, but I do know who I am now – Brent the father, husband, and family man. Back then I thought I was Brent the footballer and everyone associated me with that tag, so I had to pretend that I was someone I wasn’t in the public eye – that restrained me from becoming a better footballer and person.

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