Archie Gerald Thompson is one of Australia’s most popular and liked former heroes of football. His cheeky smile, love of life and incredible goal-scoring feats inspired fans across the country for over 20 years.
However, after retiring in 2016 following a stellar club career here, in Europe and with the national team, the striker was faced with the prospect of life away from the fame and adulation.
Off the pitch, Archie has an ambassador role with Melbourne Victory and is involved in the ALDI Mini Roos program and is a regular pundit for Fox Sports’ Football. He’s also a supporter of the Movember Men’s Health campaign.
Since his emotional final match with his beloved Victory, the 90-goal striker from the A-League has continued to kick a ball in the lower leagues.
A brief stint with NPL club Heidelberg was followed earlier this year by a homecoming of sorts, signing with newly formed NPL outfit Murray United in the border area of Albury-Wodonga, where he began his football odyssey.
Here, in his own words, the now 39-year-old opens up about how he is approaching the second half of his life, and why it can be challenging even for him to adapt to a life without the structure of professional football and the adulation of fans.
ARCHIE, IN HIS OWN WORDS...
You have your moments.
That worry of what’ll happen in the future is always there.
But if you’ve got good people around you and a lot of help - and that’s key, help - it makes the transition easier.
One thing I’ve found hard - and I’m still trying to learn - is being able to structure your day.
We’re in a unique business as a professional footballer - everything is mapped out for you. Then suddenly ‘bang’ it’s cut when you’re retired.
Okay how do I structure my time in the day now? That’s the question.
Because I’ve been 20 years in a football set up when it’s all mapped out for you and suddenly, ‘here you go, you’re not in the spotlight anymore. Fend for yourself’.
I don’t still cope well. It’s a learning process. But I reckon I’m one of the lucky ones.
Because of the name we’ve created, there’s relatively few of us who been able to transition somewhat easily... however, many seep through the system, those who didn’t have a big name.
But it can happen to anyone. Star players or a squad player, across the board any player who retires, that’s when the depression stuff can happen. Not just those players who’ve made it. It’s across the board.
Many find life after professional football hard to deal with. That’s when you start to fight and struggle with your thoughts. And that’s probably why some people end up going the way they go.
It’s the pressure, they feel lonely and there’s no help.
There was that Wallabies player earlier this year... it’s sad. This stuff needs to be talked about.
There’s not enough structure or help to transition, in my opinion.
I know in our sport we talk about it lot with ex-players.
There are a lot of programs they could be part of to learn about getting back into the reality of life.
If you keep your mind busy and you’re not always dwelling on what’s going to happen and worrying about what’ll happen in the future, that’s important.
In my case, I played for Heidelberg in the NPL straight after the A-League - and it’s probably something I should never have done.
There was a level drop and the professionalism of it was like, ‘what the hell am I doing here?’, rather than enjoying it for what it is and giving back.
I’ve still got to get my head around that because I still love the game and still in good enough shape to play at that level.
And it was my sister who spoke to me – she’s got plenty of wisdom, I reckon, and is one of my biggest fans following me everywhere – and she said, ‘Archie you’ve got nothing to prove. You’ve achieved everything you could achieve and now it’s about bringing back that kid in you who just loves playing football on a Sunday and enjoying it again.’
Look, it’s a lot easier said than done. I harp on about Nick Kyrgios, and I’m not putting myself on the same level, but I can understand why maybe he loses his head a little.
We all know how talented he is, but something will distract him and suddenly ‘click’ it’s hard to get yourself back. I can totally understand.
When I play at a lower level to the A-League my head can go. There are times when I’ve felt I should be subbed off.
With Victory nine times out of 10, I’d make a run and I’d know the ball would be delivered. But when it doesn’t happen at NPL level, the frustration comes in and you ask yourself the question, ‘what am I doing here?’
But then you kind of forget why you’re there.
And after the game being with the guys you see them with a smile on their faces and you realise you’re helping by being there.
I reckon I’m very lucky that I’ve had the support of Melbourne Victory. I’ve earned my ambassadorial role and it’s a two-year gig which helps me with my transition.
I just feel there needs to be more investment in helping players transition from playing to life after the game.
We’ve got so many programs that I feel ex-players could do that role.
We should be able to transition players into coaching or have schemes where they go out into the community and it keeps them busy.
And that’s the biggest issue - keeping your mind busy.
Ex players and current players, we talk about it a lot. About transitioning, and we talk about PFA trying to sort something out with FFA but it never seems to get done.
I still have moments when I think about life ahead and go, ‘oh shit’.
Everyone has those moments, though, don’t they?