It’s been a long nine years and 47 games for Matt Spangher.
Just three games shy of his first milestone match, the shaggy-haired tall utility has played for clubs in three separate states since 2006 and endured all possible frustrations the game offers along the way.
Featured as part of Channel Seven’s #discovered series, Spangher was drafted to West Coast in 2005 but, following injuries and lack of opportunities, was delisted at the end of 2010 after 26 games across five years.
Now settled at his third AFL club, Hawthorn, the 193cm key position player admits his experiences in the west are some that still sit with him today.
“Like most boys who’ve experienced it, you don’t get much time to pack up your life and go over there,” Spangher says.
“The first thing I remember… Chris Judd comes up to me and says ‘Hi, I’m Chris.’ In my head I’m thinking, ‘of course, I know who you are.’
“It was a very strange moment, but I still remember it. Funnily enough my first kick at training was to him. It was a scrubber along the ground and I was just like ‘Oh God, that is not the greatest impression to start with’.”
Following the opening years of his AFL career, Spangher was sought after by the Hawks who invited the then 23-year-old to train at Waverley before the upcoming draft. But Spangher was snatched up by Sydney as a late selection.
His stint at the Swans was rather anti-climactic, managing only six matches in 2011 and failing to break into the premiership side in 2012. From there, Alastair Clarkson’s men came calling once more, and finally landed Spangher during the trade period.
“I’ve never been the most talented player… so I suppose all I can really do is put in 100 percent effort” – Matt Spangher
“[They were] a club I was really keen to get too. I had spoken to them before I got drafted and it’s the area I grew up in.
“Hawthorn was, in my eyes, the club I wanted to go to.”
At Hawthorn, the 26-year-old’s fortunes have improved significantly – if things go well, he could even be a premiership player within six weeks.
Mainly playing a role in defence, Spangher has played an equal career-high 11 games, while averaging a career-best 14 disposals and five marks per match in 2014. He is also ranked second at the club for one-percenters.
Somewhere along the journey, Spangher also developed into a cult-figure with the brown and gold faithful – thanks to his Jesus-like hair and hard-nosed attack on the ball.
“I suppose in a football sense, I’ve never been the most talented player. I’m not as quick as I’d like to be and certainly not as strong in some instances so I suppose all I can really do is put in 100 percent effort,” he says.
“I’m always trying to do too much and it’s probably something I’m still guilty of, where I feel like my body will fight through it if my mind’s willing.”
He’s suffered groin, shoulder and hamstring injuries at different stages throughout his career and Spangher knows it’s hindered his development as a player.
While he’s conceded things haven’t gone to plan, Spangher told aflplayers.com.au last year he’s still optimistic of playing a role for a club that will hopefully go a long way in September.
“I think when you first get drafted you have all these ideas about what being an AFL footballer is all about. After a few years in the system and a few setbacks you realise that your script is nowhere near what you intended and you change your perspective a bit,” he said.
“It’s not a negative or defeatist mentally, but it’s probably realistic – not everyone is destined for that 300 games, Brownlow and premiership career.
“Hawthorn was, in my eyes, the club I wanted to go to” – Spangher
“It sounds ridiculous but it’s taken me almost this long to understand the limitations in my body.
“Unfortunately, it’s probably too late for me to fulfill my potential in the AFL. It’s frustrating but I am probably lucky to still be in the system given the injuries I’ve had.”
Away from the field, Spangher is far more calculated in his decisions than on game-day, where his fearless attack on the ball has been the cause of a number of injuries.
He studies the language of his ancestry and is also completing a business degree during his days off – both out of respect for the woman who brought him into the world.
“I actually do Italian classes with mum on Wednesdays. She’s quick to pull me into line if something’s not going right,” he says.
“[She] would’ve killed me if I didn’t finish my university degree.”
It’s clear that Spangher is, above all else, a family man. He has proudly supported the AFL Players’ Association’s IDAHO campaign, which marks the day the World Health Organisation in 1990 declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. It’s an issue which is close to his and his sister Narelle’s, heart.
“My older sister’s gay. She and her partner are as close to me as anyone, so for me it was a very little way to say that I supported them as well as the cause itself,” Spanger explains.
“When the AFLPA asked for people to put a face to it and get involved, I was more than happy to.”
Read about Spangher’s journey to the AFL here.
Watch Jarryd Roughead’s #discovered video here.