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Matt Spangher – Playing the cards you are dealt

Matt Spangher’s football career began in the usual way.

Tall and athletic, Spangher played his junior football with Kew Rovers, graduated to the Eastern Ranges, attended Xavier College and represented Vic Metro before being drafted in the second round of the 2005 National Draft.

If the pathway to the AFL was a hand of poker, Spangher’s was strong; it was the royal flush. Like poker, in the AFL those with a strong hand don’t always walk away with the pot.

Spangher has played only 35 games in eight seasons. He has played at three clubs, in three different states and sat in the stands to watch three grand finals for two premierships. Sticking with the poker analogy, he hasn’t won many hands, but he is still sitting at the table.

After five injury interrupted years with the Eagles and two as depth with the Swans, Spangher finds himself with a two-year contract at the Hawks.

AFL 2013 Rd 08 - Hawthorn v GWS Giants

There have been times when he thought it was all over. Groin, shoulder and hamstring injuries have winged him at different stages – West Coast officially delisted Spangher at the end of 2010 – but his approach to football and life has kept him in the game when others might have folded.

Spangher acknowledged pretty quickly his career wasn’t going to script and his focus quickly shifted to trying to eek as much out of his body and the game as possible.

“I think when you first get drafted you have all these ideas about what being an AFL footballer is all about, but after a few years in the system and a few setbacks you realise that your script in nowhere near what you intended, you change your perspective a bit,” he says.

“Along the way your priorities change and instead of aiming to play 300 games it’s probably more about improving aspects of your game and enjoying where you are at and creating relationships and networking for later life.

“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.”


Spangher has two words to describe his AFL career to date; enjoyable and interrupted, but he believes simplicity and predictability have kept him in the system.

“I have a go – I don’t think there is anything special about my game – I am probably predictable to my teammates and my coaches most of the time… I’m pretty simple, pretty crash and bash.”

At the risk of using modern footy speak, the former star junior is a role player now –and he’s proud of it. While not complacent enough to be content with his bit, Spangher is comfortable in his own skin and his position within the industry. The Hawks recruited him for his versatility, he knows his role and he’s ready to step in and fill it when required.

He’s making a career of being the back-up plan.

“You certainly don’t become content, you do have pride in what you achieve, you can always do better and I think that extends beyond football,” he says.

“At the same time you’ve got to know your limitations. When you know that, you can adjust your training to help you improve and you are not putting as much pressure on yourself.”

He’s wiser now, when the younger Spangher would rush back from injury and then miss another three weeks, he now knows his body better.

“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.”

“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.”

Injuries aside, you might suggest Spangher has been unlucky. At every club he’s played at the competition for spots has been stiff. He was at the Eagles when they won the premiership in 2006, the Swans in 2012 and has arrived at the Hawks destined to go deep into September.

At the suggestion he might be playing regularly at a weaker club Spangher denies he would have it any other way.  He was at the Eagles in 2010 when they finished last and played eight games – the second most in a season in his career – but still wouldn’t trade team success “for the sake of clocking up games”.

“When you are around a club working feverishly to get out of a hole and no matter what they try they can’t, it is just the worst feeling.

“I still enjoy going to the club every day because at the moment the hawks are having a great season, the boys are up and about, it’s a great place to be. I could be wrong but I don’t think the clubs struggling to win at the moment would have that feeling Monday morning.”

While simplicity might be a key word when describing Matt Spangher the footballer there is nothing simple about Matt Spangher the person. He’s a deep thinker, but very balanced. He’s charismatic, but humble.

His ability to contribute to the team off the field has been another factor in the longevity of his three-club career; the Swans don’t bring just anyone into their system.

He has completed a business degree and works one-day a week with the AFL in game development; he plans on working in this field when he retires and possibly complete an MBA at some stage.

AFL 2011 2nd Semi Final - Hawthorn v Sydney

When the AFL Players’ Association put out a call for players to advocate for International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), Spangher was one of the first to put his hand up. He was standing up for what is right for society but also for his older sister Narelle, who is gay.

Narelle came out to Matt in 2001 and lives in Sydney with her partner, whom Spangher thinks of a like a third sister.

“I think it probably meant more to my sister than the general community and I take pride in that.”

“She sent me a text message saying she really appreciated it and she was proud of me. I know Brock McLean has been pretty public this year in a similar situation, I think it is really positive, the AFL as an industry shouldn’t shy away. We’ve comes so far with issues like racism so why not take the next step?”

Spangher has broken through for three games this year and did enough against Sydney last week to hold his spot for tonights qualifying final.

He continues to be at the ready for when Alistair Clarkson needs a versatile big man who can work with whatever cards he is dealt.