The demise of fledging A-League side North Queensland Fury impacted more than many imagined. Former Fury defender-turned-journalist Beau Busch reveals that for many players, it resulted in the end of their careers...

Bill Shankly may have been extreme when he said “they say Football’s a matter of life and death – but it’s more important than that,” however for many former North Queensland Fury players the death of their club has resulted in a very different life.

On 1 March 2011, FFA announced it was no longer willing to continue to fund the Fury and the club would fold with immediate effect. FFA CEO Ben Buckley stated that the Fury had been unable to raise the $1.5 million required to ensure its survival, and they were no longer willing to keep funding the club at the expense of the league. After a difficult season for the A-League competition Buckley said: “We need to concentrate our resources on the growth, promotion and stability of the entire A-League competition and this level of investment would prevent us from undertaking programs to achieve this.”

Whilst the wisdom of the decision can be debated, the effect it has had on many of the Fury’s former playing squad is clear. For the majority of the 23 players signed on full-time contracts throughout the 2010-2011 season their lives have changed dramatically. Seven were able to move to new A-League clubs to continue their careers. Some are now plying their trade in Asia, lower European leagues or state leagues, and some are no longer playing at all. Simon Storey and Dyron Daal are playing in Asia, while imports Mark Hughes, Andre Killian and Eugene Sspeuya have returned to play in Europe after their season in the A-League. The remaining 12 of the Fury’s 23-man squad have not had the same opportunity to continue their careers as professional footballers. For four of them football is no longer an option and they have retired from the sport, whilst the remaining eight seek an avenue back into professional football.

With opportunities in the A-League limited, seven returned to state league competitions across the country in the hope of attracting the attention of A-League or Asian clubs, while import Eric Akoto returned to the United Kingdom where he has been unable to secure a new club.

One of the eight players desperately trying to get back into full-time football, Chris Grossman, says the chances of getting into another A-League club were always likely to be slim. “The Fury died without a lot of warning and there weren’t many leagues open at the time. Options in the A-League were tough as most teams already had their rosters pretty much full,” he says.

Grossman, who is now trying to secure a club in Asia, says the decision is still affecting him now and he has found it extremely difficult to move on after the death of the Fury. “It was a massive let down. I’m still hurting from it now. You work so hard to achieve things in the game and it just feels like it was all taken away. I had come from the Roar, where I wasn’t getting to play much, to the Fury where I played regularly and I felt like I was only just getting where I wanted.”

Moves to Asia have fallen through just as they were close to being agreed in what has seemed like a constant waiting game for the midfielder. “I am hopeful of getting back playing, you go through a lot of things and speak to agents and you have leads but they can fall over so quickly, which has been hard.”

Like Grossman, Panni Nikas was hopeful of a swift return to professional football, but so far this has not eventuated. The former National Youth League Player of the Year, returned to the NSW Premier League after the demise of the Fury. Since his return to Sydney he has thrown himself into his studies and has had a successful season, with his team Sutherland finishing third in the NSWPL, but he is unsure of his next move.

“I am not up to anything football-wise at the moment. The state league season is over, I am trying to squeeze something out but I’m not sure whether anything will come up, so I’ve been concentrating on my studies.” While he has been eager to move on from the Fury, Nikas says it has not been easy. “I probably didn’t understand what impact it would have on mine and other peoples’ lives, especially the older boys with families. I just thought everything was going to be alright, but two to three months later I think about the effect it has had on them, and it has been difficult.”

For former Fury attacker Jason Spagnuolo the death of the Fury signalled the end of his time as a professional footballer. After what he described as a difficult two seasons with the Fury, Spagnuolo decided it was time to move into a new field. Now working as a real estate agent back in his home city of Adelaide, Spagnuolo says the uncertainty that had surrounded the club had made his time in North Queensland difficult. “I really enjoyed Townsville but the football was never good to be honest, it was a battle on the pitch and off it. After the difficult times up there I am really enjoying just working, it is structured and I am happy to be in this type of environment.”

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