On The Reverse Stick podcast episode 34, we caught up with former Kookaburra, Olympic Gold Medallist and 2003 FiH Junior Player of the Year, Grant Schubert. Grant had just returned from a brief sporting visit to Pakistan as a member of a World XI, where he played alongside a host of former international players from around the globe.
To kick things off, we asked Grant where his Hockey journey began.
“I grew up in a small country town called Loxton, in South Australia which is about 2 and a half hours east of Adelaide on the River Murray, a beautiful area of five country towns that all have about 7000 people and sport in each town is huge. I started there as a 9-year-old, my brother played and I followed in his footsteps. He was a goalkeeper, so it was only honest of me that I become a striker. And I could pad him up in the back yard and just crack some balls at him. I don’t think I was going to be anything other than a striker with him being a goalkeeper and just went from there. I suppose like most guys they progress and make representative teams, state teams and trials and things just progressed from there. I shifted to Adelaide, after school in ’98 and was part of SASI and was in Adelaide for a few years before I made the development squad, just outside the 24 of the Aussie guys in 2002 and decided it was best for me to pack up my bags and travel across the Nullarbor with the old man in my VL Commodore and settle here in Perth”.
Although we learned that Hockey wasn’t always his only sporting focus
“I played a lot of sports all the way through my high school days. Through the summertime I was playing Basketball and a little bit of cricket, but not a lot. I loved playing Basketball and I really thank my days of playing Basketball because I think it really gave me that spacial awareness in tight spaces. You get to see those little gaps and I think that really served me well being a centre striker, up front inside the circle, just being able to pick those passes”.
Grant also played some AFL in high school and his father was a footy umpire, so you would think that would have been a natural route to take. However, his brother had suffered consecutive collar bone breaks and followed Doctors orders to find a different sport.
“That’s where Hockey took off for me. I trained with my Brother for a year before I started playing and went from there”.
As Grant’s game developed, so did the pressure of balancing studies and seeking a higher level of Hockey.
“There was a period going through year 12 that was pretty tough because I was travelling to and from Loxton and Adelaide to play in the top division there every weekend, that I almost gave it away. I’m very happy that I didn’t, who knows where the footy career might have gone also”.
Fast forward to 2017, following a stellar 8-year international career and 98 goals for the Kookaburra’s. Grant was contacted by his former coach and international umpire Don Prior.
“He was getting inducted in to the Hall of Fame there in Pakistan” and so the prospect of Grant representing a World XI in Pakistan came about. “I think Don saw that I was doing a few runs on Facebook and then asked if I was fit and interested and passed my details on to Rob Lathouwers who was organising it in Holland. One thing led to another, did a bit of research, obviously with the safety that everybody always talks about and decided it was good and headed over. It was a lot of fun – a different experience, it was really awesome to go over there and play and meet a few people and play with some of the old guys I used to play against”.
International sport has sadly not featured in Pakistan since the 2009 militant attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, but 9 years on a rejuvenated Pakistan Hockey Federation want to bring the big games back to home soil. What were Grant’s impressions landing in a country that had been starved of top flight Hockey for so long.
“We got greeted straight away by the guys that were organising it, they shipped us through, so we missed a lot of the media circus. We rocked up with Juan Escarre from Spain who is just a legend and my first couple of years of international Hockey was playing against Juan, just amazing, I think he was in his early 30’s then and just carving it up. So, to go and play with him and meet him at the airport after so many years was really good”.
But the media wouldn’t let them get away with it that easily, they were keen to promote the arrival of international players.
“I think it really hit when we had our first media conference in Karachi at the stadium, just before we went out for a run, for a bit of a train and to meet everyone and I reckon there would have been 50 to 100 media personnel with cameras there. The whole of the room was just choc-a-bloc and the same happened in Lahore, so the amount of media attention that this small tour received was quite outstanding and nothing that you would get here in Australia, I don’t think even with AFL or any of the big sports.”
So, what does it look like for a team of former international stars getting together for the first time and training?
“We literally had one training session, some of the guys flew in the day of the training session or even late the night before the first game. We played a 4 on 5 mini game, the day before the first game in Karachi and then a few of the guys arrived that night. None of us had ever, being a world team, had played together before, there’s probably 8 or 9 guys there that I used to play against back in the day, quality players like Rob Reckers & Santi Frexia, Phil Burrows, David Alegre, but they’ve had a few months off like myself but (we) were actually just ready to rip and get back in to it again. So, the first game was always going to be fine, it was always going to be that second game that I think that most of the old blokes pulled up a little bit sore”.
Was it a release to be able to play ‘instinctive hockey’ unshackled from the boundaries of team rules and regulations?
“It was, it was always going to be interesting chucking 2 or 3 players from different countries together, but as I said, they are all real quality players. The 1st quarter we played against the Pakistan, basically an under 19 team, they were actually really good quality young players and they recently played I think at the U18 Australian Championships in Hobart which they won. So they had plenty of pace, just like most India and Pakistan kids do, so we got run around the traps for the first quarter, they scored a goal and we’d try to play like them the first quarter and Juan Escarre says “come on guys, you’re all a bit older, we just need to hang on to this pill a bit”, so we worked in to the game and the third quarter we just held on to the ball and I suppose the young guys didn’t really didn’t know what to do and we just held quality possession and took our chances in the circle. We came away and won that game 5-1”.
Pakistan decided late on that the games would not feature the full national team, we asked Grant what did he make of the decision to select so many of the young Pakistan players?
“It was quite interesting I thought. We only found out it was going to be this under 19 team when we were over there. We had heard along the lines that it probably wouldn’t be the full Pakistan team because they wanted to blood, so to speak, a couple of those younger players coming into the Commonwealth Games very soon. To find out it was going to be that younger team was sort of good for us old boys because we know we probably had the experience, not so much the legs, but the experience, because I think there is no doubt that if we played the full Pakistan team that the score line would have been much different. It was a really good hit out and I think it was a good mix between different styles of hockey. They were very, like those Asian countries, they were very run and gun and similar to the Aussie style, but the Europeans are quite different, holding on to the ball a little bit more and possessing it, then probably making more opportunities up front. It was good fun, I think a few of the guys would love to have played against a few more older Pakistan players and I think that also might have drawn in the crowd a bit more, I think the numbers of the crowds were a little bit down because it was the under 19 team. They’ve started somewhere and I think that’s what they need to do”.
Grant also had this message for Pakistan Hockey lovers.
“They just need to stick around it, the best thing for them is that hopefully one day they can see the Green shirts playing back at home again. There’s nothing like young kids watching their idols”.
“They just need professional sport to be played in their country again, whether it’s Cricket or Hockey, that’s all they want, they just want sport to come back to their country and play. When we were over there everyone was coming up to us and would say thank you so much for coming to Pakistan and thanks for coming here and bringing Hockey back. That’s just got to lift everyone’s spirit if that happens back in Pakistan and hopefully the world can come together and help to bring sport back there. Everyone knows that sport makes everyone happy and it can only be good”.
Of course, the games everyone always thinks about when Pakistan are mentioned are the clashes with neighbouring rivals India.
“I remember my first trip away with the Kookaburra’s to the Champions Trophy in Amsterdam in 2003, there was an India v Pakistan game then and I think the score was 6-5 to India, it was amazing scenes there and there was probably 7000-8000 Pakistan and Indian supporters on the other side of the field and it just felt like you were over there. They love their sport, they’re just crazy and get in to it so much that it just makes the atmosphere so much more enjoyable to play in”.
Back in Australia Grant is still playing club Hockey and plans to turn out again in 2018 for the UWA club in Perth.
“I’ll have another run around in 2’s and play with a few of the young guys. You know, you get old and have a few niggles here and there, so just trying to stay on the pitch is sometimes the hardest thing. I’m actually just really enjoying my running at the moment and feel really good. I’m trying to push myself back to the midfield, centre half, so I don’t have to run around as much I don’t think. So still playing 2’s with UWA and just see where things go. I just love the game and love playing and I’ve been asked about coaching plenty of times, but I just feel I have many years to go once I stop playing for coaching. I sort of feel I can offer just as much playing on the field with the young up and coming 2’s guys through UWA and hopefully make a smoother progress for them in to the 1’s. Do my battles so to speak with coaching those guys on the field and obviously at training as well. I just still like hitting the ball around, that competitive spirit is still there.”
One of the big challenges that Grant and many others have found is ‘life after Hockey’ at an elite level, when the training and team sessions have long gone.
“Once I decided to get out of Hockey around 2010, I got in to real estate sales for a good 5 years, but just found I really wasn’t enjoying it. I found that transition from professional sport, and there’s a lot of talk about it nowadays, from finishing my Hockey career and going in to the work career, I found that really difficult. So, I can obviously feel for people going through that transition, it is very hard. I’ve been through it and still sort of going through it at the moment. The last 12 months I have started up my own business doing aerial photography with drones for real estate agents.” And added “It’s something that’s flexible that allows me to look after the kids when I need to”.
Thankfully the awareness of these struggles is more prevalent year on year, but do our national sporting associations do enough to help retiring athletes, is the situation improving?
“I really hope so and I think, it’s well out there now, it such a big side of things. Getting that balance between work, life and sport is very important.”
“I think there is more that can be done. For Hockey we always had athlete career educators that we spoke with. But for me the hardest bit was going throughout school I never knew what I wanted to be, so I didn’t know if I wanted to be a teacher, or a cabinet maker like my old man, so for me it was really tough, I never had that set goal of what I wanted to do aside from Hockey, and for me sport was always my passion and just loved it. That was always difficult and I think they are probably the people that really struggle afterwards, those guys and girls that just don’t know what they want to do apart from sport, because it takes up such a chunk of your life for so long at that younger age, that it’s well spoken about that it can be very difficult. I think there’s always more and it’s probably harder for those sports that don’t really have a lot of financial backing. I went through times in my Hockey career that I was living off $30-$60 per week trying to make ends meet. Not wanting to ask for money from everyone, you go 2 or 3 days living off very little. I think it’s always tougher for those Olympic sports, a lot of the people involved with Olympic sports don’t earn a hell of a lot of money. It would have been much better for me if I had better financial backing I’m sure, but it is what it is. I got to travel all around the world, I’ve got great family support which I think is very important.”
We wrapped things up with Grant with one last question. Bring back the Bully? Yes or No?
“Nah, because I was never really good at it. So, leave the Bully out.”
Grant Schubert was talking to Matt Allan & John Lee of The Reverse Stick – Global Hockey Podcast
If you are in Western Australia and are in the market for Real Estate Floor Plans and Aerial Photography, then you can find Grant at www.overandbeyond.com.au and on Facebook & Instagram.