Being sacked saved me: Fevola
Getting sacked was the best thing that happened to Brendan Fevola. The demons that stalked his AFL career at Carlton and in his final two years at Brisbane are no longer ruining his life.
He hasn’t had a bet in nearly two years, he can have one beer and leave, he’s no longer having treatment for mental illness and he’s back with his wife and daughters.
No more suicidal thoughts and no more medication.
As much as he desperately wanted to keep playing AFL football, he says being forced out of it saved him.
While you’re deep in depression, thinking of suicide, spending time in what you call a “nuthouse”, drinking heavily, losing the respect of your wife and all your money to bookies, getting sacked could have had a tragic outcome.
“You can either fall right off like other people have or get back up,” Fevola tells AAP.
“I think finishing footy was the best thing that happened. Without all that pressure and being under the scrutiny you were and in the public eye, I was able to do my own thing.
“I was much happier, I was back home with my wife and kids, I was more settled. I think that was a massive reason why things did turn around.
“Ever since I left Brisbane, everything’s been going really well. It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me when Brisbane sacked me.
“If I was still in Brisbane, I probably wouldn’t be back with my family.”
Part of his recovery process, he says, has been writing his autobiography.
The recently published Fev, In My Own Words is his chance to give his side of the story.
And he starts his side of the story in brutally honest fashion, sitting on a little blue bus “crammed full of crazy people” being transferred between the New Farm Clinic and Greenslopes Private Hospital in Brisbane in January, 2011.
He was being treated for “a range of problems, including depression, alcohol abuse and a gambling addiction”.
He was sitting on the bus weeks after he had considered killing himself as he wrestled with drinking, medication, gambling debts, irresponsibility and the breakdown of his marriage.
The marriage unravelled when, after discovering at the supermarket that they had no money left in the bank, his wife Alex took their three daughters with her back to Melbourne.
“My entire wage for 2010 – more than $700,000 ended up going straight to the bookies – that basically bankrupted Alex and me,” Fevola writes.
He doesn’t blame the bookies, until they started giving him credit of $50,000 at a time.
“The shit really hit the fan when the bookies eventually started asking for their money back,” he writes.
“When they started to worry about whether I could settle my debts or not, they sent a couple of their heavy hitters around to threaten me. That was pretty scary.”
Carlton benefactor Dick Pratt had told Fevola many times not to gamble. But one of the recurring themes of the book, along with alcohol, is his failure to listen to advice.
“If I had have listened a bit more, I would have been maybe alright,” he tells AAP.
Chris Judd told him to stop drinking on the infamous Brownlow Medal night which ultimately cost Fevola his job at Carlton.
Alex had told him to grow up and his mum said Carlton would sack him if he didn’t stop playing up.
“Obviously you’ve got to listen to your parents, but in the end it comes down to your decision making,” Fevola says.
“I’ve made some wrong decisions which I have to live with for the rest of my life.
“People won’t talk about my footy, they’ll talk about the things I did wrong. That’s why I wanted to do a book.”
Although he admits he made many mistakes, he has no regrets.
So, as well as addressing the ugly issues, he writes about the good things – the thrill of being drafted, the 623 goals he kicked, the Coleman medals, All Australian selections, the high praise, the friends he’s made in football and the good work he’s done with kids.
He defends his regular Mad Monday antics, reminisces fondly about all-night drinking binges and refers to Lara Bingle not by name, but only as “the person I had an affair with”.
The controversial allegations of Carlton tanking at the end of the 2007 season to gain priority draft picks is also raised.
“I don’t agree with tanking, and I never turned up to a game wanting to lose, but sometimes a few things were done so that there was no chance we would win,” he writes.
And he explains his departure from Carlton after 11 years at Princes Park.
When Carlton made it known they’d trade him after his drunken Brownlow debacle, Fevola writes that Collingwood wanted him and he was ready to go, but Carlton refused to deal with the old foe.
In the middle of trade week, Carlton president Stephen Kernahan told Fevola the Blues had changed their mind and wanted to keep him.
“It was too late,” Fevola writes. “I wanted to go; I had to go. I needed a fresh start.”
So he ended up in Brisbane where, despite a flying start to the 2010 season, his football career and life unravelled, and he ended up at New Farm.
“In footy everyone wants to kiss your arse, everyone wants to know you and once you fall off the wagon, they drop off and you’re very lonely,” he says.
“You soon find out who your friends are and I learnt that the hard way.”
He’s been taken back by Alex who insisted he leave New Farm when she feared he’d become institutionalised after 66 days at the clinic.
Now she has her own business in an affluent part of Melbourne, while Fevola looks after the girls and heads north on weekends to play country footy for Yarrawonga.
“We’ve virtually swapped lives. Alex goes out and does the work and I do everything she used to do. I look after the kids, cook dinner,” he says.
But he’s still got lofty ambitions.
He’s planning to try out as a gridiron punter under the tutelage of Australian Darren Bennett at the end of the year with hopes of being drafted by an NFL club.
If he gets into the pressurised world of the NFL, he says he’s experienced too much now to fall back into his old ways.
“No, that won’t happen.”
© AAP 2013