Former Socceroos captain Lucas Neill has opened up on the challenges that have faced him post-retirement, with the ex-Blackburn and West Ham defender revealing that he narrowly avoided prison following a court case related to his bankruptcy.
Charges had been brought against Neill after it was alleged that he had hidden money from creditors during his bankruptcy, with a $4m property sale not included in his accounts.
The 45-year-old successfully argue that he had not known about the money, which was held in an offshore account and and sold without his knowledge, and the jury took less than half an hour to acquit him.
“I’ve won my freedom, but I feel like I’ve lost in life,” he told The Times.
“Behind my chair in the dock were stairs going to the cells.
“People couldn’t believe it, but I had nothing left. That was my rock bottom. It was the realisation that after 20 years of a football career and all this hard work, I’ve got nothing to show for it.”
The player, who is notable for his lack of interaction with the media, spoke out to publicise the plight of ex-footballers who have suffered financially.
According to the Times, over a hundred footballers have filed for bankruptcy in the last seven years in the UK, with the tax man often the major creditor.
In his pomp, he owned a Ferrari and lived the luxury lifestyle of a footballer, but Neill is now living in rented accommodation and working for a digital company, with his wife’s job as a personal trainer the family’s main source of income.
But, after a series of poor investments, including one into the British film industry which has seen multiple footballers caught up in financial strife, he was left with massive debts and no way to pay them.
“People say they want to advise you,” he said.
“Help you. People just constantly want to take a tiny slice out of you. Telling you they’re going to add value to what they’re doing. That’s just a lesson for all footballers.
“Do you need these professional financial advisers? I was very successful in the world of football, but I clearly wasn’t ready for this other world — the world of business. And I’ve learned the hard way.
“There were some really humiliating moments,” said Neill. “Like at 7.55am on a school morning, my kids answer the door to bailiffs trying to claim a council tax bill for $765.
“My head was a mess. I could barely say sentences…I had just written out the whole tragedy of my life, and I was going to face my happy, innocent schoolchildren on a school pick-up – a new school, because we could no longer afford to pay for school fees for their old school.
“I feel like I didn’t protect my family – and that hurts. I let my family down.
Neill made 95 appearances for Australia and was part of the squad that made the World Cup for the first time in a generation in 2006, controversially felling Fabio Grosso for a crucial penalty in the Socceroos’ defeat to Italy in the Round of 16.
He was named captain in the aftermath of the tournament and kept the role through the 2010 World Cup cycle, leading the team to South Africa, where they were cruelly eliminated on goal difference after defeating Serbia in their final game.
After that high, however, he was later booed by Sydney fans after a 1-0 win over Costa Rica and responded by swearing at them, sparking widespread criticism in the media.
Neill later expressed no regret for his outburst, blaming drunken fans.
“I’m an Australian, playing in Australia for Australia, getting booed by an Australian,” he said in 2013.
“There’s no place for that. I think it was a case of maybe a bit too much courage juice towards the end of the game.
“It was just isolated moments – every time I touched the ball, so I knew it was directed at me. But it’s detrimental to the team.”