Spider’s tall order
It has been seven years since giant Fremantle and North Melbourne ruckman Matthew Burton played the last of his 147 AFL matches, but the man known as ‘Spider’ has found his way back to the game he loves.
Since retiring at the end of the 2003 season after 70 games with Freo and 77 with the Roos, Burton has forged a successful career in business as a financial adviser.
It is an industry the 40-year-old is passionate about and he became a shareholder in the company Zest Wealth Advisers in 2006.
Still, leaving the game was tough for Burton and, when the opportunity presented to re-enter the AFL system this year and mentor the man who eclipsed him as the AFL’s tallest player, it simply made sense.
“It’s logical (that I’m working) with Aaron Sandilands,” says Burton, whose 210cm frame is as rare in the business world as it was on the football field.
It took three attempts for Fremantle football manager Chris Bond to secure his friend and former teammate as a part-time ruck coach, with Burton joining the club officially in February.
Sitting in the boardroom at his Subiaco office with a Fremantle jumper hanging on the wall and red, green and purple through his tie, Burton explains what is now an old-fashioned concept of mixing full-time work and football.
The AFL, of course, is a full-time business itself and Burton is glad to be back in the game.
“I’m amazed at a lot of things,” he says, comparing the current AFL landscape with his first pre-season in 1994. “In a lot of ways, I’m jealous of the current playing group and the education they receive.”
As a player, Burton developed into a reliable and intelligent tap ruckman, but he says he spent his career on edge, knowing life after football could start at any time.
It made him proactive in his planning for a career in business and, on arriving at North Melbourne for the 2000 season, he sought work experience at Zest Wealth Advisers through Tony Payne, a Kangaroos coterie group member.
He never left and, after buying into the company in 2006, Burton has been building its operations in Perth for the past three years.
It is a role that has also allowed Burton to give back to the AFL industry, teaming up with another former Fremantle teammate, Brad Wira, to offer financial advice to players through the AFL Players’ Association.
Wira, a private client adviser with Shadforth Financial Group, oversees the Western Australian and South Australian sides of the venture, with Burton in charge of the eastern states.
“We were in each other’s bridal party, so we know each other well and it was a mutually beneficial idea to join as a joint venture,” Burton says.
“A lot of what we do is financial education, so it meant that we were able to give something back to the industry that has been so kind to both Brad and I.
“We really think we’ve added some value to thousands of players now. It started in ’03, so we’ve had a lot of people go through the program. We developed it and it’s something we’re really proud of.”
The AFLPA role has kept Burton in touch with football contacts and given him his “football fix” in his years out of the game but, with two young children and a successful and growing business, a hands-on role in football hadn’t been possible until now.
It is surprising to learn Burton and Sandilands had rarely crossed paths before this year. They met at a testimonial night for former Fremantle captain Shaun McManus and played on each other once, in 2003. Their partnership has been encouraging so far.
“I’m definitely a support mechanism for him, and a lot of the time it’s just about giving him some feedback,” Burton says.
“He’s really got a lot of great skills, and he’s a super player, so there’s not a lot I have to do with Aaron.
“There’s definitely an art to ruck work and he’s obviously got a great grasp of it. But I think sometimes it’s the small things that matter and it shows how important that role is that there’s a specialised coach for it.”