Dad’s truth bomb that turned 8yo’s wish into A-Leagues reality: ‘F****** hell, I can’t do this’

WATCH: Macklin Freke's stunning save for Brisbane Roar in R1 of Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24

Macklin Freke came late to goalkeeping but now is making up for lost time in the colours of his beloved Brisbane Roar.

It’s hard for Macklin Freke to put his finger on the exact moment that sparked his journey to becoming Brisbane Roar’s number one.

It could have been hanging around Ange Postecoglou as a three-year-old, or the moment in his anger management classes as an eight-year-old that he was asked to write some dreams down, and his third entry was to be “a soccer superstar”.

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Alternatively it could have been the moment he collapsed in a game playing outfield with the pain of what turned out to be stress fractures from too much sport. Or the point when his family of Brisbane Roar fans were watching a certain Grand Final in 2011 when their team was 2-0 down and his parents left early, but Macklin loyally stayed put and got to see the greatest comeback.

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It’s hardly been the most conventional journey to becoming a professional goalkeeper, and the funny thing is that his dad – physio with Australia’s junior national teams for more than 20 years and at five World Cups – couldn’t really see it happening.

“It’s ironic that I’m the only person that says my kid will never be a professional footballer whose kid is a professional player,” laughs Matt Freke and he can afford to laugh now with his son set to line up for Brisbane against Sydney FC on Friday night.

But there were tenser moments along the way, hard conversations about ambition and direction while driving to the countless hours of training and matches. “I think that’s just kind of the relationship that we have, he just tells me how it is, you know, there’s no sugar coating,” says Macklin – as a method it seems to be working.

The key to understanding the road less travelled that Macklin Freke took to this point starts with a patch of grass in the back garden of the Freke household in Brisbane’s northern suburbs.

Every day, Matt Freke would smash tennis balls in the direction of his son, whose leaping left and right across that patch of grass was designed to improve his cricket fielding. To say that Macklin Freke is a natural sportsman would be an understatement: at school he was a champion at tennis and in triathlon, he still plays a round of golf under par and as a junior cricketer averaged 300 one season for his school first XI.

As a footballer he had the most powerful kick of his schoolmates by some distance, and scored a bucketful of goals. But it got to a point, estimates Matt, that in one particular week Macklin spent 27 hours training.

Something had to give, literally and metaphorically. In the first instance it was his back. “It was a pretty heavy workload and I just got sore – and then in one game, my back pretty much just went and I just fell to the ground.

“I thought, f****** hell, I can’t do this anymore.”

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The irony is that his father had been set on making sure that his son avoided injury, particularly in football, but jokes that “I secretly suspect I broke his back because working with football, I thought, ok, I don’t want him to get injured, let’s do some prehab.”

That included the infamous Nordic hamstring curls. “To start with he wasn’t that good but after about six weeks, he could actually lower his chest to the ground and come back up.

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“He was playing outfield at that stage and in this one game he went down, his back was sore. Of course being a physio, I made him keep playing for a little while, until we did an MRI and he had some pretty big stress reactions.”

The medical advice was three months of inactivity, but those three months proved to be seismic for Macklin’s future thanks to one conversation on a car journey. “Dad was like, I don’t know whether I should say this to you or not, but if you want to have a career in football, you’re going to have to play in goal.

“You’re probably not going to make it if you’re on the field, and that’s all well and good if you just want to have fun.

“But if you want to have a career and have a crack at this, like you should, then you should definitely think about being a goalkeeper and you can be one of the top five of your age here by the time you’re 20.”

Matt Freke was speaking with some inside knowledge, having tended to many of the A-League’s biggest names – Andrew Redmayne, Rhyan Grant, Jamie Maclaren – when they played for the Australian youth teams.

That’s how Macklin at various times ended up with Paul Izzo’s gloves, Tommy Oar’s boots and Jackson Irvine’s Predators, and why as a three-year-old he was in camp with the Young Socceroos when Postecoglou was first making his name.

Most importantly, Macklin took his father’s blunt advice on board. “Deep down I knew that my time playing outfield was limited at a high level,” he says. “From a young age, I could always kick the ball so far.

“I was scoring like 50 goals a season U7s and U8s because I could kick it further than anyone else and I was bigger than everyone else. But even like U14s, U15s, I was just way off it.”

And so he became a goalkeeper, very seriously and very quickly. People took notice of this young keeper making up for lost time, moving through the youth teams of Brisbane City before getting summoned to join Brisbane Roar’s academy.

Training with the first team made a long-held ambition begin to crystallise. “I remember I was taking these classes when I was younger, I think it was for anger management or something because I used to have a short temper,” he says.

“You had to write down your three wishes. My first was to have a brother – sorry, mum and dad, that obviously didn’t happen. Two was that no one would ever die that I loved.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 21: Macklin Freke (Gk) of Brisbane Roar saves the goal during the A-League Men round one match between Macarthur FC and Brisbane Roar at Campbelltown Stadium, on October 21, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Izhar Khan/Getty Images)

“Three was to be a soccer superstar. So I’ve always had it in my mind that that’s what I wanted to do and it’s been an unwavering passion throughout my life.

“I’ve always supported the Roar and I was at both the grand finals (in 2011 and 2012). Mum and dad didn’t bother hanging around after we went two nil down in extra time (in 2011) but I was like, ‘You go, I’m going to stay with my mates’.

“So every time I go out to play in that shirt, I just think about how lucky I am. I’m looking forward to making my official Suncorp debut (on Friday night). I’ve been on the bench a few times there, but I’ve never actually played a professional match there.”

A decade since the car journey where home truths were told, Matt Freke has hugely enjoyed sitting back and watching the consequences unfold.

“He’s finishing his double degree this year at uni (in business and communications), and he’s got good marks, he’s pretty smart,” Matt says.

“He’s the guy that has put in the training and put in the effort, has never drank, never smoked, all that sort of stuff, was doing 10 minutes of planking a day and 200 push ups a day for a whole year just to try and build up his strength.

“I’m making him sound like he’s got OCD but he’s actually quite a good guy.”

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