Kouta combat zone
Anthony Koutoufides has a new field of dreams, writes Darren Devlyn
IN HIS 278-game career at Carlton, Anthony Koutoufides stamped himself as a rare breed of player.
Koutoufides was capable of match-altering impact — unpredictable and explosive at ground level, but also renowned for appearing from nowhere to snatch a seemingly impossible pack mark.
Given 35-year-old Koutoufides’ status in football, finding fulfilment in retirement was always going to pose a challenge.
Since hanging up the boots, however, he’s been immersed in a business venture with former teammate Ang Christou, has performed on stage in the musical 42nd Street and has slipped into Lycra for his role in Gladiators, the high-camp game show being resurrected by Channel 7.
The former captain, premiership player and two-time best and fairest winner is more certain than ever that his instincts were right when he decided the 2007 season should be his last.
‘‘I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the boys and the team thing and the people I used to see every day at the club . . . that hurts a bit,’’ Koutoufides says of retirement.
‘‘But I can tell you there are some things I don’t miss. I haven’t missed the injuries. My body feels good, but when I was playing I would be fresh at the start of the season, then the season would gradually take its toll.
‘‘Maybe there are times when players retire too early, but I know I made the right decision. I couldn’t have done it all again.’’
Koutoufides, who in 2006 won Dancing With the Stars alongside Natalie Lowe, has clearly enjoyed his time in the showbiz spotlight.
Last October, he was inspired to slip on the dance shoes again, revelling in a small role in the Production Company’s 42nd Street.
And he showed little hesitation in signing on for a role on Gladiators, which recently completed filming at the Dome at the Sydney Showgrounds.
‘‘Initially, I thought I was being asked to go and watch 42nd Street, not be in it,’’ Koutoufides says.
‘‘There wasn’t much time to prepare, so before I knew it I was at rehearsal, then onstage. There was a crowd of 2000 out there so opening night was pretty scary, then you get more confident. It was a small commitment, but I loved the role.’’
And was it Koutoufides’ idea that he should be known in Gladiators as Kouta the Greek god?
‘‘Um, no, I had no say in it,’’ he says sheepishly. ‘‘But I remember watching Gladiators as a kid and thinking it was a great show, so I was keen to do it. I’m at that stage where I want to try things, see what opportunities are out there.’’
Since quitting football, Koutoufides appears to have lost little of his trademark physical conditioning.
He runs regularly to stay in shape and trained specifically for the Gladiators role, which is more a test of brute strength than endurance.
Some will dismiss the show as having the competitive credibility of pro wrestling, but Koutoufides says he collected more than his share of bumps and bruises in battle.
‘‘Make no mistake, the challengers are there to beat us (Gladiators),’’ Koutoufides says. ‘‘Once show time came round, the competitive instincts came to the fore. Everyone was out there to win.’’
Koutoufides, married to Susie and the father of Jamie and Monique, has a busy year ahead. Apart from running his Souvlaki Hut business with Christou, he plans to take time out mid-year for a five-week family holiday in Europe.
Koutoufides will be keeping tabs on the Blues, whose fans have their hopes pinned on a Chris Judd-led resurgence.
Though Koutoufides has lost none of his passion for the club, he created controversy at the end of last year by releasing a book in which he criticised the methods of Denis Pagan, who’d been sacked as coach in July.
Koutoufides was adamant he wanted no part of a book unless it was brutally honest. He believes Carlton fans deserved that.
‘‘I simply wanted it to be done as truthfully as I could do it — it’s my view on things and I have no regrets. I didn’t do it to offend anyone,’’ Koutoufides says.
‘‘I didn’t expect that part of the book (criticism of Pagan) to be blown up quite so much. I haven’t spoken to Denis. I called him when he got the sack at Carlton and I never got a call back when I retired.’’
Those close to Koutoufides say the former utility’s commitment to the Blues could never be called into question.
It’s why he was deeply hurt in 2006 when there was talk the Blues could no longer afford him and that he might be forced into retirement.
KOUTOUFIDES, who’d been at Carlton since his mid-teens, says he never placed money ahead of his love for the club.
‘‘It was very embarrassing that people were quoting all these figures because the figures were wrong,’’ he said of his contractual terms.
‘‘I felt I’d given all to the club, had done everything asked of me in relation to pay cuts and so forth. I’ve put my heart and soul into it.’’
Sitting outside a cafe within a decent drop punt or two from Optus Oval, Koutoufides adds: ‘‘People have got to know that I still watch and am a keen supporter of Carlton and I just want to see the club progress and get better.’’
Pumped: Anthony Koutoufides has collected some bruises on Gladiators.