The age of 28 is supposed to be when a footballer is at the peak of his powers on the pitch, but Brisbane Roar centre-back Daniel Bowles surprised many when he walked away from professional football to focus on a career in hospitality.
A graduate of the AIS and a former Young Socceroo, Bowles had an 11-year career and made more than 110 appearances in the A-League.
But in August he hung up his boots to work full-time in the two cafes he owns in the Queensland capital and has no regrets about the decision.
“It’s going great. We’ve seen through the pandemic and come out the other end now,” Bowles told The World Game.
“But everything has been great, considering really. Queensland has been business as usual. Everyone’s eating out and their habits haven’t changed.
“Me and my wife Hannah had our first cafe we bought six years ago when I first came back to Brisbane playing for the Roar. I’ve always loved food, coffee and business – that were the three kind of things I was interested in outside of football.
“I thought they’d all kind of line up into a cafe. So the plan always was, when I finished football, I’d get a cafe and dive into that world.
"There was a cafe that we used to drive past everyday that we liked, and I was keeping my eye out on the market on cafes for sale.
“Funnily enough, a few weeks after that this exact cafe came on the market for sale, I was like, 'it’s meant to be'.
"We bought it and called it Little Loco. We had it for three years and then we sold that one on. We’ve opened two other cafes from there.”
Bowles hails from country Queensland and came through the Queensland Academy of Sport and the AIS before spells with the Roar, Gold Coast United and Adelaide United.
The defender admits the uncertainty in the A-League and the changes in the competition this year played a part in him deciding to retire early.
“I grew up in a small town in Toowoomba and I was never making rep teams, I was never getting recognised at a young level,” he explained.
“So the thought of ever playing professional at any level was always a goal of mine, but it seemed so far out of reach. So to play for as long as I did was a real achievement for me.
“I guess a lot of players in Australia have aspirations to play overseas, play in Europe, play for the national team – I shared those same ambitions when I was younger.
“But the more I played in the A-League… I was somewhat content with that and happy with achievements. In hindsight, I probably didn’t have that true drive and ambition to progress to a higher level, which you need to have to really be at the top.
“I was proud of what I did achieve and the level I did get to. It all sort of came to a head at the end of the season.
"One: I was off-contract, the club showed interest in keeping me but the whole pandemic really affected the salary cap and the game in general in Australia.
“Those things, as well as wanting to spend more time with my family - I’ve got an 18-month-old boy now that I didn’t see much when the pandemic was on.
“Just my love for the hospitality world; it all tied into one and felt like the right time to put all my time and attention into other things.”
Bowles and his wife own and operate the cafes Miss Jones in New Farm and Sister in Hawthorne. But the 29-year-old is not done yet and plans to open more cafes.
“Since finishing playing, I’ve really dived head-first into the cafe world,” he said.
“I was doing a half job before as I was still a full-time footballer. Now I can put my full attention into it. I have big goals in the hospitality world like I did in football. That’s where my attention is now and it’s really exciting.
“It was obviously difficult [doing both at the same], but it was a great kind of forced learning curve in the sense that a lot of business owners are very heavily involved in the day-to-day, which has its benefits.
“But you can also get tied down with it. Having another full-time job in football, it really taught me how to delegate, how to set up systems and have things that could operate without me being there, and that’s what we did.
“At the same time, it had some downsides, obviously not being around all the time. The fact I can give it all my attention now is beneficial.”
Bowles concedes it was nice to not have the demands of training every day as a professional.
But the centre-back has not given up the beautiful game completely, and is hoping to play semi-professionally next year in the NPL Queensland.
“It’s definitely been nice to have a break and not have to go to training every day, which I’ve done since I was 15,” he said.
“However, the main thing you do miss is being around the boys, being around your mates every day which is hard to come by outside of football. That’s probably the one thing I miss the most.
“Of course you miss the highs of playing in front of a big crowd, winning a game, playing finals and things like that. You’ll probably never be able to replicate that again, but I will have those memories for the rest of my life.
“I’m looking to play NPL in the future as well in Brisbane. I’ve (still) got a bit to offer.”