12 years ago, at the ripe old age of 18, i packed up my stuff and i moved to the US to play college soccer. now i'm 30 and i've decided to move to the UK to play football. so what's changed? and what have i learnt?
when i was 18, i was at a very different stage of my life. i had just finished school, i had a job i was only working at for 15 hours a week, funding for australian camps had just been cut, and the sasi system was about to be removed. moving abroad made sense. college was a way to get a free education whilst playing the sport i loved in a professional environment. i was excited about the move - i had nothing keeping me in adelaide and i was yearning for life experiences. everything was set up before i left australia - i had a team, i had teammates, i had accommodation, and most importantly, i had my parents accompany me for the first two weeks of the move. the importance of this cannot be understated - they were a constant. a support. they knew what i needed before i knew i needed it. they were the familiar in the unfamiliar. when they left, i was set. i had a US bank account, a US sim, and 9 months later, i would have a car that my Dad helped me find and buy.
fast forward 12 years and i find myself going through a similar process, but everything seems different. everything feels harder. and i'd be lying if i said i'm glad i moved.
so what's been so much harder about this move? the unknowns. i don't have a team. and until i find a team, i can't find a job. i can't look for accommodation. and i don't have my family here to drive me wherever i need to go. i'm beyond fortunate to be set up at my partner's cousin's place, but despite the connection to my partner, they’re essentially strangers in the same way i am to them (although they’re becoming more familiar the more time we spend together). they've got a life, they've got work, and their priority is not getting me set up in the same way my parents did 12 years ago (*just to clarify, by no means do i expect or think i should be a priority to them). so everything i plan, i have to plan around hiring a car or public transport. which as you might imagine, can be extremely limiting and costly.
the first day i got here i sent emails out to 40 different clubs. and i've heard back from a few at various times, but some of their replies have sent me into a spiral because they've asked questions i quickly learnt i was unequipped to answer. apparently in order to play professionally in the UK, you need to apply for an international sports visa. but the only way to get an international sports visa is to have a club apply for one on their behalf. they also need to be certified to sponsor you and if not, they need to apply to become certified. a lot of work for a club that knows nothing about you. not only this, but you also must qualify with enough GBE points. and the only way to qualify for GBE points? is to have played a-league. no one who has played WNPL in Australia, regardless of their ability, can then come to the UK and sign a professional contract. why does this matter? well it limits who you can play for. most tier 2 clubs are professional clubs meaning i can't play for them. everything seems to come back to this unrelenting fact that i haven't played a-league. i came here in attempt to make something of myself, despite the fact i haven't played a-league, and it appears i'm still being limited based on that fact. it's like i've got this big black cloud, this big black fuck off fact that i haven't played a-league, following me everywhere, limiting not just soccer experiences, but work experiences in australia too. i wanted to become a public speaker for pickstar - couldn't. hadn't played a high enough level (despite growing up in young matildas squads). i wanted to get the pfa to cover my c license. couldn't. despite being on a professional contract at inter, i wasn't considered a 'professional' (because i haven't played a-league [despite being signed in 2017 as an injury replacement]). it's like when you try to apply for your first job - bosses want you to have experience. but how do you get experience if no one gives you a chance? i often wonder the player i could have been had i been afforded an opportunity 6 years ago when i moved back to australia. or even 15 years ago when adelaide united first started up again.what did they have that i didn't? an opportunity and a coach that gave them a chance, at the right time. i'm still waiting for that opportunity. but my time is running out.
the other reality i'm finding is that all of these clubs are in the middle of their season - they have a squad, they have a team, they're not necessarily going to prioritise an international player coming in. so i'm finding the process to be rather slow. but i get it - this is a priority to me, but it's not to a club. i thought being in this country might make it easier, especially with my willingness to trial and get there however i can, but it's not as simple as that. i also thought that with my passion, my eagerness to learn, and my desire to be involved in coaching at a club, it would make me an ideal candidate for anyone to sign me. but again, my experiences have yet to bring these beliefs to fruition. in one way, not having a name gives you a fresh start, but in another, it means no one knows your character. they don't know your value. so you have to show them - which can be difficult during a finite trialling period.
so i don't have soccer yet. but it's more than just not having soccer. i don't have coaching. i don't have teammates. i don't have boxing. i don't have that support network that comes from immediately meeting new people. i also don't have a job. i don't have my family. i don't have my partner. and i don't have my cats. i know this seems like a minor fact, but my cats have been the biggest constant in my life for the past 11 years. my cats were there for me in the US when i had nothing else. they were there during my darkest days. they have literally saved my life. and not having them, even just something to look forward to when coming home, is hard. some people keep telling me to relish in the freedom, but this isn't freedom. this is isolation. i look at this week and i'm stressed because i have nothing to do during the day. there's only so long you can keep yourself self-stimulated for. and i wonder how long humans can last without having any form of purpose before they start going mad and getting depressed. i've written often about connection being the antidote to depression, but what happens when you don't have connection? hope is what motivates you to alter your situation, but how long until the hope well runs dry?
i guess at times when i question, what the fuck have i done? or have i made the right decision? i have to remind myself of everything i felt back in adelaide. i can't go back. not yet. not until i've learnt something. not until i've experienced what i've wanted to experience here. living in adelaide makes me angry. i'm resentful about my experiences. and i know that if i go back too soon, that bitterness will continue to dominate my experiences - as both a player and a coach. and i don't want that. i need to broaden my experiences which is the reason i moved to the UK. living in adelaide is insular - it's a small town. even living in australia is limiting. we're so far behind the rest of the world with the standards of coaching and resources. i have to keep reminding myself that this is an investment into my wellbeing. it's an investment into my future as both a player, coach, and eventual parent. it's hard now, but most things that are challenging end up being rewarding. the lessons i've learnt already will no doubt assist me in offering advice to other players wanting to move abroad. my advice to them based on my experiences so far? bring someone with you. whether that's a partner, a family member, or a friend, having a familiar in a world of unfamiliar makes the world of difference.