From Australia to London: AFL around the world

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Ryan Davey has always found himself connected to the Aussie game of AFL. With his involvement ranging from 20+ years of playing and working with the Gold Coast SUNS, he now finds himself in the London based role of General Manager, Europe AFL. 

Ryan views his role like managing a small business that is tasked with increasing awareness and participation of a sport that he has played (and loved) since a small child. He works alongside the countless volunteers across Europe who are growing a sport that they too have fallen in love with. 

Advance recently spoke to Ryan about his new life in London, sporting culture and his AFL journey. 

What made you choose to move to London to work? 

After spending five years working with the Gold Coast SUNS, my wife and I decided that it would be a great time to experience life in London whilst we had the opportunity. It wasn’t until we arrived that I started exploring work opportunities with the Sports Event Management space and after a couple of offers in competing sports, a former colleague of mine made me aware of the General Manager position with AFL Europe. After a few meetings and much consideration, I decided to turn down the other offers and chase the recently vacated role of GM for AFL Europe – thankfully this gamble paid off. It was very much a case of being in the right place at the right time – I was very fortunate to secure the role.

What does your current role involve on a day-to-day basis? 

It is an interesting position I find myself in now. In my previous role with the Gold Coast SUNS, I was part of the Events Department – and clearly, planning, delivering and evaluating Events was our priority. If we needed support with creative design or branding we went to Marketing, if we needed more money to create an event we went to Business Development, if we needed to promote and event on the website we went to Digital etc. Now, I look at my role as managing a small business so need to ensure that all areas of the business continue to move forward.  This is certainly a challenge and something I am yet to master, although I am working hard each day to become more well-rounded and it is certainly providing me with an opportunity to develop a new skill set.

What are the differences between Australia and London in terms of sports culture?

Sporting culture is an incredible thing… In the 20+ years that I played AFL in Australia I only ever played at three different clubs – however each of those clubs had the same (or at the very least, similar) culture. They were passionate about getting the best out of their players; passionate about developing their club, their league & ultimately their sport; and passionate about treating those in their club as though they were family. And from what I can tell, the 20-odd countries who are playing AFL in Europe all have the same outlook in regard to the culture at their clubs. In some cases, you could argue this is culture is influenced by Australians entering a club, although there are many clubs in Europe who have never hosted an Aussie, yet still display the same culture – so perhaps it’s an AFL thing, or at the very least a Sporting thing.

Could you share the best and worst part of your experience working overseas? 

The best part of my experience working overseas is the current position I find myself in – I am running a small business that is tasked with increasing awareness and participation of a sport that I have played (and loved) since I was a small child.  My position exists to lend a hand to the countless volunteers across Europe who are doing an exceptional job to grow a sport that they too have fallen in love with, and I feel very fortunate to work alongside them. Whether it be delivering a coaching course in St Petersburg, umpiring a match between the Zagreb Hawks and the Styrian DownUnderDogs in Milan or hosting a Strategy Session & Annual General Meeting in Dublin, I continue to be blown away by the passion and enthusiasm that Europeans have for the game of AFL. The feeling of walking into an AFL Europe Tournament with over 400 participants (none of which are Australian) alongside side you and seeing their passion and commitment to the code is mind-blowing – you can’t help but walk around with a smile on your face. The worst part of the experience is that I wish we could do more to support them!

What do you enjoy most in London?

I grew up in a small country town in Victoria that had a population of 1,500 – so it is safe to say I have needed to make some adjustments to get used to the frantic life style that exists in London. However, I am not too proud to say that leaving the beautiful beaches of the Gold Coast where every day felt like summer and walking away from a great network of family and friends was difficult. Each and every day, London has something new to throw at you. Every night & every weekend there is a new corner of London to explore and a new adventure to be had and I love having the opportunity to find the hidden treasures this city offers. But most of all, I love the buzz that this city has on a warm summers night – it is something that is difficult to explain, and whilst the ‘summer’ might not last for long – they are incredible days!

Apart from football passion, what are you hobbies?

Living in London provides you with an opportunity to travel in a way that you simply cannot experience in Australia. Therefore, regardless of whether it is for work or leisure, I jump at the chance to travel – I love having the opportunity to experience the unknown and explore new cultures.

Aside from travel, having played football for my entire life, it was an adjustment to move to London and not be involved in a ‘club environment’ – however I have always aimed to live a healthy and active lifestyle. I have also been fortunate to secure a place in the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon – this will be my very first marathon and therefore I will be dedicating a lot of time and energy into preparing for that event which is held in April next year.

Finally, and one that I am most passionate about, is the volunteer role that I have recently started with St Mungo’s in London. St Mungo’s outreach teams go out each night to meet people who are homeless and to help them off the streets. When I arrived in the UK, I was completely overwhelmed with the number of people sleeping rough on the streets each night in London and therefore I am thrilled to be supporting the amazing team at St Mungo’s and assisting their First Response & Outreach Teams.

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