Former Richmond player and AFLPA director Dan Jackson recently caught up with AFLPlayers.com.au to give an insight into what he’s been up to post-football career as he extended an opportunity to past and current players to join him for football clinics in Europe.
Ben Guthrie: Dan, thanks for catching up with us. What are you up to these days?
Dan Jackson: I’ve been living in London the last two years after having been in Toronto (Canada) for two years prior to that. Basically, I’ve been roaming around the world since I retired at the end of 2014! No, I am a bit more productive than that. I’m currently doing a Masters in Performance Psychology at the University of Edinburgh while also working as a performance and culture consultant with some soccer academies and corporate teams in London.
BG: Why did you want to leave the ‘footy bubble’ behind?
DJ: I was drafted at 17 when I was still a student at school so I kind of skipped the ‘fun and free’ part of being a young adult by becoming a full-time professional AFL player which ended up lasting eleven years. By the time I retired I just felt like I only knew one world – the AFL system. So I was really keen to get out and explore other cities, countries and cultures to broaden my perspectives a bit and to meet new people from different backgrounds.
BG: What did you experience in your travels?
DJ: Between backpacking around Central and South America, living in North America and now the United Kingdom, I’ve had the chance to see and do some really cool things as well as meet some amazing people. It’s been a fascinating experience to be able to see the world through other people’s lenses and to get some different perspectives on how different cultures live.
BG: You’ve been gone nearly five years now. Do you miss Australia and that footy lifestyle?
DJ: The best part about Australia is it’s Australia – it’s the best country in the world. However, the worst part is how far away it is from the rest of the world! I certainly miss parts of the Aussie culture as well as friends and family, however I’ve been able to fill that void by making new connections all over the world. As for footy, I can’t say I miss the grind of being a pro athlete anymore, but I do miss the camaraderie which is hard to replace. In saying that, getting involved in Aussie Rules overseas has been a great way to meet new people and get a taste of home when I need it.
BG: How have you stayed involved with the game since being away?
DJ: When I lived in Toronto I found out they had a full Aussie Rules league there so I started dropping into teams’ training sessions to help out now and then. It was a great way to meet people and have a kick myself. Since then, whenever I’ve been in a country that has an Aussie Rules team I try todrop in for a kick, or to share some tips or drills and most importantly meet some new people. So far I’ve seen footy in action in the US, Canada, the UK, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden!
BG: Tell us a bit more about AFL Europe and your role with the organisation.
DJ: AFL Europe comprises a small team of Aussies based in London and charged with helping grow the game of Aussie Rules in the UK and Europe. People are often surprised to hear that Aussie Rules is played in around 20 countries across Europe including Croatia, Denmark, Germany and even Russia. Since last year I’ve been on the board of AFL Europe and have been tasked with others to help grow the game. It’s been a fun experience and has given me the opportunity to see how people from other countries and cultures relate to our great game.
BG: What have you experienced in terms of people’s love for the game overseas?
DJ: It’s never ceased to amaze me how much people who have never really seen Aussie Rules can be so passionate about it. The game itself is obviously very exciting to play as everyone is always involved and it doesn’t really matter if you’re tall or short, fast or slow, you can still get a kick. But what I think people seem to love the most is something that we take for granted in Australia because it’s just a part of our culture and that’s the ‘club’ element of playing for a team. Some adults in North America and the UK play sport but it’s generally in leagues where you arrange your own team, sign into a local competition and play a game one night a week – no training, no facilities, no ‘team’. Whereas most of the Aussie Rules teams in the different countries have volunteer coaches and trainers, a local ground (which is often just a park in the city), and plenty of ‘club functions’. With that comes a sense of community for the players, both the Aussies who are living abroad and the local guys and girls who may not have experienced a real team like that before. It’s really cool to see.
BG: We have seen numerous examples of AFL players travelling around Europe and training while on holidays. But how much of a ‘kick’ (excuse the cheap gag) would some of the AFL Europe clubs get if a current or past player joined them for a session?
DJ: Because most people who play footy overseas have never been to a game and find it difficult to get access to watching games, they are always craving information on how they can improve as individual players and as teams. So any access they can get to AFL players, past or current, who can share their insights would be invaluable. Whether it’s basic skill-building drills or techniques or learning new game-like drills they can implement, they’re always eager to be develop. On the flip side, for AFL players who visit local clubs in foreign countries, there’s always an awesome opportunity to meet local people and to see their cultures up close and personal. It was really cool to see (West Coast star) Nic Naitanui in Israel in his off-season last year taking some training sessions with the team in Tel Aviv. The locals there loved it and he had a ball with them!
BG: What’s the best way for a player to go about organising this to deepen their off-season travel experience?
DJ: Any current or past player who is traveling through the UK or Europe and who is keen to meet some locals in one of the many countries that have teams can get in touch with the team at AFL Europe. Whether they want to just drop into a training session to say hi or, have a kick themselves in order to get some of their off-season training done, and then socialise with the local players afterwards. Or, if they’re interested in staying in one place for a few weeks to really immerse themselves, there are plenty of willing teams in numerous cities and countries who would love to have them. There are established teams in France, Germany, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, Croatia, Ireland, Norway, Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland and Italy.
BG: Thanks for your time, Dan.
DJ: No worries, Ben.
AFL and AFLW players interested in being involved can contact AFL Europe General Manager Ryan Davey at firstname.lastname@example.org, who will then put them in touch with the relevant people in the countries they are visiting.