Growing up as a kid in Australia, playing team sports is wildly popular. Most kids, at some point or another are involved in the local sports team or play for a side in school sport. This ingrained culture is built into us at a young age, and as a result we, as a country, tend to punch above our weight in international competition.
But sport is about more than just competing at the VERY highest level. You see, as surprising as this may sound, sports people are like the rest of us. Some of them want to raise families at home, some are determined to make it to the very top and earn a lot of money. Some like to get drunk on the weekend and feel the consequences the next day* while others would like to have an opportunity to travel and work all over the world. For some players it has provided this opportunity to travel the earth being a paid professional, residing in global cities in every corner of each continent, and for some that almost seems to be the whole reason they do it.
But for any kid growing up in Australia, those opportunities don’t present themselves in the same way as someone growing up in a different part of the world. For example, a child could grow up in Germany playing football and get to ply his trade living in different European cities and even venture his way to different parts of the globe depending on his ability, however a player in Australia, has far less exposure or opportunity to do that with the game of football. Talent scouts from Europe aren’t exactly scrambling for the next 20 hour flight to come and see some middling players that could struggle to get a work VISA.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, if that’s what you want to do with your life. Surprisingly, there are some opportunities even for people that start in very insular Australian sports such as AFL. Below are some of the Australian sports people that have taken their opportunity to see the world on a working holiday and provide a precedent for any other young Australians that might want to follow in their footsteps.
Netball – Julie Corletto (@JulieCorletto)
The opportunities for women to play professional team sports internationally are comparatively tiny so it takes being at the very top of your sport to get there. Luckily for Julie Corletto, she is at the top of the heap as one of Australia’s best netballers.
Growing up in country Victoria, she was a standout player and made her debut in the Australian National Netball competition at the age of just 16 for the Melbourne Vixens. In 2007 at just 21 years old she debuted for the Australian Diamonds National Team. She participated in the inaugural season of the ANZ Championship in 2008 where she remained in Melbourne, playing for the Vixens. She won a title in 2009, the World Championships in 2011 and following a narrow Grand Final loss last season, she decided to follow her husband (Basketballer Daryl Corletto) to NZ and joined the Northern Mystics who are based in Auckland. The Mystics had a wildly disappointing season, in spite of their star signing, but Julie has provided the team with something to build around and in the process has given herself a chance to live and work in a foreign country.
The ANZ Championship is the toughest competition in the world for Netball, so it’s unlikely that there will be any other foreign opportunities for Corletto, so it’s great that she’s taken this opportunity with both hands.
Final count – 2 Countries, 1 Continent
AFL – Ben Graham (@bengraham7)
To classify this under AFL alone is a bit of a cheat, because to make his move overseas, Graham had to change sports**. As an AFL player, Graham was a versatile star for Geelong who could play as a forward or a defender. He kicked 145 goals in his career and was known for having a mammoth boot that meant that if he was playing at Centre Half-Forward, he was a threat to goal from a distance that most were not, and if he was playing as a Centre Half-Back, he was capable of clearing the ball half way up the field. This eventually caught the eye of NFL talent scouts from the New York Jets who, after initially offering him a trial in 1997 (which was turned down), were happy to have him change his mind at the end of 2004. There have been several AFL players to take this path, but few have done it as successfully as Graham.
He spent the first few years after his move playing for the New York Jets before stints in New Orleans and Arizona as well as finishing up in Detroit. While the last 2 might not be everyone’s cup of tea, living in New York and New Orleans (with money) is a long way to go for a boy from Geelong.
When you add to all of this that throughout his sporting career (which to be fair, did last 20 years) he got to play in the International Rules series for Australia (1999) as well as a Superbowl for the Cardinals (2008) I think it’s fair to say that he’s probably got more out of his sporting prowess than most others that choose AFL from a young age.
Final count – 2 Countries, 2 Continents
Rugby League – Steve Menzies (@SteveMenzies11)
Born just one month after Ben Graham (and somehow still playing professionally just 3 weeks ago aged almost 40), Menzies has had an illustrious career filled with unusual occurrences. He has scored more tries than any other forward in the history of Australian Rugby League, (and is second on the all-time try scoring list, regardless of position). He has the rare honour of being a one club man, who technically played for 2 clubs***. He has a nickname, that I’m certain wouldn’t fly anywhere else in world sports, and lastly, he has scored at least 100 points for every team he’s ever played for – and that includes if you separate the Northern Eagles.
A player with 19 matches for Australia and 20 for NSW, he left the NRL in 2008, but by no means did he stop playing at the highest level.
He took his talents to the North of England in Bradford and continued on without missing a beat for 2 seasons, before accepting a contract to play for Catalans Dragons in France from 2011 – 2013. His retirement just a few weeks ago brought to an end a 21 year professional playing career, but it also brought about one of the more peculiar situations that only sports can make happen.
After losing their semi-final match against Hull on September 13, Menzies did a lap of honour to commemorate his astonishing playing career. Now you might not think that this is a particularly unusual thing to happen, but I failed to mention one thing. The Dragons were not playing at home. They were not even playing in their own country. The match was at Hull’s home ground, the KC Stadium. Menzies had never played for Hull, yet such was his standing in the game that the away crowd were still going to honour him. He has had a distinguished career no matter how you slice it, and on top of that, he’s had an opportunity to see the sights along the way.
Final Count – 3 Countries, 2 Continents
Basketball – David Andersen (@daveandersen13)
Growing up in Carlton with a Danish father and Australian mother, David likely didn’t realise how much having a European passport would come in handy in his future career. After starting with the Woolongong Hawks, Andersen scored his first overseas move when he signed to play for Virtus Pallacanestro Bologna in Italy in 1999. There he won multiple Italian titles as well as a Euroleague Championship in 2001, where he played alongside superstar Manu Ginobli. But financial problems saw Bologna relegated and Andersen in need of a new team. He ended up staying in Italy with Mens Sana Basket where he won another Italian title, and also took home the Finals MVP trophy. This kind of success meant that he was able to expand his horizons and when an offer came in to play for European powerhouse CSKA Moscow for the 04-05 season, he took it. It was a smart decision as Andersen had the best spell of his entire career. He was named to the All-Euro First Team in 2005, won the Euroleague Championship for a second time in 2006 and then for a third time in 2008. After 4 years in the Russian capital, he transferred to FC Barcelona**** where he had even more success, winning a Spanish Cup. His next move was to finally fulfill his NBA ambition (after being drafted in 2002 but never getting a shot to play) by moving to the Houston Rockets. He played one season in Texas before being traded North of the border to Toronto, for only a short stint before again being traded on to New Orleans. His time in the NBA was far from glittering and his minutes on the court were minimal. In preparation for the 2012 Olympics, Andersen got himself more court time by heading back to Italy and playing for his old team Montepaschi Siena where he won the 2012 Italian Cup. He spent last year playing in yet another country and winning another trophy as Fenerbahçe Ülker finished with the Turkish Cup.
Truth be told, David Andersen is a player of a limited type of ability. For his height he is not a great rebounder or fearsome defender, but with the propensity for NBA teams to play ‘small ball’ these days, his ability to hit a three pointer and therefore stretch the floor for opposition defences would mean that he could be a useful puzzle piece. However at age 33, I fear he may have missed his shot to make an impact in the world’s biggest league.
But the thing is, if he was born 8 years later and was coming through now, he may have spent his whole career on the NBA fringes and missed an amazing opportunity to travel the world on his talents and win a bunch of trophies along the way.
I actually think he’s better off as it has played out.
Final Count – 7 Countries, 3 Continents
Football – David Carney
The One Foot Wonder. The White Pele. Whatever you call him, the boy from Western Sydney has turned his talent for using his left foot into a round the world ticket.
At just 16 years old he was able to secure a move to Everton in England and begin his worldly journeys. From there he had short stints at Oldham and Halifax before continuing on his northern trajectory and moving to Scotland to play for Hamilton Academical.
But it was his move back home to play for the newly formed Sydney FC that launched his career and his real world travels. His successful stint in Sydney, where he won a title in the inaugural A-League season, attracted offers from Germany which Carney turned down to stay in Australia. A year later he made his debut for the Socceroos and further offers came in from Europe. Carney eventually settled for Sheffield United in the familiar north of England. A change of management there saw Carney frozen out of the first team and he was able to obtain a loan to Norwich City, finally venturing South of Liverpool and giving Carney a taste of something other than the often bleak northern UK. Subsequently when an opportunity came up to move out of England all together and head to FC Twente in the Netherlands, Carney took it. He spent a season there, where they won the Eredivisie title but the lure of the North called him once again and he ended up in Blackpool the following season – but this time playing Premier League football. But the dream didn’t last as the seasiders were relegated and it was time for Carney to move on again. The next stop in his adventure saw him land in the middle of Spain in one of the world’s footballing capitals – Madrid.
He wasn’t playing for the big club (Real Madrid), and he wasn’t playing for the next big club (Atletico Madrid) in fact I don’t know how far down the rungs AD Alcorcon are, but that’s where he ended up, and either way, he was living in Madrid. But it wasn’t a happy marriage at club level and it looked like Dave was looking for one more great adventure – and what a left field adventure he would get.
He signed on at FC Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan. But as was becoming a familiar tale, it didn’t work out for Carney, and it looked like that would be the end of his career when he hadn’t picked up a new club and nobody had heard much about him for a good 10 months after being released from Bunyodkor.
Then in probably the most left field move of his entire career, somehow, David Carney signed on to play for the New York Red Bulls alongside fellow international Tim Cahill and footballing legend Thierry Henry. I don’t think even David Carney himself saw that one coming. On top of that it has put him back into National team contention^ as he was named in the most recent squad.
Let’s just recap here – Carney has gotten to play football VERY OCCASIONALLY for a living while residing in cities such as Sydney, Madrid and New York^^. What a life. I don’t think I’ve ever been more jealous of someone.
Final Count – 7 countries (12 cities), 4 continents
As well travelled as David Carney is, there is one man in particular that outdoes him – though he’s not Australian. I really don’t have time to go into detail on his career, but here is his Wikipedia page – Lutz Pfannenstiel – and his final count is 13 countries, 6 continents.
He’s my latest hero, and he’ll soon be yours.
*For us it’s with hangovers, for them it’s with newspaper headlines.
**I tried to find an Australian player that had started in AFL and made the move to Gaelic Football given how similar they are, but apparently there is no such player, and AFL is only really played here…
***Does anyone consider the Northern Eagles anything other than Manly? Technically they are separate, but in reality, they’re one and the same.
****Yes, the Basketball team is still called FC. I don’t know. Ask Spain.
^Amazingly, since he made his debut for the national team in 2006, Carney has played 46 times for the Socceroos. Yet at club level he has only played 77 times (in 8 years).
^^If you are a young player, I urge you to make David Carney’s manager your manager.