A lot of time for… @MatyRyan


I can vividly remember standing against a fence waiting for a training session to finish on what is now the site of the Central Coast Mariners Centre of Excellence some four years ago. I had not long started working with the Mariners, and while I had met most of the playing squad one player I hadn’t at that time met was goalkeeper Mat Ryan.

Ryan had burst onto the Hyundai A-League scene the season prior, coming into the Central Coast starting eleven early in the campaign for the unfortunately injured Jess Vanstrattan, and subsequently wowing fans, rivals and media alike with his impressive performances – performances that would see him claim a series of personal honours, including the Joe Marston Medal, in his rookie year.

Ryan wasn’t training that day – in fact, he was a way off training again. Had everything gone smoothly, Ryan would have been readying himself to venture to the 2011 FIFA U20 World Cup in Colombia with an Australian squad that included then club teammates and close friends Bernie Ibini (now Sydney FC), Mustafa Amini (now Borussia Dortmund), Trent Sainsbury (now PEC Zwolle), and Sam Gallagher (now Newcastle Jets). But a knee injury had struck to put a dampener on what was an otherwise remarkable 2010-11 for the kid born and raised in Sydney’s west.

Ryan arrived mid-way through the session and, like me, came to the fence to watch the remainder of training then check in with the coaching staff. While we waited for ‘Arnie’ [Graham Arnold] to call time on training we got to chatting and, humbly, Ryan played down his debut season in Australia’s top flight. He showed some natural and understandable disappointment when asked about missing the forthcoming youth World Cup in South America, but added words to the effect of “more opportunities will come”.

How right the Hyundai A-League Premier & Champion, AFC Asian Cup Winner, two-time Belgian Pro League Goalkeeper of the Year, would be.

From mid-2011 to mid-2013 I was fortunate to be close enough to the Central Coast camp to watch Ryan develop his game under the tutelage of John Crawley – a coach and man (in my opinion) of under-appreciated quality. In this period we ventured around Australia and Asia, Ryan getting lasers pointed in his eyes from fans in freezing Tianjin, China, making his full Socceroos debut in Hong Kong, and earning an increasing amount of individual honours. The Twitter hashtag #ThingsMatRyanCanStop sparked from his insane personal performance against Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park was another highlight, but nothing would top the magic 48 hours experienced in April 2013 when the team won the Hyundai A-League Championship over Western Sydney Wanderers, flew to Korea Republic the very next morning, then defeated Suwon Bluewings in the AFC Champions League. Mat Ryan central to it all, of course, and improving with every challenge.

On a trip to Europe in August last year, I decided it would be a great time to venture to Belgium to see Ryan – who by that time had gone to another level again – play for Club Brugge. I contacted Mat in the weeks before to let him know I was coming, hoping only that he may be able to spare some time for a coffee in amongst his busy schedule. Instead, Mat offered that I not only stay a couple of nights in his apartment in beautiful Brugge, but picked me up at the Station when I arrived. Then, on the day of Club’s away match at the interesting Regenboogstadion against Zulte Waragem, Ryan threw me the keys to his (rather slick European) auto and told me not to waste time in catching the train, but drive his car to the fixture instead.

“Just pick me up at the Jan Breydel [Club Brugge’s home ground and base] when the bus gets back tonight,” Ryan said as the keys flew in my direction. 

That’s the type of person Mat Ryan is, and I believe will remain, no matter how much more he achieves in his already decorated career. And, if legendary Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer’s career can be used as any example, Ryan could well play on into his late 30s or early 40s. Certainly he has every opportunity to do so. Those who know him understand not only how hard he trains, but how focussed he is in looking after himself and how discerning he is in his lifestyle choices.

Eat, sleep, train repeat. Eat, sleep, play, repeat. Eat, sleep, travel, train, repeat. 

Tonight Ryan could earn his first piece of significant team silverware in Europe when he steps out for Club Brugge against Anderlecht in the Belgian Cup Final in Brussels. Just days ago he was in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, playing a key role in his side’s round of 16 victory over Besiktas at the raucous Atatürk Olympic Stadium. By virtue of that success, a trip to Ukraine to face to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in April awaits. Before that, Ryan is set to play in friendlies for the Socceroos against Germany in Kaiserslautern, and FYR Macedonia in Skopje. And let’s not forget domestic duties, where Club Brugge currently leads the competition with 61 points from 30 matches.

Mat Ryan, the boy from Plumpton, has come a long way since his days playing for Central Coast Mariners Youth at Pluim Park in little Lisarow. But at just 22, his story is only beginning to be written.

@BENNYONEILL

Big Six: Tips For Aspiring Sports Media Professionals

This week I found myself in discussion with a football coach talking culture within a football club and, as importantly, how fortunate each person who works in the sport for a living ought to feel.

One of the remarks I made to the coach was that when I was in high school – perhaps even in the early stages of University – working full-time in professional football seemed extremely distant. A dream.

I told him that I used to wonder just how people came to be employed in the game, and particularly in my area of media, communication, and marketing. Just how are people given the opportunity that so many clearly crave?

So, I thought it might be a good time to put some ideas on ‘paper’ and share with aspiring sports media professionals my top tips for getting a chance – then making the most of it – with a professional sporting organisation.

Obviously this is not a hard and fast rule book or bible, just my ideas and some things that I found useful in my progression from a dreamer to someone who is lucky enough to wake up each morning and get paid to watch, think about, and work in football.

1. GET YOURSELF TO UNI!
It’s an obvious one, but I think it is so important for people wanting a job in sports media or marketing to get themselves enrolled in University, TAFE, or an equivalent. Passion for and knowledge of your chosen sport is one thing, but having the theoretical underpinnings and general skills in your locker when you go for a gig is another. University is the perfect place to learn skills, fine-tune them, ask for feedback, and explore the topics you enjoy. In my first weeks at University studying Journalism 101 (not the real course name), my tutor recognised that I based all my articles on football (they were undoubtedly cringe worthy!). He asked me if I would be interested in volunteering for Newcastle Jets (see point 2.), and opened the door for me to do so. I can’t say that it will happen for everyone, but the people you meet at University could shape your life more than they may ever know.

2. VOLUNTEER (BUT KNOW WHEN TO STOP).
I think most sports media, communication or marketing students would be surprised to know how willing and open clubs and organisations are when it comes to accepting volunteers and giving young people a go. I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to volunteer for Newcastle Jets in 2008, working on matchday media operations and website articles for two seasons. Volunteering with au.fourfourtwo.com as a writer followed. There is a limit as to how much of your time you should give for free, and you need to determine for yourself when you deserve to be remunerated. But certainly volunteering, showing your skills, and learning from people already in the business (people who have most likely had to tread the same path) can be an invaluable experience. I ended up as the best man at my first volunteer “boss’” wedding, so not only can you make some fantastic industry contacts, but some great mates.

3. VOLUNTEER (AGAIN).
Didn’t we just cover this? Kind of – this one is slightly different. Once you land your first gig, I suggest giving your time for bigger organisations again. When I started with Central Coast Mariners, the opportunity came about to work on international matches for Football Federation Australia (FFA). This was a superb opportunity to learn from people more experienced than myself, and like a player, take international experience back to the domestic scene. Some of the people who I gave my time for have become not only good friends, but crucial industry contacts and mentors.

Whatever your game, working or volunteering at the highest level available to you at your career stage ought to be a top priority. 

4. BUILD YOUR (SOCIAL) NETWORK.
You’ve been to University, volunteered plenty of hours and landed your first gig – now you need to amplify your network. Some contacts will come about naturally as you delve into your work, but getting to know other people may take more time and effort. I recommend using Twitter as a professional tool to converse with industry contacts and people you respect and want to work with (leave Facebook for your high school friends and University mates). If I had a dollar for every football industry contact I ‘got to know’ on Twitter before I actually met them in person I could buy a Category A ticket to this season’s Hyundai A-League Grand Final. It’s powerful, and an important place for you to present yourself professionally, learn, and share ideas. Consider attending conferences and networking events too, and go out of your way every so often to shout someone you might work with long term or admire a coffee.

5. GO FOR A GIG YOU (PROBABLY) WON’T GET.
I recommend going for a job that’s most likely out of your league (for the time being at least!). I remember going for a job at the AFC Asian Cup Local Organising Committee back in 2013 when, in hindsight, I was underqualified. Of course, rejection felt bad at the time, but thinking about it now I realise why I in fact wasn’t the best fit for the job. Considering why you didn’t get a gig allows you to reflect on what areas you need to improve – much like a player aiming for a transfer from the Hyundai A-League to one of Europe’s top leagues! In the end another opportunity to be involved with the 2015 AFC Asian Cup (albeit in a lesser capacity) arose and I got that chance to work at the tournament. One door closes, another opens.

6. WORK HARD.
There’s no substitute.

@BENNYONEILL

 

1400 words: Paris Saint-Germain

Me (left), with Edouard Chevalier (centre) and Benjamin Sorin (right).

Me (left), with Edouard Chevalier (centre) and Benjamin Sorin (right).

When a Club of the fame and fortune of Paris Saint-Germain opens its doors to a virtual unknown at relatively late notice, there’s a lesson to be learnt.

That lesson is that you can never, ever, be too busy or feel too important to share your experiences and knowledge with others, in this case for the benefit of football.

The men who taught me this lesson were Edouard Chevalier & Benjamin Sorin – two integral members of the media team at PSG – plus Matt Spiro, a France-based football writer and broadcaster, presenter of the Ligue 1 Show, and commentator for beIN Sports, the global sports broadcasting giant owned and operated by Qatari Sports Investments.

It’s my second last day in Europe for 2014 – this is, hopefully, not my last trip – and I wake in the northern French city of Lille. Checking my e-mails, a note from Robbie Thomson – the accomplished Australian football commentator whom I became friends with during his time working for Fox Sports in Australia – syncs to my inbox.

Robbie, these days a PSG employee himself as producer, journalist and voice of This Is Paris, plus a Ligue 1 commentator for beIN Sports, writes to tell me that that very afternoon his colleagues are happy to show me around PSG HQ in Boulougne-Billanncourt, a suburb on the outskirts of Paris best accessed by Metro Line 9.

Robbie, writing in transit from Dubai enroute to Paris because he has just completed a brief stint in Australia commentating on the Foxtel A-League All Stars’ clash against Juventus in Sydney, cc’s a bunch of his colleagues (having sought their permission) to expect my arrival later that day.

To be brutally honest, until that moment I had given up on my ambition to visit Paris Saint-Germain. You see, before I embarked on my trip, Robbie and I had spoken about me coming to PSG HQ for a tour, and to learn from some of the very best in the French football media landscape. However, knowing Robbie was in Australia and travelling extensively during the brief time I had penned in to be in and around Paris, I began to doubt whether I would, realistically, get to visit the four time Ligue 1 winners – a club that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, no less, calls home.

But Robbie is a man of honour, a man of his word, and a man only too happy to help a fellow Aussie abroad.

Speedily, I pack my suitcase and race to the metro. Before too long, I’ve got a ticket for the TVG from Lille direct to Paris, and by 2:30pm I find myself booking a night at the nearest hotel I can find outside Paris-Nord. I dump my bags, grab a metro map (it is my first time in Paris, after all), and circle Station Billlancourt. It’s quite the shift from Gare du Nord, and is indeed the second last station on Line 9 – only Pont de Sévres is further away from the centre of the French capital.

The substantial train trip is a blessing in disguise. While I may run a little late for the time originally proposed by Robbie, the lengthy sojourn enables me to gather my thoughts and think about what it is I’d like to know about the media team, plus practices and processes, of one of the biggest football clubs in the world.

And: Is this opportunity even real!?

It’s about 3:30pm and roughly four hours after finding out that PSG were happy to meet with me, I’ve made my way from Lille to Paris, and, crucially, to Boulougne-Billanncourt. PSG’s HQ is a modern, but, surprisingly, not elaborate building. I speak to the receptionist, and as per my instructions from Robbie ask for Matt Spiro. Within minutes, Matt is in the foyer to greet me, and seems genuinely interested in who I am, how I know Robbie, plus what it is I am after. I explain.

From there we venture onto Level 1 of the complex, which in fact does not belong, at least technically, to Paris Saint-Germain. This Level is beIN Sports, Paris, and is the place where much of the world’s Ligue 1 coverage and content is created. But beIN Sports and Les Parisians are inextricably linked, thanks in no small part to their Qatari ownership.

So, Level 1, Matt details, is the place that I would normally find Robbie. Level 1 is the location that This Is Paris, the standard-setting, once-weekly, 26-minute magazine show tracking every element of PSG is put together. It’s Wednesday afternoon, and the producers are in fact putting the finishing touches on that week’s program. I’m lucky enough to secure a sneak-peek at some of the editing, and happen to spot a Fox Sports T-Shirt hanging proudly in one of the modest editing suites, just below a Sivasspor scarf.

Fox Sports, the Hyundai A-League host broadcaster, is represented at PSG HQ.

Fox Sports, a Hyundai A-League host broadcaster, is represented at PSG HQ.

After around 30 minutes with Matt, we venture up the lift to Level 2 – PSG proper, and the place where the club’s media, communication, and marketing teams are based. Matt introduces me to Edouard and Benjamin, and they escort me over to their quarters. Their set-up is impressive, and they’ve got some of the very best equipment – as you might well expect – to utilise. But there’s no mistaking another thing they possess – something that cannot in fact be bought, but which is worth more than the many millions PSG possess: passion for football.

Both Edouard and Benjamin are devotees of one of France’s favourite sports, and quite plainly lovers of the beautiful game. Both have had roles in the game before arriving at PSG, Edouard at the French Football Federation and L’Equipe, and Benjamin at Ligue 2 outfit Le Mans FC – a proud club once home to the likes of Didier Drogba, Gervinho, and (can Mariners fans remember?) Daisuke Matsui.

After speaking with Edouard and Benjamin for a matter of minutes, any perhaps expected awkwardness disappears. Forget they work in a media and communication team of dozens at one Europe’s grandest clubs producing content to which most aspire, and I’m from a Hyundai A-League outfit where resources are, truth be told, scant. We are men united b y the same cause – to do the best for our respective clubs in our chosen profession and passion.

It’s because of this, I believe, that Edouard and Benjamin are so open. Ok, I’m not from a rival Ligue 1 team, but they’re more than content to share with me what works for them digitally and traditionally, provide me with a number of resources to take home to continue my education, and even press play on some of their latest and upcoming content, talking me through how and why they put it together.

More surprisingly for me, they’re genuinely interested in the club I work for. We navigate to www.ccmariners.com.au, where they check out images of our Stadium, and ask questions, keenly, about the Mariners. Their knowledge of Australian football is limited, but they love Central Coast Stadium, particularly the palm trees at the south and its idyllic ocean views.

They’re interested when I talk about Asia, and our links to it via the AFC Champions League, as well as the 2013 Menpora Cup. I digress and share my interest in Indonesian football with them, and the potential I see there. We find common ground, as they share that 1.2 MILLION, of their then 12 MILLION Facebook fans are from Indonesia. (Just yesterday, PSG, Les Rouge-et-Bleu, surpassed 15 MILLIONS fans at www.Facebook.com/PSG.)

Edouard and Benjamin walk me up to Level 3, where a quite substantial Zlatan graphic greets guests. Level 3 is business – commercial sales, ticketing, merchandise. We, unfortunately, cannot visit Level 4 – that’s for the top, top management, a place reserved for the likes of Nasser Al-Khelaifi, Jean-Claude Blanc, and, sometimes, Laurent Blanc. A place where, perhaps, Edinson Cavani extends his contract, or Yohan Cabaye’s agent negotiates his release.

I depart PSG HQ just after 5:00pm on Wednesday 13 August 2014 grateful. Grateful that a club such as Paris Saint-Germain would even entertain hosting me for a few hours. Grateful to Robbie Thomson, Matt Spiro, Edouard Chevalier, and Benjamin Sorin. And grateful that I am lucky enough to work in football – the most beautiful, all encompassing, connection producing, sport on earth.

A prototype - PSG Foosball prototype.

Prototype, &, undoubtedly, solid office fun: PSG Foosball.