The collapse of the National Soccer League (NSL) left a void for young Australian footballers seeking professional football. Some looked abroad to chase their dreams. One of which was 28-year-old Mudgee native Aaron Downes who moved to England to forge a professional football career at the tender age of 18.
“Unfortunately when I left the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) the NSL had just stopped and the A-League wasn’t starting for another 18 months, so I had no choice but to move overseas to forge a career for myself.”
Recounting his time at the Australian Institute of Sport, Downes says the coaching put him in good stead in developing him as a player.
“I was in the AIS under Steve O’Connor. The coaching there was very good, it turned me from an ordinary player to someone who understood football a lot better,” Downes said.
“In two years time when I went there and when I finished it made me look and see football in a totally different light.
“It made me appreciate the game a lot more and made me a better player and stood me in very good stead.”
Indeed it did, as the move abroad landed him at Chesterfield F.C where he reached cult figure status in almost a decade at the club, however, knee injuries hampered his stay at the club from Derbyshire in the latter years.
During this time Downes started planning for the future, taking to the books and finding himself studying Sports Journalism and going for his coaching badges.
“For the last couple of years, I’ve been planning for retirement.”
“I’ve done a university degree so I am a university qualified sports journalist. Also just finished my UEFA B license.
“So there’s a couple of avenues there I could explore, I’d like to stay in football whether that be in coaching or the media.”
Downes concedes, while looking to the future and retirement his immediate goals are for Torquay United and the season at present. And as last years Player of the Season he holds considerable responsibility in the team.
So much so, club captain Lee Mansell openly praised his efforts in a recent win against AFC Wimbledon.
“We defended heroically. Downesy made an unbelievable block, it was better than scoring a goal really, the block he made,” Mansell said.
But could we potentially see the Aussie back on our shores in the coming years, Downes admits a move back home could tempt him.
“Definitely, I’m 28 now and I’ve still got a fair few years in me, it’s always been something in the back of my mind.”
“I’ve spoken to one or two people over (in Australia) and there has maybe been opportunities that I should’ve looked into further, maybe it wasn’t the right time.
“It’s a very good league now, and if I had a good opportunity to come back providing my wife was willing to move over, it’s something that would definitely interest me.”
Having experienced the “rough and tumble” of the lower leagues as a youngster, Downes says younger players should stay in Australia and develop further rather than opting to play in England’s lower leagues.
“Ideally no if there’s a good young talent in Australia, I think there’s some good coaches and managers in the A-League clubs.”
“Technique-wise they’d be better off staying in the A-League and build up their technique and football knowledge where they have bigger chance of moving to a better club in Europe.
Citing the upturn in quality of the league, as he says the leagues getting “stronger” each passing season.
“Each year it’s improved by gradually building up, and in recent years they’ve been able to attract current Socceroos and some international stars.”
“A lot of people comment how much they enjoy watching it, because its on over here (in the U.K) quite regularly,” the Torquay United defender said.
You can listen to the full interview on this weeks OS Aussies show: