Having spent over decade plying his trade in Indonesia and Malaysia, PFA Life Member Robbie Gaspar goes 1v1 with the PFA to discuss his time in Asia, the battle for players’ rights and why the demand for Australian talent will only grow.

At just 17 you left Australia and joined Croatian giants Hajduk Split, how did you find the transition from life in Perth to European football?

RG: I had come from a very easy and comfortable and nice life here in Perth, and going to Croatia I found it pretty tough because it was dog eat dog. I was one of the better players here and then over there that was not the case at all. After a while it got to me, the war had just finished and it was a pretty tough time. I really enjoyed the first six months but after that it started wearing me down and I decided to head home. I regret it a little bit but I went on to have a great career in Asia.

Was it difficult to return to Australia and return to part-time football?

RG: I signed with Cockburn City and it was hard not training daily, so you had to do a lot on your own and you worry that you are falling behind.

After a short stint with Sydney Olympic and with Perth SC you then moved to Malaysian club Sabah, how did the move to Asia come about?

RG: Our wages at Perth SC were regularly bouncing and I had the opportunity to go to Brunei for three months and I went there. I was on small money but it was an opportunity to play full-time football again so I jumped at it. I really enjoyed it over there and when I came back I was speaking to Peter Butler, who was a coach here in Perth, and he said if I ever needed anything, like being set up with a trial to let him know. He asked if I wanted to go Sabah and I said I would love to.

We had a great first season, we made it to the Malaysian Cup Final and finished fourth in the league and made the FA Cup Semi-final. Peter later become coach and that made it even better again.

How did you find the first few months adapting to life in Asia?

RG: I got injured straight away and was out for maybe eight weeks but the club were fantastic. They let me come home and do my rehab here and that gave me a lot of confidence. That helped me a lot, and on the pitch things went really well and I ended being top goal scorer for Sabah that season and played in front of 85,000 people in the Cup Final.

After two seasons with Sabah you made the move from Malaysia to Indonesia and signed with Persita Tangerang was it another big change?

RG: It was a big culture shock going from Malaysia to Indonesia, the countries were very different. They made me feel very welcome but it took me a while to adapt. The league was a lot more physical than Malaysia and I struggled in the first season. The next season I had a good pre-season and went on trial with Persiba and had three great years there. The second year really made me, I played really well and we made the top four and played in some really big games and I made a name for myself in the country.

Just how big is the game in Indonesia?

RG: I remember my first friendly match for Persiba and we rocked up on the bus to a decent size stadium and I thought there would be a few people there and we were in the change rooms and when I walked out I instantly realised how passionate they were about the game – it was packed to the rafters. It is by far the biggest sport in the country and it has so much support it is unbelievable and the games always attracted really big crowds.

At the time you were one of the few Aussies in South East Asia, were there many other foreigners?

RG: There were no other Aussies in Indonesia at the time I was there, and that was tough at times. I managed to make a lot of good friends who were Indonesian and other boys who were from all over the world.

What were the major challenges for being a professional footballer in the country?

RG: There were no protections for players. Players would get their contract cut, with a month’s compensation if they were lucky. I remember one of my mates being held to ransom with the club saying you have to sign this this and this otherwise you are not getting a contract and I thought you can’t have this. Players would get injured and have no protections. So I tried my best to help the boys out with issues and would go to the club on their behalf.

How big of an impact do you think this lack of rights’ for the players has had on the game in Indonesia?

RG: The game in Indonesia used to be streets ahead of Malaysia and Thailand but because they have not respected the players they having fallen well behind. They still view professional football as a hobby and fail to understand that the players in Indonesia are the best of 250 million people.

Your time in Asia seemed to come to a sudden stop, what was the reason behind the end of your professional career?

RG: I had an injury and that was it for me in Asia and I decided it was time to look at life after football and decided to pursue tertiary qualifications.

We are now seeing countless Aussies going into Asia, how big of an impact are they having on those countries?

RG: Australian’s are really well respected in Asia. We get along well with our teammates and are very professional and that is good for the game there. These countries like Malaysia have so much potential and the Aussie boys will really help them achieve it. It allows us to help build closer ties between the two countries as football is something that all Nation’s are passionate about.

You learnt the language while you were there. How important was that for you on and off the pitch?

RG: I think they respect you a lot more when you learn the language and try to embrace the culture. I used to tell all the Aussie boys that came over to learn the language as quickly as they could. It shows that you are respectful of their culture and that is very important.

You are now involved with FIFPro, what does your role with the world players’ association involve?

RG: Brendan Schwab gave me the opportunity in February last year to assist him with restarting the Malaysian PFA and I jumped at it. I went up there and spoke to a lot of players and they said there was a real need for a players’ association. It is all moving very fast there and I’m really happy with the progress we have made. Indonesia is difficult but we will get there in the end too.

Finally, what advice do you have for Australian players looking to make the move into Asia?

RG: Firstly get in touch with the PFA and get as much information as you can from them. Speak to as many players as possible that have played in that country. Make sure everything is written into your contract and try to research everything in as much detail as possible and learn the language.

Each week the PFA will go 1v1 with a member to gain an insight into their lives on and off the pitch.