By Jason Davidson

My jersey collection tells the story of my career so far. Being a fullback who has played football in eight professional leagues and two major international tournaments, I’ve been fortunate enough to mark some of the world’s best attacking players.

At club level, I’ve traded jerseys with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Ángel Di María and Keisuke Honda. I’ve got France, Germany, Holland and Chile kits from Samir Nasri, Mesut Özil, Arjen Robben and Alexis Sanchez. My own jerseys are from my time in Japan, Portugal, Holland, England, Croatia, Slovenia, Korea and Australia. 

I’ve kept every single Australian national team jersey from the games that I’ve played in. One day I’ll put all of them in a big frame on the wall of my home. My kids will hopefully appreciate it when they get a bit older.

For me, it’s been great to play in so many different environments, but my six-year-old daughter has already lived in five countries and my four-year-old son is still learning English because of all the travel. That is the reality of being a professional footballer from Australia.

Now that I’m a father, it’s amazing to think that my parents let me leave Melbourne when I was 14 to go to high school in Japan. My mum didn’t want me to go but Dad thought it was important for me to experience a different kind of football. Being a former professional, he was very involved in mapping out my career. 

I think Seiritsu Gakuen High School put me on the path to professionalism. I was there a few years after Japan hosted the 2002 World Cup so they were throwing a lot of money at infrastructure and youth football. 

But we also played a lot of games on dirt fields, because over there they had a philosophy that if you can play on dirt, playing on quality grass should be easy. Not many people in Japan spoke English, so I had to learn the language. I also got to learn what it meant to be a foreigner taking the spot of a local player. I survived through periods of loneliness being away from family.

When I was 17, Dad brought me home to play in the Victorian State League so that I got some Aussie grunt playing against men. I matured quickly and became very resilient. By the time I went to Europe in 2009 I was already mentally strong. 

Moving to Portugal was another step on the roadmap that my father laid out for me. I made my debut against Porto and my second game was against Benfica. At the time, players like Falcao, Hulk, Di María, Ramires and David Luiz were all coming through Portugal. It wasn’t the biggest league but the players were world class. 

In hindsight, maybe I should have stayed on Dad’s path. I played my best football in Holland, but after the 2014 World Cup I got offers from clubs in La Liga, Serie A and the English Premier League. Dad wanted me to go to Spain or Italy, but I decided to join West Brom because it was a dream for me to play in the Premier League and the salary was triple what the other clubs were offering. I don’t think there are many 22-year-olds that would turn that down.

I didn’t play as much as I would have liked in England but during that time I was part of the Socceroos under Ange Postecoglou. So I got to play in a World Cup in South America in 2014 and we won an Asian Cup on home soil in 2015. Both are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and achievements.

As a professional who has been through pretty much everything, I know that football is unpredictable. An injury or a change of coach or a small mistake can change your situation very quickly. 

In 2019, I signed for Ulsan Hyundai – one of the biggest clubs in Korea – after a good season with Perth Glory. Before my first game, I tore three ligaments in my ankle. Not long after I regained my fitness, I missed a chance against the bottom team and the following week the coach said he didn’t want me anymore. Then the pandemic hit.

I stuck to my guns and stayed there, which was good because now I’ve got an Asian Champions League medal to show for my time in Korea.

Through good times and bad times, the PFA has always been there for me. I think some Australian players who haven’t played abroad take that support for granted. But having traveled the world, I understand this level of support is not normal. It’s fine when everything goes well, but trust me, when things don’t go to plan, you need the PFA in your corner. 

Right now, things are going well. For the first time, I’m playing for a professional club in my hometown. The Boss – Tony Popovic – is one of the best coaches I’ve ever worked with. There’s a positive vibe here and I genuinely want to be a part of the journey to get the club back to the top where it belongs.

I always feel like I’ve had good relationships with fans, but it’s different here because I’m a Melbourne boy. I understand the pressure and the expectation that comes from putting on the Victory jersey.

The best thing about being back in Melbourne after so many years away is the stability for my family. I get to play for the biggest club in the city and my kids get to catch up with aunties and uncles and cousins.

The last time I lived in Melbourne, I remember going to Victory games at the old Olympic Park and AAMI Park with my dad. Now my kids will wear their Victory jerseys to watch me play. Maybe one day we’ll add those jerseys to the Davidson family collection.