The Roar
The Roar


Bridges building bridges to European stars

2nd May, 2011
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Newcastle Jets captain Michael Bridges retires from his playing careerNewcastle Jets marquee and one-time English Premier League wunderkind Michael Bridges will leave a far greater mark on Australian Football in retirement than he ever did with a boot.

That’s not to say he wasn’t a great addition to the A-League. The Jets looked capable of anything while he was on the park, and achieved nothing on it while he was injured, which was most of the time.

While history, especially from a European perspective, will summarise Bridges’ career as robbed of potential by an injury plague, it has set the Englishman up as the A-League’s best advertisement.

In his new role as International Football and Business Development Manager, he has the perfect platform to re-create his new fairy-tale life for others.

Let me take a step back.

Why would anyone other than a washed-up desperado or homecoming Aussie want to leave Europe to play in the A-League?

It is a long way from big leagues, literally and psychologically, and English football aristocracy will happily tell you it is football’s antipodean invisibility cloak. It doesn’t pay especially well, the pitches are often rugby league grounds of dubious quality and the crowds are only occasionally big.

Worse still, it’s hard. Athletic, hungry, brave young Aussies show respect for someone who has achieved at the highest level by turning themselves inside out to break him on the pitch.

It’s not cynical, quite the contrary, the Australian competitive spirit and the lack of opportunity to test themselves against a great brings out the best in the colonials.


It doesn’t matter who you are, you won’t wander around any A-League pitch showing off your silky skills, embarrassing the locals without breaking a sweat, and walk off to collect your big fat pay packet.

So why do it?

“We love it here,” Michael Bridges’ wife told me as my daughter kissed her dog at a beachside playground on a perfect autumn day.

“I never thought this is where we’d wind up but – look at this.”

A few nights before I had been to the restaurant she, Michael, and former rugby league player Luke Davico have opened on fashionable Darby Street. It was the scene of the after-party when Bridges’ boss Nathan Tinkler successfully bid to take over the Newcastle Knights.

The Aussie dollar is a bit more competitive than it used to be but I bet that classy eatery cost a lot fewer of those Sunderland and Leeds United pounds than would be required to do something similar in London or Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

So Michael Bridges, who counts the likes of David Beckham and Harry Kewell as friends, has been given the job of convincing great players from around the world to spend some time in Newcastle with the Jets in particular, but more generally in Australia with the A-League.

How will he do it?


Knowing Tinkler’s mob, he will probably have slick video presentations, glossy brochures and competitive contracts, but mostly – he will have his own story.

He will chauffeur potential A-Leaguers past the beach and wave to his lovely blonde wife as she pushes the children on the swing, past the beautiful real estate with views to the blue horizon, before parking his lovely new car out front of his restaurant and offering a range of wines.

He’ll probably look up from pouring a Hunter Valley red and wink and say in his toon tones; “I know mate, it’s not Hull in winter but we do our best.

“And it’s a lot bloody cheaper than the South of France.”

At that point, the next Dwight Yorke or Robbie Fowler or Michael Owen or Wayne Rooney, won’t be worried about the crowd figures or the rough spots on the pitch or the fact that 5 o’clock Sunday games in Australia in summer as are as hot as Hades.

And a few days later, an English tabloid will sport the headline; “Kanga-Rooney”. It will talk about the succession of Europeans choosing the Australian league and the Australian life and they will talk about the restaurateur Michael Bridges, the Englishman selling Australia to the English.

No, Michael Bridges’ contribution to Australian football didn’t end at last week’s retirement announcement, it just began.