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Matthew Bulkeley, Former Head of Game Development, Football Federation Australia

How did you get into the sports industry?
When I finished school I decided to study a sports management degree at university. Whilst I was studying, I began to do some part-time development work for Cricket NSW, as well as completing some cricket coaching courses. This work involved delivering school and club based activities, together with the delivery of coaching courses on weekends.

Sometimes it is all about timing.  When I completed my primary degree,(I went on to complete an MBA later)  four new development officer roles  in Cricket NewSouthWales were created and with  a foot already in the door, I was fortunate to secure one of these. In truth I didn’t begin university with a ‘career plan’ however as time went on I had greater clarity in what it was that I wanted to do – albeit at that stage for the period immediately after university.
 

Did you spend much time working with Cricket NSW?
In the end I spent seven very rewarding and enjoyable years at Cricket NSW, working my way into the role of General Manager, Community Cricket, which involved oversight of this function of the business. It was a fantastic grounding for me as you get to understand every level of the sport, how the different parts of the business interrelate and importantly, get first hand experience of stakeholder management, which is absolutely critical when working in governing bodies of any type.

 

What was your next role?
My next move was to follow my now wife back to Dublin (we met in Sydney), as she was not able to live and work in Australia at the time. Whilst I had some visa restrictions of my own back then, I was able to work in a number of different roles in Ireland, including in the education sector at Belvedere College as well as being the Head Coach of Malahide Cricket Club.

This was an invaluable experience both personally and professionally and gave me a very good feel for the Irish way of life as well as an understanding of sport in Ireland. Needless to say I loved every minute of it!

And so you moved back to Australia after that?
Yes. We felt that at the time, there would be more opportunities for me professionally back in Australia, largely because of my experience there but also due to the relative size of the population and therefore the industry (compared to Ireland). The population at that time was around 23 million, and along with cricket, there are many very large national sporting organisations including football, rugby league, rugby union and Aussie Rules (AFL).

It turned out to be a good move as I secured a role with Cricket Australia managing their education & training area. This was a great opportunity and provided me with experience working at a national body where the primary relationships are with the state (provincial) bodies, in terms of delivery of programs.

With so many years working in cricket, how did you make the switch to football and did you find the skills and experience transferable?
That’s a great question. In all honesty I probably wasn’t ready to leave CA as I hadn’t been there too long however a fantastic opportunity came up at FFA which was too good to refuse. Football at the time was virtually starting again after many years of being quite dysfunctional and being seen by the rival codes as somewhat of a ‘sleeping giant’.

FFA wanted to start up a number of grassroots programs and so I joined to manage this process. I would say that the skills and experience certainly are transferable. The structures of different sports for the most part are very similar, and as I mentioned before, effective stakeholder management is so important. I think it also helps to be able to bring key learnings from  one sport to another.  In my view, skills like the management of people, planning and communication can be applied in just any environment – be it sport or otherwise.

It sounds like it was a good move for you then?
Absolutely. We were able to achieve a lot over a number of years, including moving to small-sided football formats for our junior players, transitioning to online registration for all players, launching a national schools program, implementing a National Indigenous Football Development Strategy and rolling out the National Football Curriculum. With many of these things we also secured commercial partners and/or government funding.

It was also a great time to be involved in football in Australia. In my time there, a new national league (the A-League) was launched and we have also competed in successive FIFA World Cups after not qualifying for 32 years. In the words of many observers, the ‘sleeping giant is now well and truly awake’.

What is the next move for you?
I recently left FFA after almost 8 years there. I am very keen for some new challenges where I can use my 19 years in the sports industry to be able to make a strong contribution to another organisation, be it in the development area, operations or at the leadership level.

So at present I’m taking some time to see what opportunities do exist, either in Australia or overseas. Certainly the idea of getting back to Ireland in the future is also very appealing for the right role.