Compared to most Aussies playing in the A-League, Harrison Delbridge’s pathway to the Australian top flight has been anything but normal, with the 6’4” defender journeying to some pretty extreme environments to get to where he is now. His time at Appalachian State University – the Mountaineers – is probably the most notable instance:
“It’s up in the mountains in North Carolina so we trained at 3000ft,” Delbridge explains, “[The other teams] would have to drive up there as well. Everything burns a little bit quicker, you get less air and less oxygen to the muscles so that was a good advantage.
“We’d wake up at six in the morning and go to training and it’d be freezing cold, it’d be like zero outside.
“Snow, rain, sleet; it was pretty intense conditions so it made sure that if you really loved the game you were turning up to training.”
We’d better back up a bit though. Delbridge wasn’t born in the States, of course. In fact, he’s a proud Brisbane boy, growing up in the River City right up until his family moved over to America when he was 11.
As a result, Delbridge’s development as a young player turned out to be entirely different to that of the majority of his current teammates, who would have been picked up by a club academy at an early age, as opposed to progressing through the American college system.
In what seems like a bid of confidence for the Australian youth development system, Delbridge notes that as a result of their respective pathways, Aussie youngsters tend to be exposed to more challenging footballing standards at an earlier age than their American counterparts.
“Players that go through the NPL and do get picked up by a club, you’re held to a professional standard of the club that you get picked up by,” he starts, “The young boys coming in here training with the first team know that there are certain expectations about what they have to do: they have to be on time, they have to look after their bodies, all sorts of things like that.”
“There’s the potential for a player over here to get a start earlier,” he summarises.
The conversation shifts slightly, and whilst the overlying topic remains his time in the States, the focus sharpens on the differences between active support in the two countries, and the defender’s not afraid to express the disappointment he felt throughout his first handful of matches in Australia.
“It’s something that I had to get used to all of a sudden. You weren’t seeing banners, we weren’t seeing smoke going off after goals and stuff like that,” he concedes, “It is a big part of the game so you can’t lie and say that it’s not missing that because if you’re watching it in the stands or watching it on TV it has a big effect on the energy around the game.”
Despite this, Delbridge remains incredibly empathetic for the fans whose hard work to create an atmosphere at home games he appreciates, understanding that they persist in spite of the increasing restrictions over the past few years which have all but suffocated active support Down Under.
Reminded of some of the incredible displays that past iterations of the Melbourne City terraces have been able to put together thanks to the passion and teamwork of fans, he expresses his optimism for the future of active support.
“We want to play in front of supporters like that,” he says, “It’s a fun environment.”
As is the nature of Beyond Football, the conversation turns to Delbridge’s life off the pitch and to his passions away from his sporting career.
“Away from football you need something off the pitch that’s completely different,” the 26-year-old points out.
As the discussion unfolds, it turns out that the particular passion in question is one which was picked up from one of the club’s own:
“I always played with cameras as a kid but I really got into it (photography) through a photographer that works with the club, Aleks.”
Regardless of how long you’ve been supporting City, Aleks’ work is unmistakeable. He’s been there since Day One and his photos appear on the social media feed of just about every player at the club, male or female. It’s really not all that surprising that his enthusiasm for his work and his chemistry with the players has lead to a first-team regular like Delbridge picking up photography has a passion outside of football thanks to their connection, giving the towering defender a new-found appreciation for the art form.
“I didn’t realise when I was a kid how much technically I was into photography,” he explains, “People don’t realise that (how hard it is). You sort of just see the photos at the end of the day. For me, it was fun learning and having something I didn’t really know much about and you can see progression, but there’s also the chance to be creative and express yourself.
“It’s got the two sides of things; the technical side and the creative side.”
Neither interviewer nor interviewee confess it, but the unspoken sentiment that suspends in the air is that football and photography are, to that extent, irrefutably alike…