He’s played under Graham Arnold and is one of the last graduates of the AIS program, but Ben Warland has overcome plenty in his career.
Jack Hudson: What was it like growing up in Gawler – an Aussie Rules oriented town?
Ben Warland: My old man played for Gawler Central (Football Club), so I think he wanted me to play AFL from the start.
But I was a bit too young to get into a team at the start, so he took me to soccer at the Gawler Eagles.
I started at under 6s, and I’ve stuck with it since then.
I kind of regret not playing a bit of Aussie Rules, would’ve been a bit of fun, but glad I stayed with soccer.
JH: Do you remember your first game of soccer?
BW: I actually don’t remember it to be honest.
All I do remember was a good mate of mine that I went to school with, his dad was the coach and he lived across the road.
I remember playing at the Eagles on the small pitch, the back pitch, on the sideline, trying to coach kids.
I have good memories back there.
JH: You went from the Eagles onto Adelaide City and Campbelltown – how did you enjoy your junior days?
BW: One of dad’s work mates was a coach at Adelaide City, so I gave my dad the push to bring me into the city competition.
I had a trial out there and got in the first team, I think it was under 13s or 12s, I had a good time there, made good friends there, my family fit in well.
I went to Campbelltown from there, and I had a great coach there, he has a soccer academy in Adelaide, so check that out if you have a kid.
He played a big part in my career, teaching me the basics of the game.
I think I played most of my career at Campbelltown before I moved to the AIS.
JH: What was the AIS like?
BW: The first year I was there it was great, I went a year early.
I was a young lad going into an old environment for my age.
Moving away from home, leaving friends and family behind to chase my dream of becoming a professional was a bit tough at the start, and tough for my family at the start.
I was only 14 when I left home, it was a massive commitment from everyone.
I learned a lot there and had a lot of great players around me who have gone onto forge pretty decent careers as well.
The AIS, I’m disappointed that pathway isn’t around anymore, it was great for any young Aussie boy to go through and get that professional treatment and learn what’s expected at the A-League clubs and beyond.
JH: In your junior days you represented Australia at under 20 level. What was that like?
BW: That was probably one of the highlights of my career, representing the young Socceroos.
We did go away a fair bit with the core group of the squad, consistently going away to qualify for the under 20 world Cup.
I travelled to Asia multiple times, to the US once for a massive tournament, which was an unbelievable experience.
I thoroughly enjoyed it and played alongside some great players and some great coaches along the way.
JH: Who were some of those players?
BW: In that group, I played with Awer Mabil, he’s established himself as a starting Socceroo only recently, you have a range of A-League players and some overseas boys.
You’ve got Ben Garuccio, who is in Scotland now with Hearts and doing well.
There’re some South Aussie boys, Stefan Mauk, Mabil, Jacob Melling and Paul Izzo.
There was a great SA contingent there.
JH: Not long after that you joined Adelaide United. How did it feel to become a professional in your home state?
BW: That was massive.
I signed a year earlier before I came back from the AIS.
That was tough knowing I had to stay an extra year away from family knowing that I could’ve been back in Adelaide.
It was for my development and I think it was a good option to stay another year.
Obviously coming back to friends and family, you couldn’t script it much better, playing for your home town and being a professional footballer, living at home with mum and dad and not having to cook.
JH: What do you remember about your debut for United?
BW: I remember it was the last regular game of the season against Melbourne City, a home game.
We were winning comfortably, and I had an inkling I would get on, we wouldn’t move up or down the ladder.
It was a good opportunity for me to get on and experience a bit of A-League.
It was pretty good, I think I played about 20-25 minutes at left back, I had a few touches in front of the home crowd, in front of friends and family.
Looking back at it, I was playing against Aaron Mooy – that’s not a bad player to make your debut against.
JH: Your opportunities at United then became limited, and you moved to Sydney. Tell us about the move.
BW: I honestly wasn’t looking to move, I thought it would be hard for myself to get out of Adelaide.
I had limited opportunities there, and maybe didn’t take them as well as I should’ve when I did play.
I was a bit disappointed, and I didn’t really see it going anywhere, to be fair.
Out of the blue, I think it was a week until the transfer window shut in January, my agent got in contact and said Sydney was interested.
I was a bit blown away by that, I didn’t know why they were interested to be honest.
Adelaide made it a bit difficult to leave, but my agent and I heckled them and said to let me go, and I’m so glad I did what I did to get out of there and come to Sydney.
It’s been great so far and I hope it continues that way.
JH: Moving over there, do you think the AIS experience helped?
BW: Yeah 100 percent, I experienced moving away from home before at such a young age as well.
I was accustomed to not having family around 24/7.
Sydney made it easy moving over there, they welcomed me so well, helped me with everything and made me feel valued as a first-team player at the club.
That made it a bit easier, I had a bit more respect from everyone at the club, so that made it a bit easier.
JH: For a while you were under Graham Arnold as coach. What sort of things did you learn from him?
BW: It was great.
Before I signed, he was on the phone to me, convincing me to come, that was massive for me.
He pushed it and knowing that he wanted me here and I was the first option to bring in, it made me feel pretty good about myself while I was going through a pretty difficult time at Adelaide.
I learned a lot from him, the main thing he drilled into everyone was the winning mentality, and I think that showed during his time at Sydney.
The last few seasons he was with us, we won the league easily, and just fell short with the grand final.
Everyone believed we’d win every game, and it was great to experience.