Australian midfielder David Rowley has made a home in Malaysia after eight years overseas playing in Thailand, Luxembourg and Germany.
Rowley is targeting more silverware with Malaysian Super League club Kedah after taking out the country’s FA Cup last year.
South-east Asia is the latest stop in the Queenslander’s weird but wonderful overseas odyssey that began in 2013 when he left NPL Queensland side Brisbane City.
“I’ve had some really good experiences,” Rowley told The World Game.
“I love travelling, so it works well with football.”
With a Malaysian mother and an English father, Rowley grew up in Brisbane and had an unorthodox introduction to professional football. He spent several years in the semi-professional ranks, studying on the side, before he got an opportunity to play in Thailand.
“When I was just finishing high school I had a trial with Brisbane Roar,” the 30-year-old explained.
“It was two weeks before the Australian Schoolboys tour to the UK. I was chosen for that. The coach at the time said once you come back from England call us back.
“Then I went to England after all that, I was trying to find a team. I was living with my uncle in Blackburn. I was trying to find a trial but nothing really happened.
“Then I got osteitis pubis. I was out for a few months and I was talking to my parents, they said nothing’s working out in England so it’s better you come back and study.
“So I did a science degree at the University of Queensland, then a teaching diploma after that. I taught for a year and then was just playing in the NPL with Brisbane City and then I moved to Thailand after that.”
Rowley landed at Chumphon FC in Thailand’s southern province at the age of 23. He had a brief spell there before joining Nara United, a club located on the border of Malaysia.
“Thailand was awesome,” he said.
“Chumphon is six hours south of Bangkok. Normally you catch the ferry to the full moon parties from Chumphon.
“I spent six months there and then went to a club right down the south of Thailand, near the border with Malaysia. And it’s predominantly Muslim there so it’s totally different there.
“There wasn’t much to do but the fans were great. It was a good experience. Technically the Thai players are really good but it’s just physically where they’re lacking.
“You even seen when A-League teams come over and play Thai teams, the Thais are really good technically but they lack the physicality. I’d say the Thai league is the best in south-east Asia.”
It was in Thailand where the midfielder met his girlfriend, now his wife, and decided on a move to Europe. Rowley spent the 2014 season with CS Grevenmacher in Luxembourg’s top flight.
“She’s from Germany so I moved to Germany to find a football team, and I managed to end up in Luxembourg,” he said.
“Football in Luxembourg, the level is quite good because it’s next to France, Belgium and Germany so they have a lot of foreigners from those countries. The league’s pretty good, there’s only a couple of teams that are playing full-time professional.
“The rest is training four or five times a week. So a lot of the local Luxembourg people have jobs during the day and then just train at night.”
In the tiny western European country Rowley combined teaching in the day and training and playing at night. In 2015 he moved east to Germany, where he would stay for the next three years with lower-level clubs Inter Leipzig, Tennis Borussia Berlin and BSC Rehberge Berlin.
The former Brisbane City junior loved his time in Germany and describes the level of football there as “incredible”.
“My missus found a job in Berlin so I wanted to move closer,” Rowley said.
“So I moved to where one of my friends was playing for a team in Leipzig. I played there for one season and then I moved to a team in Berlin called Tennis Borussia.
“They’re a historic club, one of the main clubs in Berlin back in the day. Besart Berisha I think played for them in his youth. It’s a small world.
“Germany was really good. Living in Berlin is actually easier than living in other cities in Germany as a lot of people speak English, but if you’re stuck in a small, little town you have to learn German. It’s important to learn the language if you want to do well there.
“The level of football is incredible. I was in the fifth division and we were beating second division teams in Poland, second division teams in the Czech Republic, fourth division Germany is beating first division in Poland.
“The level’s insane because you’ve got such good youth players coming from the youth Bundesliga, you’ve got ex-professionals that are finishing their careers, or they’re trying to move up again. They’re playing in the fourth or fifth division.
“Even the sixth division in Germany is better than I would say NPL Queensland. It’s a good level.”
In 2018 a chance to play in Malaysia was offered by former Socceroo Scott Ollerenshaw through his dual heritage.
Rowley took it, signed with PDRM, and has spent the past three years with Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan and now Kedah.
He has also undergone a positional switch, moving from attacking midfield into a more defensive role.
“I’ve been in Malaysia for two years, this is my third. It’s really good,” Rowley said.
“Good lifestyle, good food, good people – I can’t complain. Good weather. We get some good crowds, especially for the big finals. For the FA Cup final last year we had 82,000, which is ridiculous.
“When I was playing in Germany (I was) a number 10 or a second striker. But coming to Malaysia I’ve played more defensive midfielder as I’m taller and good in the air.”
While in Malaysia Rowley has built up his own YouTube channel, which now has nearly 15,000 followers. On it he gives an insight into his career and life in south-east Asia, and administers advice to budding footballers.
“I started it a couple of years ago before I came to Malaysia,” he explained.
“It’s just based on my experiences overseas as a footballer, just giving advice and how to become a better footballer. It’s just a hobby. It’s good fun, something to do on the side.”
The Red Eagles started their new season last weekend with a 1-0 loss to defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT).
Kedah finished fourth in the league in 2019 but won the FA Cup and reached the final of the Malaysia Cup.
Rowley is off-contract at the end of this year but is hoping to extend his time in south-east Asia.
“I’ve got a contract until the end of the season; I’m doing well now, the first year when I came I had some injuries, so I didn’t play,” he said.
“But now everything’s going good so I’d like to stay here for the next few years.