Griffiths settled in Newcastle

Football is known as the world game and for Jets veteran Ryan Griffiths it has taken him around the globe, and in many respects it has been about enjoying the full circles of life.

Football is known as the world game and for Jets veteran Ryan Griffiths it has taken him around the globe, and in many respects it has been about enjoying the full circles of life.

The 30-year-old has enjoyed a sparkling career in the game that has taken him from the Sutherland Shire of Sydney to iconic Australian clubs, to the UK, Europe and Asia and back to the Hyundai A-League.

Griffiths grew up with a father who loved football and took his family to watch the National Soccer League at every possible occasion. The result was three sons, Joel, Adam and Ryan all becoming professional footballers.

While Joel and Adam had already embarked on professional careers a teenage Ryan also showed promise as a rugby league fullback and in high school was approached by scouts from the Cronulla Sharks.

But he knew when he travelled an hour and a half each way every day from Cronulla to Edensor Park to play for Sydney United's Colts team that he wanted to pursue a career in football.

From there he was asked to join the Northern Spirit's youth team, where providence would have it that the youth team coach was current Jets mentor Gary van Egmond and the first grade coach was none other than Mariners manager Graham Arnold.

After a year under van Egmond, Ryan was offered an apprenticeship with the Northern Spirit First Grade team and consequently made his NSL debut at just 17 years of age against a legendary Marconi outfit.

"They (Marconi) were quite strong at the time," Ryan tells Sportal.

"Graham Arnold just threw me in at the deep end as we were struggling for players and had no other option but to play me."

"It was quite an experience because they were such a team of men and it was quite intimidating - players like Francis Awaritefe."

"We didn't do too badly but we lost the game but Graham was happy with my effort."

After playing for two years off the bench at the Northern Spirit, Ryan wanted to play regular first grade football and Ian Crook, the then coach of Newcastle United offered Ryan a contract to join his brother Joel at the club.

"I used to go up there and watch him Joel play and I saw it as a good opportunity to do what he was doing and play week in week out, and it took off from there."

"As soon as I moved up to Newcastle I feel in love with it. It was just the place for me and it still is. It is very hard to leave this place. Very friendly people and a beach culture, good fishing spots - pretty much everything I like about life."

Ryan impressed in his 52-game stint at Newcastle and he earned a call-up to the Olyroos playing at the Olympics in Athens in 2000. Showcasing his talents in front of European scouts Ryan attracted the offers to trail at clubs such as Stoke and Dundee but visa restrictions meant he was unable to sign a contract in the UK.

"I was very upset because I wanted to start a career overseas and thought it would be great to start at a smaller club and work my way up like other Australian players have done," Ryan recalls.

"Then I got a phone call to go to Romania and there was already three other Australian boys there: Michael Thwaite, Wayne Shroj and Jon McKain.”

"I went there for a week and I was blown away by the professionalism and set up they had and it was better than some of the English places I had been to."

"They looked after us and I signed for two years and the league was brilliant."

"We all did well and we all transferred to different clubs and I went to Rapid Bucharest, which is one of the bigger clubs in Romania."

But with the step up in class so came the step up in expectation. Initially it didn't sit well with Ryan.

"It was crazy and incredible the pressure you feel," he says.

"You are on the front page of the paper every single day. It was a record transfer at the time of 1.5 million Euros which was a lot for Romania. It was a shock for me. I was under pressure as soon as I got there."

"The first game I scored and I thought 'beauty'. The next game I played OK, we drew. The third game we lost and we didn't do the best and then I was on the bench and I stayed there for a while. It was really difficult, but that is what happens at a big club."

"It took me a while to adapt and I started to get homesick and without the other Australian boys it all got very hard."

"But that is when I discovered myself as a man and as a player. I just had to man up and I started doing that."

"The coach put me back in and I started playing UEFA Cup games - that was a brilliant experience playing against big clubs like Paris St Germain and Hertha Berlin and we ended up getting into the quarter finals which was the best effort by a Romania club has ever done."

During this time Ryan was called up to the Socceroos, who was being coached by none other than Graham Arnold. It was one of those full circle moments in his career.

"I felt I deserved it. I was mentally strong in terms of dealing with what I had over there and when I got the chance, I thought I played well for the Socceroos in the few games I played for them," Ryan recalls.

"All the boys around me like Lucas (Neill) and Tim (Cahill) thought I fitted into the team well. It was a great experience and I wished I had played more games, but I missed out on the World Cup squad, which was OK because that team was unbelievable."

After his UEFA Cup displays, offers flooded in from Eastern European clubs but Ryan decided to embark on another change in culture and took up an offer to play in China.

He started with Lianoning before moving on to the massive Beijing Guoan club where he netted 14 goals in 52 matches, many alongside brother Joel, in another full circle moment.

But if the brothers thought they would catch the attention of national selectors playing with one of the biggest clubs in Asia, they were wrong as then Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek constantly overlooked the Griffiths boys in favour of players plying their trade in Europe.

"Both Joel and I scored plenty of goals over there but I didn't get a look in which is a bit frustrating, especially since we were playing in Asia against players we would be playing against in the Asian Cup and World Cup trials."

"It would have been nice to be noticed. I was in one camp with the Socceroos and I got five minutes on a rain-soaked pitch and that was my time to shine and I didn't do anything in that five minutes and that opportunity was gone."

"But I am happy with what I done with the national team."

Despite the let-down of not adding to his five Socceroos caps, Ryan was still very much enjoying his time as a professional footballer.

"Playing in China was a huge culture shock and was very different to how they treat their players. It was pretty much sort yourself out compared to Europe where they go to great lengths to help you out," he explains.

"But it was another learning thing to become more independent and a huge experience culturally and playing football - for instance they don't yell at each other on the field."

"I adapted well and learnt the language. Beijing is a great city, vibrant and I enjoyed living there."

The privilege of playing in the UEFA Cup saw Ryan travel throughout Europe, likewise playing in the Asian Champions League with Beijing gifted Ryan the chance to also visit countries like Korea and Japan, again a great experience.

When his contract expired with Beijing, Ryan was faced with another full circle opportunity to come back to the place where it all started for him and join the Newcastle Jets. Although he could have taken more money to stay in Asia, the final decision was easy.

"There was no other place that I really wanted to come to other than the Jets. I feel I have an amazing connection the club and the city," Ryan says.

"It is hard to explain as the best offer usually gets you over the line, but at the time I definitely took a pay cut to sign with the Jets."

However, Ryan has proved himself and this season is the club's equal leading goal-scorer alongside Kiwi international Jeremy Brockie.

And in yet another full circle moment of his career he is back under the tutelage of Jets coach Gary van Egmond, more than 14 years after the pair worked together at the Northern Spirit.

Ryan's playing style and supreme fitness means he is a perfect fit for van Egmond's high-paced possession-based game and he was one of the first players re-signed when the Jets coach started building a team for the future.

"This club is going to have a huge future," says Ryan.

"What they are trying to do here and what they are trying to achieve is very special and everybody is on board. That is why it was an easy choice to re-sign with the club and not go back over the Asia."

"And I felt I had to give something back because Newcastle pretty much kicked-off my career."