A-Leagues history-maker suffered football’s most dreaded injury FOUR TIMES by age 19

Ryan Campbell has led Newcastle Jets to their first ever Finals win in 16 years of the Liberty A-League. Ahead of a Semi Final first leg against Melbourne City, he speaks to aleagues.com.au.

Four knee reconstructions, all by the age of 19, changed the course of Ryan Campbell’s life.

He was involved with the New South Wales Institute of Sport and had aspirations of playing professionally. But four ACL injuries within four years derailed that dream.

But it has led the Newcastle Jets head coach to where he is today – preparing for an historic Liberty A-League two-legged Semi-Final against star-studded premiers Melbourne City.


“After the fourth one (knee reconstruction), I think my parents were sick of physio costs and I was sick of doing rehab,” Campbell told aleagues.com.au. “It just wasn’t working out.”

Campbell, though, just loved football too much not to be involved.

There were stints as a coach with ‘Emerging Athletes’ and the ‘Emerging Jets’ program. Also a qualified teacher, he worked as technical director and head coach of Adamstown Rosebud at NPLW level.

He was also working full-time as a primary school teacher and part-time in football before flipping that – full-time coach and part-time teacher upon returning to the Jets two years ago.

Fast forward to this season, and he started the campaign as Gary van Egmond’s assistant coach before the veteran departed for China in January and he was appointed in the interim.

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“I already had thoughts about maybe at the end of this season, having to make a decision on do I want to stay as an assistant or do I want to go out and do my own thing,” Campbell recalled. “I hadn’t made my mind up on that as yet but I had thoughts about at some stage stepping out and doing a head coaching role myself, but I wasn’t in a rush.

“Getting the chance to work and learn from Gary was great. I didn’t really want to rush to give that up if it wasn’t the right opportunity. Obviously you want to develop and ensure when you do get these roles, you’re ready for it and you don’t maybe do it too early and it backfires.

“When the role came, I felt like I was ready. Gary said I was ready. I jumped at the chance when it was offered.”


Campbell has helped make history since stepping up to replace Van Egmond.

Last week’s Elimination Final saw the high-flying Jets upstage Western United in Tarneit for their first ever Liberty A-League finals win.

Talk about that drought was not something Campbell wanted to avoid.

“I’m not the type of person to try to pretend that things don’t exist,” he explained.

“I’d rather speak about it and be open about it because in the end, people think about it anyway. So if you try to avoid it, two or three players will be thinking about then if they mention it, it becomes an issue.

“We spoke about the difference about winning games in a season and when it comes down to having to win. We were definitely prepared for the fact we knew we could be the first team to win a finals game for the Jets.”

“We’re quite lucky in the team we have that we have a few girls who have been in the finals before at other club,” he added.

“People like Melina Ayres and MelindaJ Barbieri, they have been there and done that with teams in the past. They had a big part in the week and just bring that confidence to the girls that we just need to keep playing games as it was a normal match.

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“We treated it as we’ve been playing finals for the last three weeks obviously having to win all of our games to get in the Semi-Finals. We had that bit of preparation for it knowing if we’d lost any of those games leading into the finals, we’d miss out.

“It had a big impact on how we approached the weekend’s game and why we weren’t really fazed by the situation of knowing the Jets hadn’t won a finals game before because it’s such a new team we’ve put together as well.”

Newcastle’s top-six finish also earned the club their first finals appearance in six years and only third since the Jets entered the competition in 2008.

“We’ve flown under the radar a little bit. We knew we were a good chance of making the finals but for a lot of clubs and even our own fans, I think they were probably thinking we were having a positive season and it would be great if we made the finals,” said Campbell.

“But we always had the expectation that we were good enough to get there and we knew if we could get there, we’re going to be a dangerous team in the finals.

“It hasn’t yet hit how big of a deal it is that we’ve actually got ourselves in this situation because we have high expectations and we feel like our job isn’t done yet, which is why I’ve enjoyed working with this group so much.”


Now, the Jets are looking ahead to a showdown with City – a team they have never beaten in their Liberty A-League history.

“We had the two-week break between our game against Adelaide and Western but it kept on creeping in on my talk and the girls talk that we need to really prepare that we are going to give Melbourne City a really good double-header,” Campbell said.

“Although we knew we still had to beat Western United, all the girls were quite disappointed with the performance we put on against Melbourne City last time away. We wanted that chance to play them again.

“We’re not just there to make up the numbers. We genuinely believe we can put on a good show and get a good result against a really good team.

“For the majority of these girls, this season is the first time that they would’ve been genuinely believing they could beat a team like Melbourne City.”

So, does he feel like he belongs at this level now?

“I always felt that my football knowledge and understanding of the game, my understanding of my style of play, I always felt they were suited to this level and I always able to get that style of football happening,” said Campbell.

“I feel like I’m improving really quickly in terms of off-field stuff and the management stuff that you haven’t really had to do as an assistant coach or NPL coach.

“I’ve probably surprised myself a little bit in being effective in those areas quite quickly when I haven’t had to do that before. That’s been my biggest positive so far – being able to manage that whole environment to sure you get the most out of individuals.

“The positivity coming out of the team, the amount of goals we’re scoring, it has definitely proven this level is something I can work at it. Hopefully we keep on progressing and maybe progress beyond. Similar to players, coaches have goals too.”


Campbell is yet to completely mould his coaching philosophy on anything in particular but he has been inspired by Italian coach Roberto De Zerbi’s work with Premier League side Brighton and Hove Albion.

He sees similarities between the Jets and De Zerbi’s Brighton.

“I really enjoy watching Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool but there’s obviously world class players with lots of money. World class resources that those coaches get and in the real world, we don’t get that at the level we’re coaching that,” Campbell said.

“But I think Brighton is a good example of a club that’s similar to the Newcastle Jets, where you know your players are coming in and they have goals maybe moving further in football. Which is exactly how it should be – people should be ambitious.

“They have a clear philosophy – playing in possession of the ball, they’re a high pressing team, they stick to their principles of play even when it doesn’t full get the result. That’s something I’ve really wanted to implement – we have a genuine identity of how we do things.

“There’s teams like Bayer Leverkusen at the moment that have a clear identity. It’s working result-wise but maybe it won’t work in the future but they will stick to that.

“That’s something I’ve learnt – have a principle of how you want to do things and really back that and stick to it. De Zerbi is living that at the highest level.”

Coaching the Jets in the Liberty A-League is not Campbell’s only job with Newcastle.

He has also been juggling his role managing the girl’s academy.

“I really enjoy it because I feel like a big part of our role as a club is to also develop young players from this area and give them the chance to play professional football,” he said.

“With players like Emma Dundas, Lara Gooch and Milan Hammond, they’re all from Newcastle. Having them involved in the A-League is something.

“The person in that role needs to ensure we’re not only developing the ones in the A-Leagues, but the ones underpinning so that the majority of the players playing for our A-League team are being developed by us. I have a youth-based focus in regards to development.”

Emma Dundas has flourished with the Jets this season.

The 16-year-old earned the sixth Young Footballer of the Year nomination for the 2023-24 Liberty A-League season.

Her story is something Campbell wants to see more of in the Hunter region.

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“Emma has really done a good job,” he continued. “When we looked in the pre-season, one of the goals was for her to get some minutes in the A-League. She was just over the moon to be getting a scholarship. For her to start the first game of the season against the Mariners and do so well, then to be involved so much this season is credit to herself and the way she works.

“The thing that is the most beneficial and pleasing for me is she is not playing because we’re giving her a go, she is playing because she’s earning it.

“It’s a proud thing because I’ve known Emma since she was 10 years old when she came into the academy. She was there when I was first there and she was in with the boys in our Emerging Jets academy. She has worked herself all the way through to now being a key player in the A-League, in a team that has made the semi-finals.

“That’s the type of story we want to have more and more at our club – we’re giving players the chance to play at the highest level but not only are we giving them the chance to play, they’re at the level of performing and being key players inside of our team.”


At the other end of the scale in terms of experience, two stars have come to the fore at the business end of the season.

Philippines international Sarina Bolden and striking sensation Melina Ayres have spearheaded Newcastle’s pursuit.

Bolden has scored 14 goals in 18 games this season, including a brace in the Elimination Final.

Ayres – the only player in Liberty A-League history to score two hat-tricks in the Finals Series – also found the back of the net against Western United in extra time. The former Melbourne Victory star has nine finals goals in her career.

“The biggest thing I’ve really enjoyed, especially over the last 4-5 weeks, is how good they are as people,” Campbell said. “Obviously Sarina and Mel play in very similar positions.

“So they realise that probably on the whole, they’re not going to be in the team together often because it’s not really our style of football to play with two out-and-out strikers. But they both just want the best for the team and understand if they’re not playing full minutes, their role is to score goals and support each other. They’re both scoring goals and assisting.

“Them as people and footballers makes it a really exciting thing for Jets fans to know we have so much quality and so many goals we can get, not only from those two but others.”