"I had no other choice, success was my only option"
Country of origin: Chile.
Occupation: Property developer & Former footy player. State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Kings cliff. Biggest surprise when arriving to Australia: Not being able to understand anything
By Cristy Abela
Jose Romero is a successful property developer, perhaps best known for his 15 years playing ‘footy’ for the Victorian AFL team Western Bulldogs. He later became part of the coaching staff and then Director of the board before moving into the construction field. During his time as a footy player he was awarded life membership of the Western Bulldogs for outstanding services. He was also ambassador for AFL against racism. He is currently focused on growing his property development business and providing the best opportunities for his family. He is also a father of three talented kids.
Contributions to Victoria
Ambassador for AFL against racism.
Raised awareness and promotion of footy for young South American migrants.
As a developer, he provides opportunities for 1st home buyers.
Tell us your story
In the 70s there was political upheaval in Chile due to Pinochet’s regime. My father was involved in politics so it was dangerous for us to stay there.Due to the political situation there was also lack of opportunities. We had some relatives already in Australia, so my father decided that moving to Melbourne was best for the family. We moved in 1977 (my parents, my brother, my sister and myself) under the refugee program to start a new life with what we could fit in a suitcase. I was seven years old when we arrived to the commission flats in Broadmedows. I have very good memories from that place. As a kid, I thought it was awesome as there were always heaps of kids to play with. In particular, I had a lot of Turkish friends. As soon as we arrived, I was placed into school. I did not speak a word of English, so the first two and a half years at school were very hard as I couldn’t understand one single word. Soccer is huge in Latin America and my family had soccer background, but footy is the main sport in Melbourne, so I started playing footy with friends. This allowed me to integrate better at the school. With time I felt in love with this sport and I also got very good at it, so I just kept playing until I got to the top.
During part of my time as footy player, I was an ambassador for the Latin American community, based in Footscray, Victoria. An injury forced me to retire and it seems it was the right time for it as I had played for 15 years (due to the physical contact this sports involves, most players only play 5-6 years). I stayed with the club first as part of the coaching staff and then as director of the board for 4 years. I made my best friends there and I am very proud of my time playing. While you are playing they encourage to study and so I did building and construction. So, after my time as director of the board, a friend and I started our own building company; we worked on that company for 10 years until we sold it. Now I am a property developer mainly in the inner west and I’m really happy living in arguably one of the best cities in the world.
I met my wife when we were 16 at a church dance, and have been together since. We have been lucky to have three amazing sons and a dog. Although, I didn’t push my kids to play sports as I think sportsmen need to be self-driven, two of them play footy and one plays soccer for Melbourne Victory youth.
I owe everything to my parents and have so much respect and admiration for them as they left everything behind to start a new life in a country they knew nothing about. They just desired a better future for their children. Although, sometimes I feel my dad still misses Chile I know he also feels accomplished that his three kids have found their way here.
Jose and Enza with their sons Michael, Daniel y Joseph
No English – The hardest challenge without doubt was not speaking English. I didn’t know one word and there was not an “English class” so I had to learn it myself. Luckily for me there was this blonde girl that helped me out, she would finish her assignment quickly to spend time helping me. I am forever grateful for her kindness and was lucky to bump into her later in life as she was a football follower.
Integration to Australia – I was a shy kid and I am private person. Imagine as a kid to be put into a classroom to learn English by yourself. I knew the other kids were talking about me and found it terrible! However, this experience was one of many that made me a resilient person. I think coming from a poor background and going through challenging situations gave me the drive and desire to succeed.
Bullying and racial discrimination - Bulling is never OK but unfortunately was a common thing when we arrived. I am glad the AFL introduced in the 90s a program to work on tackling it and preventing it.
Missing out – When you play on a professional level, you live in a bubble. I started playing professional since I was 16 so I didn’t go to night clubs, chase girls, birthday parties, etc. It was the price I had to pay for being a professional sports man. The family dynamics with my extended family was also challenging as you get exhausted (physically and mentally). So, while I was playing, I missed a lot of family events and I was separated from them. Now that my footy days are over I spend more time with my family.
Opportunities – I came when I was very young so it is hard for me to find contrasts between Australia and Latin America; however, I think that we are very lucky that this country offers support and facilities for those who want to achieve their dreams. In terms of sports, as Melbourne is such a sport driving city, there are better pathways to support people on their sports journey.
Piece of advice
Pick you passion and go for it - Try to be the best in your field. You are going to get hurdles on the way, that is part of life but it’s about how you keep progressing forward and keep persisting at it. Everything comes with a price, so if you are prepared to pay the price, you will get there. We try not to spoil our kids and teach them about working hard to achieve your dreams.
Have a plan B - Go for your passion but make sure you have also something else. I was lucky to play for that long, but an injury could have finished my career way earlier. Only 2% of footy players play as long as I did. In terms of our kids, we push them to focus on the academic first and then on the sport. This will also help you to have a balanced life.
In the next few years...
Jose sees himself continue working and expanding his property development company. He also wants to maintain a balanced life as he believes balance is critical, so getting up early in the morning and going for walks with his wife is one of the things he plans on continue doing. He wants to keep traveling and spending time with his family. He loves going back to visit Chile. If you wish to contact Jose email us at firstname.lastname@example.org