Tim O’Connor: Thanks for joining me, Diane. I'm really looking forward to hearing a bit more about your life and how a young girl from England that probably knew nothing about Australian rules football has ended up running one of the biggest competitions in Victoria.
So, where were you born and what was life in those early years?
Diane Ryan: I was born in West Yorkshire (near Leeds) and grew up in a small town. Life was pretty idyllic, my friends and I would spend most fine days outside for hours. No mobiles in those days so our parents would see us again when we were hungry. I have one sister and we were a close family and did a lot of hiking in the Yorkshire Dales. We always seemed to be out and about on day trips on weekends.
TO’C: When did you move to Australia and what brought you out here?
DR: 1985. My dad had two brothers out here and we saw a story on the Ash Wednesday bushfires on TV. We didn’t get much coverage about Australia other than Skippy and it gave my parents the urge to visit. We didn’t realise the distance from South Australia to Wendouree and thought the relatives could have been caught up in the fire. Without taking away from the seriousness of that day, it was comical we didn’t realise the vastness of Australia. It was during that trip in 1984 that I met Gerard and just under a year later we married here in Ballarat.
TO’C: Before taking on the role with the Central Highlands Football League, what other work had you done?
DR: I was a dental nurse initially and then worked as an invoice clerk for a major supermarket in the UK. I did a lot of bar work at night as I was determined to travel. When I came to Australia I worked for the Commonwealth Bank for 18 years.
TO’C: How did you come about getting the role with the CHFL?
DR: I had a work-related tendon injury which was not improving. Leaving the bank and taking some time off seemed like the only way to overcome this, so I did intend to take at least a year off. Gerard (my husband) was the administrator of the league at the time and initially asked if I would do a few clearances and registrations to help out. When Gerard started work in Melbourne, the league needed someone to step up and take on the role of secretary here in Ballarat. I didn’t manage the year off!
TO’C: Now I said when I asked you for this interview that you are an unlikely football administrator - would you agree with that?
DR: Absolutely. As a female who doesn’t follow sport, people do find it strange. Although it does have its benefits. Not being aligned to any one club in the league, I remain impartial both on and off the field. Integrity is very important to me so I just prefer to get on with the running of the league behind the scenes and supporting the member clubs as best I can.
TO’C: I hope I'm not being disrespectful in saying this because I think it's one of the reasons you are so good at the job, but you don't seem to be a lover of the game of football. You just focus on your role in making sure everything runs smoothly behind the scenes. Is that a fair comment?
DR: Yes it is a fair comment. I will be blunt here! Some people have said in my presence “Diane hates football” which is not the case at all. I have never been a sports watcher and have never pretended otherwise, however Australian rules is not all about what happens on the ground. The communities which it creates in this league are amazing and give so much back to the people involved and that is lovely to see.
I have never been a sports watcher and have never pretended otherwise, however Australian rules is not all about what happens on the ground.Diane Ryan
TO’C: Who do you follow in the AFL?
DR: No one in particular. I have tried to watch the Bulldogs while Jordan Roughead has been playing as I know his mum and Jordan has done a couple of guest speaker stints for me. I watched the AFL grand final in 2016 for the first time and really wanted his team to win. And boy was that a stressful afternoon!
TO’C: Your husband Gerard is a well known name in football (he currently works with AFL Victoria). I'm sure he has been a huge support in your role with the CHFL…
DR: He taught me this job. He lives and breathes football and his knowledge of the industry is amazing, so I am very lucky in that respect. I have also been lucky with the support I have had with past and the current president and board/executive members of the league. Reg Haintz and Merv McKay were a great support – their knowledge of the league and its history is vast. Working with current president Eddy Comelli has been amazing, too. I have learnt a lot from watching Eddy’s leadership of the league in his role as president.
TO’C: What's the most rewarding part of your job?
DR: Meeting and working with so many dedicated people through the clubs is rewarding and working through successful interleague and finals series is always satisfying.
TO’C: What about the most challenging?
DR: The challenging times are centred around individual circumstances which arise. This year was especially distressing with the passing of Lachie Poulter at Learmonth. That was not just challenging, but stressful trying to support the people who were directly involved on the day. I will never forget that day and a sadness is still present.
TO’C: I'm sure there has been some funny or embarrassing moments over the journey - is there one that sticks in the mind?
DR: Not relating to the CHFL, but the first AFL game I went to at the MCG was in early 1986. I was never allowed to go to the soccer in the UK due to the violence, so to see spectators not segregated in the MCG and children, women and elderly people attend was a shock. I didn’t see much of the game as people were heckling each other and I was waiting for the riots to start! Pretty embarrassing…
TO’C: You've been involved with the CHFL for more than a decade now... is the competition in a stronger position now than it was when you first started?
DR: The health of any league is very fluid, nothing stays the same and you never know what a season is going to bring about. The CHFL is fortunate to have a committed board at present who work towards the betterment of the league. The members of the board are selfless and put in far more work behind the scenes than people see. The league is very lucky in that respect.
TO’C: Any suggestions on how it can be improved?
DR: There is always room for improvement and the CHFL board is looking at ways to decrease the costs to the clubs as this is a strain all clubs face. The time aspect for the volunteers is an issue which needs to be worked on, but sometimes this is beyond the control of the board of management.
TO’C: I'm sure you've made some great friendships in your time with the CHFL…
DR: I have met some wonderful people over the years and the clubs are so hospitable. It is special and appreciated to be invited to their club when they have events on during the season and share their special days.
TO’C: Before we finish, tell us about what you love to do away from work and what the future looks like for you and your family.
DR: I love catching up with family and friends and have a passion for cooking, music, theatre and reading. Getting away is a priority. We have a place at Port Fairy which we go to chill out. I really want to travel wider and I’m trying to convince Gerard to go to the Galapagos Islands soon. I have always wanted to travel to offbeat places – sitting on a beach in Bali would drive me nuts!