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Southern embracing latest challenge in a life well lived

Former Dog's faith in Islam Daniel Southern joins Bachar Houli at Ramadan dinner
Daniel Southern's life has taken many twists and turns since his retirement in 2000 - ${keywords}
Daniel Southern's life has taken many twists and turns since his retirement in 2000
FORMER Bulldog Daniel Southern returned home to Australia 12 months ago a changed man.

From wild child to AFL footballer to the volatile streets of Egypt, Southern's journey has given him a perspective on life that few in the football community can comprehend.

After nine years of making a life for himself in Cairo, Southern, along with his wife and three-year-old son, fled the post-revolution city for a safer life in Australia. 

Now a full-time mentor with the Clontarf Foundation, Southern hopes his broad life experiences and passion for embracing other cultures will help him change the lives of young indigenous men.

He and his family spent a year living in Tennant Creek near Alice Springs before relocating to Perth in his home state two months ago to work with the Western Australian academy. 

"I feel like I'm giving a little bit back to the young indigenous men that I work with," Southern told

"Hopefully I'm passing on a little bit of knowledge and wisdom through my journey and the life experiences that I've been exposed to.

"There's a lot of bridges that still need to be built, but it starts with education. We're just trying to get our young men to school. Get them to finish their education and hopefully move into full-time employment, and hopefully be positive male role models in generations to come."

From a family splintered by divorce, Southern turned to alcohol and dropped out of school at age 15.

His desire to become an AFL footballer was ultimately a saving grace, as he turned his fortunes around to eventually be drafted with pick 92 to the Bulldogs in 1992.

A chronic knee injury cut short his career in 2000 at age 25, leaving the rough and tough defender with an uncertain future.

The following year, he began studying eco-tourism, which led him across the globe to Cairo in 2005. 

"As a young first-generation Australian I probably wasn't exposed culturally to a lot of other ethnic groups," Southern said.

"It wasn't until I was a young man that I had the opportunity to go explore it for myself. I travelled the world in search of different cultural experiences."

In Egypt, he converted to Islam, a religion that captured his attention in the aftermath of the 2001 September 11 tragedy, and met his wife, Reham.

Becoming a Muslim was another piece in the puzzle for Southern, who said his confession of faith, or Shahada, gave him a sense of belonging.  

Southern's son Zakaria was born as the Egyptian revolution gathered steam in 2011, with criminals and military tanks roaming the streets of Cairo.

On the day of the birth, all foreigners were evacuated from the city. Southern, of course, chose to stay.

"It was total anarchy and chaos," Southern said.

"Civilians had to arm themselves and we had to barricade the front door to feel safe. Everyone I knew had left, I felt isolated. 

"There was gunfire throughout the night, something that was so foreign to me."

It's been a decade since Southern's football career came to an end after 103 games.

He admits he has doubts as to whether his faith would have been accepted wholeheartedly by the AFL community at that time.

"I debuted in 1994, so hopefully as a society we've moved on a little bit more from the preconceived ideas and the prejudice that exists within the wider community," he said.

"Having been out in the western suburbs … there would have probably been a large portion of immigrants or new Australians who lived out that way who would have loved it. 

"The traditional Footscray supporters … I'm not sure how it would have gone down."

Since being back in Australia, he has introduced his son to the game he loves and still regards "as the best sport in the world".

Despite soccer running through Zakaria's veins, with his grandfather having played for Egypt, Southern still hopes he might see his son playing in the red, white and blue in the future.

"We've been to the park a few times, and I've introduced him to the Sherrin," Southern said.

"I think he might make a good centre half-back in years to come, if we're still around in Australia that is.

"He has a Bulldogs footy, so he's got the Bulldog in his blood."