Brian MacNicol: The NSL veteran mentoring the next generation of footballers

Brian MacNicol has had a career in Australian football that has spanned many decades.

The 53-year-old had strong ambitions to play football professionally ever since he was a youngster in Queensland, but growing up in the sunshine state forced him to make difficult decisions to pursue that dream.

“Back in those days when I was going through the ranks, the two big clubs in Queensland, Brisbane Lions and Brisbane City weren’t in the NSL,” he told Soccerscene.

“So, to progress your football career in Australia you had to either move to Sydney, Adelaide or Melbourne.”

MacNicol would ultimately choose to move to Melbourne, with a few clubs interested in the 21-year-old at the time.

He would eventually trial and sign for Brunswick Juventus, who was coached by Robert Vieri at the time (the father of Italian superstar Christian Vieri).

MacNicol would spend two seasons at the club before moving to Heidelberg United, where he would launch his career in the NSL – eventually playing for other clubs including the Gippsland Falcons.

“Compared to the A-League – the standard in the NSL was probably not as good technically, I think,” he said.

“But I believe there was better players going around in the NSL days; you had your Viduka’s, your Okon’s, your Zelic’s, they were playing at 19-20 years of age in the competition before going overseas, they were unbelievable players.

After his playing career ended, which also included a stint in Hong Kong where he played in the Asian Champions League, MacNicol would focus his attention on becoming a coach.

The former NSL midfielder worked under some great coaches and motivators in his time, which helped this transition.

“I’ve had some really good coaches in my playing career, MacNicol said.

“Obviously, I had Frank Arok, Stuart Munro, as well as Gary Cole for a short period of time.

“I had Stuart and Frank for a much longer time, I think they were great man managers and I really enjoyed their sessions during my playing career.”

MacNicol would go on to work, amongst other roles, as an assistant coach for Dandenong Thunder, under 21’s coach at Oakleigh Cannons (which he has been doing for the past 3 years) and under 20’s coach at South Melbourne.

Speaking about his time at South Melbourne, MacNicol said: “South Melbourne is a big club, back in the old NSL days they were one of the biggest clubs in Australia.

“The facilities there and everything else made for a good environment. At the time when I was there, they had some very good youth teams – so it was a good experience.”

Since moving into coaching, MacNicol has been heavily involved in the youth development at these NPL clubs.

He explained the system overall for young players is much more advanced than what it was when he was going through the ranks in his youth.

“It’s unbelievable the setup these days,” he said.

“Back in our day we didn’t really have many pathways, there wasn’t anywhere near the programs they have today, no Miniroos or NTC.

“They did have the NSL Youth League and the VIS I believe, but that was about it.

“The kids these days are so lucky, with the pathways they have. It’s not only that, when I was growing up, I don’t think we had the coaches with the knowledge that the kids today do.

“Even when you look at community football it was just a dad coaching back then, it wasn’t someone who was qualified or a past player who could give you a bit more knowledge.

Despite the increase of standards in the system, MacNicol believes a youngster’s desire to progress in some cases has dropped off in comparison to past eras.

“I believe youth development wise the kids are technically very good, but some of them lack a bit of heart, which I think is missing from the old days.

“You didn’t complain back then, you just did it – if the coach yelled at you, you moved on. I know it’s an old school mentality and things have changed, but I think that is the key bit of difference,” he concluded.

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Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Parramatta City FC: Celebrating 50 years and a place to truly call home

As a Club entrenched in history, Parramatta City FC has secured a double milestone in its future towards providing a football team for the region.

For many years, Parramatta City had no authentic home ground, having been based in the neighbouring suburb of Rydalmere.

However, coinciding with the half century of existence is the confirmed move to Old Saleyards Reserve in the suitably located heartland of North Parramatta.

Thanks to the individuals and committee members and their negotiations with City of Parramatta Council, the new fields bring a range of benefits – such as increased capacity for participation, improved facilities and enhanced community engagement.

Two of those committee members to turn the plans into reality are Club Secretary Lou Mantzos and President Angelo Aronis.

Having been at the Club since day one in 1974 from their junior days in numerous capacities, both are still heavily involved in driving future growth in participants in junior and senior level.

Mantzos described what it was like at Rydalmere and how the move across to Old Salesyards Reserve unfolded.

Training at Eric Primrose Reserve in Rydalmere.

“We had been at Rydalmere since 1981 and it’s an older area that is now growing with some new housing,” he told Soccerscene.

“However, the only way for us to survive long-term was being back in Parramatta, rather than competing with Rydalmere FC who are based up the road and with brand new facilities.

“The breakthrough occurred last year with executive general managers of council in the parks & recreation area.

“We had follow up meetings early this year and eventually our mission was accomplished in leasing Old Saleyards Reserve which is a nine-year-old facility.

“The fields are in excellent shape and rated as one of three A-grade grounds in the Parramatta precinct.

“We now have a dozen teams training and playing at the venue and once the junior rugby league moves across to Doyle Park nearby, we will be permanently based at our new home in 2025.”

The new home of Old Saleyards Reserve.

Similarly to all clubs involved in the negotiation process, challenges are always going to occur, whether it be due to capacity or financially.

Aronis shared his involvement at the Club alongside Mantzos during a difficult period.

“We came into it 4-5 years ago as a sub-committee, working on the new grounds and other issues involved in the Club,” he said to Soccerscene.

“The previous committees did their best in trying times, worked hard, kept the club afloat especially during the Covid pandemic but lost numerous teams during and post this period, and potentially other clubs had similar problems.

“It did make us realise that Rydalmere was not a growth area.

“For example, across Silverwater Road, Newington and Sydney Olympic Park precinct was thriving and nobody wanted to cross over and get to us which is essentially walking distance.

“The other side of Silverwater Road, which includes Wilson Park, now NSW cricket academy, was growing exponentially and the previous committees just weren’t able to attract the numbers we needed.”

The Covid-19 pandemic was not immune to Parramatta City, who needed to navigate through postponed games and seasons.

It presented the confronting reality that even a Club like Parramatta City could fold due to mounting hardship and pressure.

However, Aronis and Mantzos persevered and played a crucial role in keeping the Club afloat.

It was one initiative in particular that Mantzos believes changed the Club’s fortunes entirely.

“In September last year, after failed attempts due to Covid-19 lockdowns, we finally held a reunion game to bring back some familiar faces,” he said.

“It was Andrew Charlton (Federal MP for Parramatta) who assisted with funding for some new equipment and together helped bring many former players back to participate on the day.

“There was a collective buy-in from all participants – the former Parramatta City state league (a powerhouse during the 90’s) and all-age players paid $20 to enter as a way to raise funds and interest.

“We got 40 players on the day and the game attracted a lot of attention as people started talking about it and that was the reason why we did it – we wanted to get traction back rather than see a slow demise.

“We had a ‘Beyond 50’ push that really urged Club members to get behind us and do what they could to keep us around for the next 50 years.”

The reunion game welcomed many familiar faces.

The reunion proved a major hit, paving the way for long-term success in participation.

Aronis added what the overall impact was like post-event and a great indication of what we expect to see.

“We had two teams in 2023 as a band-aid solution, and if it stayed that way, we would have had no choice but in folding the Club,” he said.

“For this season, the number of teams is up at 12 and the reunion was one of the springboard we needed as we reached that figure without really trying.

“Now, we anticipate that we will double that figure by 2025 which would be a fantastic result.

“We were really proud of the efforts of all involved on reunion day and every bit that went into it was worth it.”

“In closing, I sincerely thank all those individuals and recent committees of this proud club for the contributions.”

Peter Tsekenis, Peter Papoythis and Manny Spanoudakis: Marconi’s three wise men

It’s rare to witness longevity in Australian football coaching staff.

However, in the world of Marconi head coach, Peter Tsekenis, and assistant coach, Peter Papoythis, a magic formula exists which has seen the coaching duo share 17 years together – including eight years in their current roles at Bossley Park.

Three years ago, the pair was joined by well known coaching analyst, Manny Spanoudakis, who has added another strand of expertise to the coaching regime.

With the National Second Tier imminent in 2025, the three coaches have a new challenge to restore the famous club to its former glory.

It’s no secret the club paraded some of the greatest players in Australian football history during the NSL – with the likes of Jim Rooney, Ray Richards, Ernie Campbell, Alan Maher, John Russell, Gary Byrne, Bertie Mariani, Richie Williams, Stewart Robertson, Paul Degney, Mark Jankovics, Peter Sharne, David Lowe, Rob Wheatley, Luke Casserly, Kimon Taliadoros, Ian Gray, Roberto Vieri, Rod Brown, Eddie Krncevic, Paul Carter, Tom McCulloch, Tony Henderson, Jean Paul de Marigny, Frank Farina, Peter Katholos, Steve Corica, Mark Schwarzer and Ian Hunter filling Marconi Stadium every time they appeared.

This season is a watershed in preparation for the National Second Tier and the Club is currently in fourth spot, just two points behind leaders Western Sydney Wanderers.

“There were a lot of changes this season with a refreshed squad of young players adding to the core group,” Peter Tsekenis said.

“Unlike Marconi in previous years and some other clubs, we believe it‘s important to cultivate youth development and this year will see several players emerging to make their mark on the League.

“Nevertheless, we’ve experienced the usual injuries and suspensions early in the season, but after the unfortunate 3-2 away loss to Sydney United, we bounced back with that resounding 4-0 win against St. George which was repeated with another 4-0 defeat of Hills United last Saturday night.”

Marconi players look on during the 3-2 loss to Sydney United.

“It was a total rebuild this season because we lost thirteen players in the off season and the new players have to understand what the coaching staff want,” Peter Papoythis said.

“The loss of James Bayliss in the first round for the season due to a popped shoulder was certainly something we didn’t expect.

“Fortunately, the established players Marco Jesic, Brandon Vella and Nathan Millgate are a mainstay and are supported well by Dominic Costanzo and James Temelkovski.”

The Marconi Men in a team photo.

“With the addition of the younger players this year, there has been a great energy to train and learn,” Manny Spanoudakis said.

“The five games played in fourteen days preceding the Sydney United match was a real test for the squad.”

“We were accused of parking the bus against Sydney United in the second half after dominating the first half and leading 2-0, but the heavy program certainly didn’t aid our cause,” Peter Papoythis added.

“There were no instructions to close the game down and our players simply didn’t rise to the challenge by neglecting the plan to play more into the opponents half in the second 45 minutes,” Tsekenis explained.

Marconi’s Senior Women who compete in their respective NPL NSW competition.

“Closing shop isn’t in our vocabulary and we’d had a good week of preparation,” Spanoudakis said.

“However, with new, young players who only have 30 games under their belt, game management, fitness and the extremely congested program weighed against us.

“We faced a similar situation on the Wednesday night, after the Sydney United defeat in the Australia Cup match against Southern Districts when we were down 2-0 at half time.

“In the second half we returned to our game plan and scored four goals which proved the players had learned from the Sydney United loss.”

“The late loss to Sydney United was a setback  but we didn’t set out to defend and some credit must be paid to our opponents for coming out at us throughout the second half and the winning goal was a screamer which couldn’t be prevented,” Papoythis added.

Rockdale Ilinden v Marconi in Round 2 NPL NSW Men’s.

With the stronger level of competition anticipated in the N.S.T., Tsekenis believes the brand of football will be similar to the NPL but the quality of player the League will attract will be better which will ensure a rise in playing standards.

“I’m programmed to play in the NST as the competition will provide a new challenge playing against Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and hopefully Tasmanian teams” he said.

“The NPL has its limitations and younger players will want to play in it and critically the Marconi club is totally switched on for it to provide something different for our supporters.”

“This will encourage former NSL fans to reconnect with the game as they will be seeing the best players from NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and possibly Tasmania competing at the highest level in a more professional League,” Spanoudakis added.

Sydney Olympic v Marconi in Round 4 of NPL NSW Men’s.

In anticipation of the step up to the N.S.T. , in the last two years, the Marconi club has implemented major refurbishment to the ground facilities, including a brand new state of the art scoreboard, painting of the grandstand, new world class change rooms for the home and visiting teams and two new synthetic pitches with grandstands and scoreboards.

“The field dimensions of these pitches are bigger than some other club’s facilities and it means irrespective of the weather we always train,” Tsekenis said.

“These facilities were a great investment because they were used for the home base of the Columbian Women’s World Cup squad last year,” Spanoudakis explained.

“The club is also planning replacement of the plastic seating if there is a positive response to the NST from supporters.

“Who knows, if demand is great enough for the NST, the club could make the ground an all seater boutique stadium.”

Marconi v Sydney FC in Round 7 NPL NSW Men’s.

This begs the question as to how a club like Marconi with 40,000 members isn’t in the A-League.

Peter Tsekenis believes as a coach you always aspire to the next level and geographically Marconi sits between Macarthur and Western Sydney Wanderers.

However, at this stage the club would appear committed to establishing itself in the NST before it entertains thoughts of applying for the A-League.

“It would be a perfect fit but it really depends on the aspirations of the club Board and the demands of the members,” he said.

“Yet there are players from the club who have moved on to A- League and that will continue to happen.

“Some players are content to play NPL as they earn more money playing part time football and working in a job.

“This is the case with some players who have been approached by A-League clubs but prefer to play part time football.”

“The club has everything to offer if it wanted to make a bid to play in the A-League and I would love to be part of it,” Papoythis added.

“However, consolidation in the NST is the first objective and then it’s up to the decision makers whether the A-League should be pursued.”

“A number of players in our current Marconi squad could step up to A-League if they were given the opportunity to train on a full time basis,” Spanoudakis explained.

“The N.S.T. needs to be fulltime so we can have six sessions per week, rather than only three.”

With the advent of the NST, there will also be more opportunity for coaches, but Peter Tsekenis always has adopted the philosophy of not looking too far ahead.

“I’m privileged to be coaching at one of the biggest clubs in the country and seeking success for the club this season is my main focus,” he said.

“The NST will be the next challenge and naturally to progress to a coaching job in the A-League with Marconi would be ideal.

“Beyond that I would love to be involved with the junior national teams which I experienced as a player.”

“I dream of having a full time job in football like coaches have in Europe even in the lower divisions because it’s difficult when you’re working in a business and trying to commit to football totally,” Papoythis added.

Manny Spanoudakis doesn’t look too far ahead but believes if you focus on the job at hand, opportunities will naturally present.

“I have really enjoyed my stint at Marconi for the last three years and if coaching at a higher level became available, I would consider it carefully,” he said.

“However, my main focus currently is to assist the coaching staff in their goal to add trophies to the club’s collection.”

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