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Gary Cole: There is no better time than now to unify the game

Socceroos great Gary Cole feels it is now time to “find a way to heal” the wounds of the past and move forward for the good of the game.

In a wide-ranging interview with Soccerscene, the former NSL striker believes FFA CEO James Johnson is the right man to lead Australian football into a new era, incorporating “the best of both” the old NSL and A-League.

“I think James has been an absolute breath of fresh air,” he said.

“You couldn’t have wished a worse start on a person to take over that role.

“My hat’s off to him and I just can’t applaud him enough for the start he has made and his willingness to listen and engage.”

Cole remains involved with the game in some capacity, after being elected as a member of Football Coaches Australia’s Executive Committee, late last year.

The 64-year-old has a strong belief that coaching education in Australia needs to improve and was a major factor behind his decision to put his name forward for FCA.

“Coaches have never had a seat at the table (in the game) for the last 30 odd years,” Cole said.

“Today (with FCA), we’ve got a good working relationship with James, Chris Nikou and the FFA board.

“We are talking regularly, having zoom meetings; they understand that coaches are an important part of the game. It’s absolutely terrific.”

Throughout his coaching career, Cole would go on to be an assistant to Socceroos coach Frank Arok, as well as managing various clubs in the old National Soccer League and Victorian Premier League.

The ex-Heidelberg player admits he was fortunate to land his first coaching gig, as an assistant to Ron Smith at the AIS in 1987.

“I was always going to go into coaching and I was incredibly lucky that in my last year of playing as a 30-year-old at Preston, I went and did my Senior License (equivalent of an A Coaching License today).

“That was at the end of my career, then within six months I applied for and accepted a role as Ron’s assistant at the AIS. So that was absolutely incredible.

“At the age of 30 I had a full-time job in coaching and I have to say at the time I didn’t realise how lucky I was to do that.”

The mentorship he received and experience he gained from working alongside Smith, has led Cole to question the way Australia develops coaches in recent times.

“I had an incredible coach and mentor in Ron who I worked with day in, day out. So, not only did I just complete a coaching license, I got to practice on a daily basis with someone there who would coach me as a coach and answer my questions.

“When I left and came back to Victoria because my mum developed cancer, I coached Heidelberg in the old NSL and I still had my coaching mentor on the other end of the phone.

“Nowadays, most modern coaches don’t have that.

“We’ve done a terrific job at getting thousands of coaches through coaching courses. But, getting a coaching license is a bit like being an 18-year-old and getting your driver’s license, it gives you access to the roads but it doesn’t make you a great driver.”

The AIS program was recently brought back into focus after a panel of six former ‘golden generation’ Socceroos heralded the setup and its role in their football development, in a recent Optus Sport discussion.

Cole echoed their sentiments claiming “It was integral to the development of players at that point in time.”

“Those guys all had wonderful talent but what Ron Smith did was turn the AIS into perhaps the best professional finishing school for athletes that we have ever seen.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for both players and coaches to develop and I was very sorry to see it go.”

When quizzed on the possibility of a reformation of the program, the Socceroos goal scorer believes the ship has sailed on that front, due to the current structure implemented in the game.

“Most countries around the world now have some sort of national coaching setup and some of those have a system like Clairefontaine in France, which is still there,” he said.

“But we are so different.”

According to the former Socceroos assistant, a country such as Belgium which is much smaller in size, makes it significantly easier to introduce a national setup.

That’s not the case in Australia, however.

“Here, we are so vast in distance and travel. I think it would be very difficult, because the model has been…to help A-League clubs develop academies and then…help NPL clubs develop academies.

“There are challenges around the depth and quality of the coaching talent, as well as getting kids in there. It’s not simple to answer.”

After an extremely decorated playing career in the NSL and the Socceroos, Cole looks back fondly on his time in the old national competition.

Memories of his playing days at Heidelberg stick out vividly in his mind, particularly the large crowds that would gather for matches against South Melbourne.

“It was a tough competition, played in smaller stadiums. We would have 15, 20, 25,000 people at Middle Park or Olympic Park (against South Melbourne).

“It was a real derby like Liverpool against Everton. You could have a terrible season, but if you won the derby then you are everyone’s hero.

“There was a great passion to it.”

Most NSL clubs at the time were ethnically based, which created distinct atmospheres at the grounds.

“You can remember the sights and sounds,” Cole said.

“Will Hastie (Executive Manager of Football at FV) and I were having a conversation last year, (saying) you could remember the smells from the different cultures.

“That multicultural background that it gave us was absolutely incredible.”

Cole described the transition between the end of the NSL and start of the A-League as a divisive period, which the game must now, after 15 years, finally try to put to bed.

“I loved the NSL, but so much was made out of the crowd trouble. It was bad at different times and that was a part of killing it off unfortunately.

“But by the same token, (when the A-League was created) it became ‘old soccer against new football’. It drove a stake in the heart of the game and developed this disconnect straight away.

“Not only because the (NSL) clubs couldn’t play in the top division, but we did away with the history. It was like the history of Australian football, for a long time, kicked off in 2004.”

In that year, Cole was appointed Melbourne Victory’s inaugural Football Operations Manager, a position he would hold for seven years, with the Victory winning two championships in that time.

There were certainly challenges in that period, including a board which was initially not comprised of football people.

Speaking about his time at Victory, Cole said it was “perhaps the most exciting and remarkable thing I’ve ever done.”

“I’m blessed that Ernie Merrick came on board. We brought in some great players, we developed some great talent and I’m very proud of that unique opportunity.”

Whilst a fantastic achievement, it would pale in comparison to the proudest moment in his football career.

“I can close my eyes and think about my first game for the Socceroos, standing on the pitch before the game against Greece in Melbourne.

“When you stand there with a green and gold shirt on and the national anthem plays, the hair on the back of your neck stands up.

“And then, you realise you’ve got an opportunity to represent your country.

“I’ve got a lot of things to be proud about in the game, but that for me is by far and away perhaps the best day.”

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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.

The FFA Cup should be renamed the Australia Cup in a nod to the game’s history

This past Wednesday, Football Federation Australia held its seventeenth Annual General Meeting.

One of the agenda items included a proposal which would change the governing body’s name from ‘Football Federation Australia’ to ‘Football Australia’.

FFA’s members unanimously approved the proposal and will go ahead with the plan to change its company name to ‘Football Australia’.

“Today we took another significant step on this new journey we have embarked upon when the FFA Congress unanimously resolved to change the organisation’s name from Football Federation Australia to ‘Football Australia’,” FFA CEO James Johnson said on Wednesday.

“This new name – which we will transition to over the coming months – signifies a fresh and exciting start for the game under the new strategic agenda, and a return to the roots of football in Australia.”

“I firmly believe that the opportunity for further change and positive transformation in Australian football burns brighter than ever, and with the foundations that we have set in 2020 there is much to be optimistic about,” he concluded.

What exact specifics Johnson is talking about when he refers to returning to the roots of the game in Australia is unclear, however one of the organisation’s touted changes is to re-brand the FFA Cup to the Australia Cup.

It’s a move that does make sense, as the governing body moves itself and its assets away from the “FFA” moniker.

Johnson told the SMH: “We’ll be announcing in the coming weeks a revamped FFA Cup – of course, the name change will be a part of that thinking.”

“But it will go a lot broader than just the name change … we’re looking at a different format which will be more open, a format that would allow more opportunities for clubs across the country to participate in national-level competitions.”

Putting aside possible tweaks in the format of the competition, if the change in name of the tournament does go ahead, it would be the right move.

FFA Chairman Chris Nikou inspecting the original Australia Cup. Credit: FOX SPORTS

The Australia Cup was the country’s first nationwide knockout football competition, beginning in 1962.

Yugal defeated St George Budapest 8-1 at Sydney’s Wentworth Park in the competition’s inaugural final.

Four-time NSL champions Sydney Hakoah were the only team to win the Australia Cup on two occasions.

Other winners of the tournament included George Cross, APIA Leichardt and Port Melbourne Slavia.

The cup ran until 1968, with administrators deciding the competition would be abolished due to various difficulties including interstate travel problems.

Since the cup competition was a national event, it did open up the doors for the idea of a long-term National Soccer League, which was ultimately introduced nine years later in 1977.

This is just a snippet of the game’s rich history and the return of the Australia Cup in modern day would celebrate and recognise the days of old.

It would be in unique contrast to some of the previous administrators of the game who have treated Australian football’s past with the utmost contempt.

In what could be seen as an extremely symbolic event of the way Australian football has ignored its history, the Australia Cup trophy was found in a rubbish bin in 2011 by builders who were carrying out renovations at the Hakoah Club.

Embarrassing events like this may have given James Johnson and his administration team the impetus to address these failures, with resources such as the ‘XI Principles’ document, drafted earlier this year, acting as a catalyst.

One of the principles, titled “Reset the narrative of Australian football”, has the following point as a proposed measure of change.

“Create a narrative which is contemporary, genuine, and acknowledges Australian football’s multicultural origins, its rich history and diverse football community today. It must foster unity, be football-focused and capitalise on football’s global nature for the benefit of the Australian game.”

The appropriate acknowledgment of the Australia Cup as the name of the country’s knockout cup competition, will be a small step in respecting the broader history of Australian football.

FFA to be renamed as ‘Football Australia’ following AGM

FFA will be known as ‘Football Australia’ following unanimous Congress support in the 17th Annual General Meeting.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) will be known as ‘Football Australia’ following unanimous Congress support in the 17th Annual General Meeting (AGM).

The backing came after a consultation process as part of the development of the XI Principles for the future of Australian football. 

The AGM was held via video conference on Wednesday afternoon (AEDT), alongside the release of FFA’s 2020 Annual Review.

FFA’s Members voted to re-elect Mr Chris Nikou to FFA’s Board of Directors, while Mr Stefan Kamasz was elected to the Board.

FFA Members also approved Football Coaches Australia’s (FCA) application to become a Provisional Member of the FFA Congress.

Following the AGM, Nikou was installed by his fellow Directors to the position of FFA Chair – a role he has fulfilled since November 2018.

“In extremely difficult circumstances, throughout 2020 as a Board, Management, and Staff, we have continued the important work of implementing the critical structural changes to our game that were agreed in 2018,” Nikou said.

“Our Board has been focused on taking the necessary steps to ensure the protection, enhancement, and continued growth of our game, whilst empowering FFA’s administration to chart a new path forward.

“Increased collaboration with the game’s stakeholders has seen the development of a range of initiatives that will underpin the game’s future development. Significantly, we are close to finalising the unbundling of the professional leagues from FFA. This development will mark a new era for the game in Australia.

“FFA’s commitment to working hand-in-hand with all of the game’s stakeholders to grow the game has never been stronger or more necessary.

“Finally, I would like to extend a warm welcome to new FFA Director Mr Stefan Kamasz, and look forward to his contributions to a Board which meets FFA’s ‘40/40/20’ gender representation principle and boasts a diversity of skills, expertise, and experience.”

FFA Chief Executive Officer, Mr James Johnson, said that FFA, through initiatives such as the XI Principles for the future of Australian football, has been able to establish a strong platform to launch the game into its future.

“Despite the challenges of the year, 2020 has witnessed many highlights for Australian football,” he said.

“Among the headline moments, we won the right to co-host the next FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in 2023, saw both Men’s and Women’s teams qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and launched the XI Principles for the future of Australian football, a new strategic agenda and 15-year vision for the sport.

“It is clear that we have already begun to change Australian football, and we are very well placed to capitalise on the opportunities before us.

“2021 will provide the opportunity to build on the momentum we have generated this year, and shapes as a year of implementation as we focus on bringing the XI Principles to life.

“Today we took another significant step on this new journey we have embarked upon when the FFA Congress unanimously resolved to change the organisation’s name from Football Federation Australia to ‘Football Australia’.

“This new name – which we will transition to over the coming months – signifies a fresh and exciting start for the game under the new strategic agenda, and a return to the roots of football in Australia.

“I firmly believe that the opportunity for further change and positive transformation in Australian football burns brighter than ever, and with the foundations that we have set in 2020 there is much to be optimistic about.”

FFA’s 2020 Annual Review includes financial and strategic updates, as well as reviews of performances and events from Australia’s national teams and competitions throughout the year. You can find it here.

World-class speakers set for Australian Coaching Conference this weekend

The Australian Coaching Conference will take place this Saturday November 28, with a range of big-name football figures set to speak at the event.

Topping the list is legendary football coach Arsene Wenger who will present at the online conference alongside other notable speakers such as Mile Jedinak, Graham Arnold and Julie Foudy.

The event will be run by Football NSW, in conjunction with the FFA, Football Coaches Australia and a number of other Member Federations including Football Victoria, Football West, Northern NSW Football and Football South Australia.

Well-known football personalities Stephanie Brantz and Adam Peacock will co-host the conference this weekend.

“It is extremely pleasing to see that this conference has received such a positive response and that we will be going out to more than 1800 participants across the state, throughout the country and indeed around the world,” Football NSW Head of Football, Peter Hugg stated.

“More significantly, it is great that we have been able to explore various technology platforms that have come to the fore during the COVID19 pandemic, and introduce both online learning and a means by which we can upload content, both now for this weekend, but also for future reference over the next 12 months or so – I can only envisage that this will increase as we develop this concept more and more.

“I think the success of this weekend’s Conference demonstrates a certain ‘build it and they will come’ approach. That is, we have been fortunate to have some of the best football people in Australia and throughout the world present across a range of relevant key areas, and as we have packaged and priced the day accordingly, pleasingly the coaching fraternity have responded.” 

Hugg explained that with the calibre of names on show, the conference is set to be a must-see event.

“To think that we have names like Arsene Wenger, two former world champions in former US players, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain, national team coaches Graham Arnold and Tom Sermanni, former Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak, Matildas Heather Garriock and Lisa DeVanna, Xavier Closas from the FC Barcelona Futsal program, representatives from FIFA’s Technical Department, and many more…it’s just a quality line up and augers well for a great day.”

 

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