Glenn Fontana – the Lord Mayor of Wollongong Football

It was Jim Fraser, the former heroic Socceroo goalkeeper and current head of Western Sydney Wanderer’s youth goalkeeping program, who some years ago recognised Glenn Fontana’s contribution to football in the Illawarra region by naming him the Lord Mayor of Wollongong.

In his many years as a senior player, senior and youth coach, Fontana has been held in high esteem by generations of former senior and youth players which has elevated him to household name status in the region.

Fontana commenced his long journey in football as a professional with Balgownie in NSW Federation 2 in the 1974 season, graduating to the NSL with Wollongong City where he remained for five seasons , making ninety appearances and scoring over twenty goals. He has been ever present in coaching roles to this day since he retired from playing.

Unlike most Australian coaches who confine their education to home, Fontana had a long term association with Liverpool and Fulham for whom he was Chief Talent Scout for a combined period of seventeen years.

He has crossed paths with many legendary football figures in his ventures overseas but never believed he would meet Wiel Coerver at a Liverpool training session.

At one stage he had two hundred players at his Coerver coaching school in Wollongong.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Glenn Fontana recalls his early memories of football on the South Coast, the worship of Jim Kelly’s Gang , Adrian Alston, Peter Wilson and Max Tolson, his experiences as a senior player, adventures in Europe and his love affair with the world game.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What are your memories of South Coast football in your early days, and who were the greatest coaches, influences and idols?

GLENN FONTANA

I played my junior football from u/6’s with Balgownie and always had an ambition to play first grade which transpired when George Ramage, the legendary Balgownie and South Coast keeper, selected me in a match against Marconi as a striker in 1974 at the tender age of eighteen

I was fortunately influenced by the great South United flanker, Denis Paterson, who I also played with in the Illawarra League when Balgownie became defunct.

In 1980, I signed for Wollongong United in the NSW State League and was coached by the inimitable Mike Johnson.

ROGER SLEEMAN

When Jim Kelly, the former Blackpool and England B player, who was a team-mate of Sir Stanley Mathews came to Australia in the early 1960’s to eventually become captain coach of South Coast United, football boomed in the Illawarra?

What are your recollections of those times?

GLENN FONTANA

It was a famous era in the region when the Kelly Gang would play, particularly after that inspiring win against Apia in the 1963 grand final at the Sydney Sports Ground which drew a record Australian club crowd of 30,158.

It was the day local South Coast products like Max Tolson, Denis Paterson, Peter Beattie and Casey de Bruin came of age.

All youngsters on the Coast aspired to play for the Kelly Gang and Max Tolson was a major idol for me as he personified skill, tenacity and sometimes outright brilliance.

When Peter Wilson and Adrian Alston came to Australia, I witnessed two magnificent footballers who have created such a legacy for Australian football.

Significantly, at the time football was in the psyche as no other sports mattered.

I still remember at the age of six taking the train to Sydney with my grandmother to see the great Ron Lord play in goals for Prague.

I always supported United but always took notice of visiting players like Ray Baartz, John Giacometti, Alan Marnoch, John Watkiss and Mike Denton to name a few.

ROGER SLEEMAN

In the NSL you played ninety games and scored more than twenty goals as a target man for Wollongong City.

Did you like doing all the hard work which was required as a central striker and what were your main attributes?

GLENN FONTANA

I originally started my career as a winger because I had genuine pace but I was used as the wide player in a 4-3-3 structure . My first coach at Wollongong City, Ken Morton brought me in to replace the Kiwi striker, Brian Turner, who didn’t fit the bill in the centre of the attack.

I was given my chance in 1981 and scored in my debut game against Newcastle who that day boasted the Leeds United and England defender , Paul Reaney as a guest player.

I was good in the air and had a useful first touch but I was never a dribbler.

I was mainly there to finish or create chances for others.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You never played representative football for NSW or Australia?

What was that next step to play at those levels?

GLENN FONTANA

My first touch was adequate and I was good at laying the ball off to team-mates but I only worked on first touch in senior football, not at youth level.

I was sadly lacking in this area and was a late developer and learner.

Technique should be mastered between 10-15 years of age and I was working at striking a ball at 22-23 with Brian Turner, Max Tolson and Adrian Alston.

They made be a better player which made up for the lack of instruction I received as a youth player.

Glenn scoring for Wollongong City in last match of 1982 season against Brisbane City.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What are your lasting memories of the NSL?

GLENN FONTANA

Those five seasons were all memorable as my dream to play senior football at the highest level in the country was realised.

However, the highlight was the third place finish in the 1982 season.

In the final we played St George but were defeated by two goals from the England striker, Ted McDougall .

I was denied a headed goal by former Socceroo custodian, Terry Greedy, who somehow spread himself low into the extreme left hand corner of his goal to parry the ball beyond the goal-line.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What prompted your interest to enter the coaching ranks after your playing career ended?

GLENN FONTANA

I was always a keen student of the game and was fortunate to coach youth at Wollongong Wolves and Fairymeadow.

I did my apprenticeship as assistant coach to John Fleming and Dave Ratcliffe in senior football at the Wolves and went out on my own as a senior coach at Mount Pritchard in 1989.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What was your football philosophy?

GLENN FONTANA

I emphasized playing out from the back in a passing game with a predominant skill and attacking style.

Also, I was determined to give youth a chance to play at the highest level.

When I was assistant coach at the Wolves in the State League, I introduced Matt Horsley and Sasha Dimoski to the youth team and at Wollongong United , Scott Chipperfield, Mile Sterjovski and Richard Lloyd .

ROGER SLEEMAN

Matt Horsley was one of the best products on the South Coast?

Why was he different to other wide players?

GLENN FONTANA

I watched him in a State League match and like Rhyan Grant and Brett Emerton, he had boundless energy and an unique ability to run at players and cruise past them.

I selected him for the Wolves youth team and by the end of the year , Dave Ratcliffe put him into the first team and the rest is history.

I’ve always believed we should be encouraging youth to progress to elite level and Horsley was a perfect example.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You were involved with Coerver training during it’s infancy in Australia and you were also privileged to meet Wiel Coerver in England.

Tell us more.

GLENN FONTANA

Football NSW conducted some demonstrations in 2000 and in the same year Charlie Cooke, the former Scotland and Chelsea wizard, came to Australia with Alf Galustian ,the Chelsea youth coach , to demonstrate how Coerver could be implemented into normal training.

Charlie Cooke was amazing and he was instrumental in influencing me to use Coerver in my own coaching from that day on.

I encouraged young players to use it in dribbling e.g. the Cruyff turn , the Beckenbauer inside outside cut and the Rivelino method, especially in small sided games.

Terry Antonis, David Carney and Brett Holman were among the best exponents of Coerver in the NSW state teams I coached .

I met Wiel Coerver by chance when I was watching a training session at Anfield in 2008.

I saw this fellow on the sideline and introduced myself to him and I was in seventh heaven when he told me who he was.

I told him I used his method with my coaching in Australia and we had a great discussion about the finer points of the game.

Glenn playing against Melita Eagles in NSL 1984.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You were Liverpool’s chief scout for Australia between 2000-2010

How did that transpire and can you relate your experiences?

GLENN FONTANA

In 2000 when I was the coach of the NSW u/15’s at the national titles, I met Trevor Gould(son of the legendary Coventry striker, Bobby Gould) who was the Academy Manager at Coventry City.

He invited me England to look at the club setup because he wanted me to represent Coventry and when I went there I was also approached by Sam Allardyce at Bolton. The very next day I was watching Liverpool at Anfield with my old team -mate from the Wolves, Jeff Ainsworth ,and he introduced me to Sammy Lee.who offered me the opportunity to join Liverpool’s scouting network and I agreed.

In that time period, I would spend 3-4 weeks a year at Anfield and meet with Steve Heighway, the Academy Manager, and he made it quite clear to only send the best players to him.

At the time, Nick Rizzo and Robbie Fowler were playing and I also became friendly with U.S. goalkeeper, Brad Friedl .

I was responsible for bringing Dean Bouzanis to the club and it was Rafa Benitez who rated him the best goalkeeper in the world for his age at the time.

After Heighway left, Malcolm Elias took over but he was sacked and went to Fulham.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You were Fulham Chief Scout for Australia from 2011-2017.

Describe your experience at Fulham.

GLENN FONTANA

Malcolm Elias enlisted my services and he had a very strong background in discovering talent like Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott.

I took Corey Gameiro over and he stayed for two seasons without making any first team appearances.

Malcolm came to Australia and was very impressed with Bailey Wright playing for Victoria in the state titles.

Unfortunately, Malcolm missed out when Wright signed for Bristol City.

Alex Gersbach was also considered but his commitments with the Olyroos and the Socceroos were always a hinderance.

When Fulham were relegated they dropped all their scouts so at the moment I have no attachment to the club.

However, if they remain in the Premier League , I will probably get work again.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What role are you performing at the moment?

GLENN FONTANA

I’m employed by Football South Coast to run the SAP program for the South Coast Flames which I do three days a week and I play a very keen interest in A-League and NPL football.

I’m often asked to write reports on games for local coaches.

The game runs in my veins and I’ve been extremely fortunate to experience such wonderful times in football in Australia and Europe and had the pleasure of attending three World Cups.

APIA Leichhardt FC: 70 years on & still counting

On 18th April, APIA Leichhardt FC – one of the most successful football clubs in Australia – will be celebrating its 70th year with a glamorous gala event at La Montage Function Centre.

The names of the former players who wore the maroon and sky blue colours of the club just roll off the tongue – including Stan Ackerley, Leo Baumgartner, Col Bennett, Arno Bertogna, Archie Blue, George Blues, Fillipo Bottalico, Mark Brown, Rod Brown, Alex Bundalo, Terry Butler, Ricard Campana, Ernie Campbell, Paul Carter, John Doyle, Stan Foster, Johnny Giacometti, Sebastian Giampolo, Joey Gibbs, Terry Greedy, Pat Hughes, Audauto Iglesias, Karl Jaros, Peter Katholos, George Keith, Billy Kerklaan, Lawrie McKinna, Danny McKinnon, Graham McKinnon, David McQuire, Ross Maiorana, Brad Maloney, Jean-Paul de Marigny, Joe Marston, Bruce Morrow, Tony Morsello, David Muir, George Nuttall, Phil O’Connor, Peter Ollerton, Franco Parisi, Tony Pezzano, Mark Pullen, Nick Rizzo, John Roberts, Billy Rogers, Jim Rooney, Bill Rorke, John Russell, Jim Sambrook, Marshall Soper, Darren Stewart, Brian Taylor, Cliff Van Blerk, Jason Van Blerk, Walter Valeri, Willie Wallace, John Watkiss,  Vernon Wentzel, Peter Wilson, Johnny Wong and Charlie Yankos.

The significance of this milestone is not lost on long serving President, Tony Raciti, who has been associated with the club since 1977 and is leading the charge for  APIA’s participation in the National Second Tier Competition commencing in March, 2025.

Although there is a lot of work to be done before next March, Raciti goes about his work with his usual determination to ensure the club is fully prepared for the task ahead.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Tony Raciti discusses the significance of APIA’s longevity in Australian football, the state of play for the Club’s National Second Tier effort and conveys his thoughts about all things football in Australia.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

On the 70th anniversary of the club, what feelings are evoked?

TONY RACITI

The club has shown incredible stability in this time and we’re on target to enjoy another 70 years of prosperity.

The function on 18th April will be recognition of the club’s achievements over the 70 years and the large assembly of former and current players, supporters and sponsors will be a testimony to the continuing success and ambition of the club, particularly with the start of the National Second Tier.

R.S.

Is the original reason for the club’s formation still relevant today?

T.R.

It was originally formed as a sporting social club but obviously football was centre stage.

Today, the social aspect is not so evident as we’re a football club first and foremost providing a focus for the sport in the inner west for thousands of people, including players and supporters.

It’s now a firm fabric in local society.

Although the club has a strong Italian heritage, especially dating back to the 50’s and 60’s, there was also a strong Scottish and English influence which is still prevalent today.

Interestingly, if you examine the data base of registered players at the club, there are roughly 75% of Anglo Saxon and others of non Italian background which confirms we’ve fully integrated into the local community.

R.S.

You’ve been with the club since 1977.

What changes have you seen in this period?

T.R.

The fact we were incurring substantial losses in previous years, despite always meeting our debt, was not ideal. However, we are no longer incurring annual losses but breaking even or making small surpluses.

Lambert Park had never been subsidized by the local council until 2014 when the club was granted a $2.4 million government grant to upgrade the facility, the clubrooms and playing surface.

The club currently has an asset register which exceeds $6 million dollars and fortunately the local council is to provide funds to upgrade our synthetic surface and drainage. They will contribute $1.8 million dollars with the club funding  $500,000.

Fortunately, we’ll be playing at Leichhardt Oval next year in the N.S.T. and we have seven other grounds available in the area as registrations are growing rapidly.

To  meet the demand, we’re hiring school grounds for training  , including Concord High School four nights a week which has been funded by  the junior and women’s section of the club  who have banded together to raise $45,000 for lighting at the school.

R.S

Does Football NSW do enough to support your club and NPL Clubs in general?

T.R.

Unfortunately, the landscape has changed in the last decade or two and the makeup of the board requires more people with a football background.

Currently, there are a number who don’t have the knowledge of football history and club operations.

Nevertheless, Football NSW are a governing body with a strong management structure in a game which is bursting at the seams in N.S.W.

R.S.

Can the National Second Tier be a natural progression from the NPL?

T.R.

Absolutely.

It will support and underpin the A-League and provide advancement for clubs who want to grow further on a national stage.

In recent years, there’s been a deterioration in criteria observed for the NPL so the NST will provide an opportunity for clubs with ambition to achieve a higher position in the game and to evolve further in a much stronger competition with better training and playing facilities.

R.S.

Can the clubs raise sufficient capital to fund their place in the N.S.T.?

T.R.

I’ve been personally impressed with the clubs involved in the process and have no doubt the clubs will be financially stable, particularly with their fund raising activities.

From an APIA standpoint, we’ll be the first sporting club in Australia to be owned by the community via public shareholding.

This process hasn’t been launched yet because we haven’t finalised our prospectus which has to be approved by ASIC.

Initially, we are limited by law to twenty shareholders who have committed $500,000 so we can submit our bank guarantee to the F.A. to play in the N.S.T.

Beyond the approval of the prospectus, we’re confident we can increase our shareholding to 1000 by the end of 2024.

We also have strong corporate sponsorship to the tune of $800,000 per annum and with the move to Leichhardt Oval next year, the 2,500 under cover seats will be sold by end of January, 2025 which will give the club an injection of $1,000,000, adding to other revenue streams.

R.S.

Are all your supporters and sponsors fully behind the N.S.T. ?

T.R.

Very much so and they see the club is well managed with a strong board.

For the past decade, the club has been a powerhouse in first grade as well as juniors, SAP, women’s and girls.

Currently, there are twelve other clubs knocking on the door to be included beyond the initial eight accepted, so this speaks volumes for the interest in the N.S.T.

Obviously, only four of those clubs will be accepted in  the 2025 competition because there can’t be a 20-team League in the first season.

The FA  have been totally co-operative as a governing body which will guarantee the League has direction, stability, and good management, providing better marketing opportunities for the clubs, especially blanket television broadcasting.

Regrettably, in the initial stages there will be no money for the N.S.T. flowing from the broadcast deal.

R.S.

In view of the troubled A-League, will the football public warm to the NST?

T.R.

I believe they will and when promotion and relegation is introduced both Leagues will boom.

With the cost of licences in the A-League, it was premature to introduce promotion and relegation immediately.

Critically, there will be a higher level of competition on view in the NST.

R.S.

Can the A-League overcome its current problems to ensure there is no delay in the start of the NST?

T.R.

The NST will definitely commence next year.

It should be remembered there are thriving clubs like Sydney FC, Wanderers and Melbourne Victory and the remainder are working hard to improve their lot.

I wish I had $15 million to purchase Newcastle Jets because it’s a strong football area.

The purchase of Perth Glory by the Pellegra Group is also a perfect example of the willingness of substantial investors to support the game.

R.S.

Currently NPL playing times vary greatly.

Do you expect there will be uniformity in the NST whereby all games start at 3pm on the weekend?

T.R.

There is only one time to play these matches which should be at 3 or 3.30 pm on a Sunday afternoon.

You’re looking for trouble playing outside these times when you’re playing in winter so APIA will be abiding by these times.

FCA President Gary Cole discusses glaring AFC Pro Licence issue affecting many top Australian coaches

The AFC Pro Licence is still not recognised by UEFA and this issue has been an ongoing battle for many years.

Despite professional coaching badges, years of experience and on-field success, coaches are exploiting loopholes in order to acquire these roles in Europe that clubs clearly believe they are qualified for.

Many top coaches like Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat have battled through many obstacles like job title changes and being unable to take training or sit on the bench for matchdays just to accept offers in Europe.

Football Coaches Australia President Gary Cole discussed the frameworks that are set in order to fix this issue whilst also communicating the many obstacles in place that are currently halting the process.

“The discussions, I’m going to say started at least 5 years ago, Glenn Warry, the inaugural FCA CEO encouraged to Football Australia voraciously to work on that,” he said.

“The truth is that UEFA clearly don’t believe that an AFC pro Licence is as good as theirs because Australian-Asian coaches go to Europe and their qualifications aren’t recognised which doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense.

“Football Coaches Australia will try to influence Football Australia to push for change, it’s very difficult to get the AFC to do so but our legal team has sent a good amount of time writing to FIFA, but they don’t recognise coaching associations.”

David Zdrilic’s story is quite fascinating with the current Sydney FC assistant coach spending around $20,000 on a qualification that was not recognised in Europe. If you factor in flights and accommodation, the outlay was closer to $30,000 as he had to return from Germany four times to complete it. The FCA worked with  Zzdrillic through this interesting period where he worked for the likes of RB Leipzig and Genoa on different job titles to escape trouble. However he wasn’t the only coach to have troubles with this system in Australia recently.

“David was one of the many people that Glenn Warry helped through this process because it’s a challenge. Essentially what they’re saying is, yep you have a certificate that says you have a pro licence, but you need to prove to us that you really are a pro licence coach and that can take many forms,” Cole said.

“I think Muscat ended up, after having to sit to get around it, his club in Belgium called him a Technical Director and initially he couldn’t even sit on the bench for matchdays.

“They eventually got around that and they got to a point where his previous experience gets ratified because they sit down with him, interview him and realise this guy knows what he is talking about. They don’t give him a pro licence, but they give him a letter that says ‘you’re ok to work in Europe’.

“So many Aussie coaches go through it, Kevin [Muscat] went through it, Ange went through it, David Zdrillic didn’t have a pro licence, got a job offer in Italy and couldn’t accept it because his credentials weren’t recognised”

When asked if Australian coaches succeeding in Europe would help force the issue on this situation, Cole mentioned that there was still a lot more that had to done outside of that for it to pass.

“Success will cause change to one degree. Obviously if Ange succeeds it will say we have done something right but that’s a one off,” he said.

“When you start to add up the volume, so you’ve got Ange’s success, now Tanya Oxtoby who’s manager of Northern Ireland women’s national team but like Joe Montemurro they both got their UEFA pro licences whilst spending time abroad and that adds another string to the bow.

“Question is should we be encouraging Australian coaches to plan to go to Europe to get into the UEFA coaching course but that’s really expensive because you have to fly over and take time off work etc.

“We’d like to think no but the reality is today that it would be a better option for those who have the capacity and the willingness to work at that level.

“There are people working to try and fix that but given the organisations involved, I don’t perceive that it will be a quick fix by any means.”

It remains an extremely interesting discussion that has accelerated into a bigger issue in recent years as more Australian coaches start succeeding domestically and in Asia which leads to the bigger job opportunities in Europe that they aren’t qualified for due to this incredible rule.

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