fbpx

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.

Football Coaches Australia presents ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ S3 Ep 4 with Gary Cole interviewing Belinda Wilson

Gary Cole

Belinda Wilson began her football journey in Byron Bay on the far north coast of NSW. She is currently enjoying autumn in Zurich, Switzerland where she is the Senior Technical Development Manager, Women’s Football with FIFA. A remarkable achievement for a young Australian Coach and Administrator.

After falling in love with the game on a family holiday to the UK, Belinda returned to Byron Bay unable to play as she was a girl. At the time there were no girls’ competitions and girls weren’t allowed to play with boys. She was eventually allowed to play as a twelve-year-old in the senior women’s team.

Her coaching journey began as a teenager coaching her younger brothers’ team from U6 through to U13’s. Her talent saw her be rewarded as coach of FFNC U14 girls’ representative team.

Belinda has worked as the Coach Education Manager for AFC, been in fulltime club roles in Sweden and Denmark. She returned to Australia to work with FNSW, NSWIS and Head Coach of the Australian U17 team, also winning a Premiership with Brisbane Roar in 2013.

She was appointed as Head Coach of the Guam Women’s National Team and National Technical Director in 2017 and has also been on the FIFA Technical Panel for World Cups in 2007 and 2011 and the 2008 Olympic Games.

Belinda’s ‘One Piece of Wisdom’ was: “Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Go out there and challenge yourself to see who you are as a person but also as a coach. Take the opportunities and take a risk, the worst that can happen is you end up where you started, and sometimes that’s not a bad place to be.”

Please join us in sharing Belinda Wilson’s Football Coaching Life.

Sydney Olympic CEO John Boulous: “You don’t realise the passion that’s in these clubs until you actually get here”

NPL 2018

As CEO of historic Australian footballing side Sydney Olympic, John Boulous has experienced first-hand the passion and dedication that is engrained in these traditional clubs.

Having spent time at the then-named Football Federation Australia and Football Federation Tasmania, Boulous’ intimate exposure to football across the professional and semi-professional tiers has been vast.

Boulous sat down with Soccerscene to speak about leading Sydney Olympic through successive lockdowns, the importance of connecting the professional and semi-professional tiers in Australian football, and Olympic’s upcoming Round of 32 FFA Cup clash against A-League Men’s powerhouse Sydney FC.

With promises of souvlaki at the ground on gameday enough to attract any ardent football fan or person in general, Boulous is looking forward to experiencing the festival atmosphere that Olympic’s clash against Sydney FC will undoubtedly bring.

Just to start off, are you able to provide some insight into your own footballing background and what’s led you to where you are now as the CEO of such an iconic side in Sydney Olympic?

John Boulous: I’ve been in sport since I started my working life. I worked my way through cricket and from there I went to Football Australia, which is where I was for five years from 2005 to 2010. I then left for a position as CEO at Football Federation Tasmania with my family for over three years.

From there, after a stint in Rugby League, I met Damon Hanlin, who had just become a Director at Sydney Olympic and the opportunity came up to undertake the CEO role at Sydney Olympic. Obviously, as a club at NPL level, it was a really good opportunity to get back involved and work with someone like Damon who was committed to taking the club forward.

Obviously, Sydney Olympic are a historically successful and well-supported footballing side, what’s it been like leading the club over the last few seasons?

John Boulous: What you always hear about working in these types of traditional, iconic clubs that were NSL powerhouses and are now in the NPL environment is that they had to find their identity as clubs in that transition period.

Your identity potentially changes slightly in that you want to have a strong and thriving pathway for young players to come through. But you’ve got to realise that they’re going to come to your club and potentially move on.

When you’re at Football Australia you hear of these clubs, but you don’t actually realise the passion, and the involvement, and the excitement that’s in the fans of these clubs until you actually get here. And we’ve got a very strong following and lots of numbers in terms of supporters, and the crowds don’t really reflect that until you get a big game.

The best example of that was when we played APIA Leichardt in the NPL Grand Final in 2018. All of a sudden people saw that Olympic is strong, and there are people that support them. They may not turn up for the games week-in week-out, but they support and they follow, and I think that’s important.

NPL Crowd 2018

What has it been like for you steering Sydney Olympic through successive extensive lockdowns in NSW?

John Boulous: There was constant change, but we’re not the only industry that’s been affected. There’s lots of people that are struggling. Football is something that gives everyone a bit of hope; it gives everyone a sense of enjoyment and a weekend activity to spend with your family. And I think people miss that.

Now you’re seeing the excitement building with kids being back to training and an FFA Cup game to come – you can feel a bit of a buzz. Because people are just looking to get back into the football environment. And if our club can play some part in that then I think it’s a really good thing to get the community back.

What do you believe makes Australian football unique in comparison with football around the world? Do you believe its found its identity yet?

John Boulous: I think it’s finding its identity. The one thing that stands out when you see footage of the NSL days is the passion in the crowds. And that’s been built up in clubs over 50 to 60 years and that passion doesn’t just happen overnight.

You see A-League teams are now starting to get it. Their fans are starting to identify with the club, you’ve got generations that are born as supporters. At Olympic and other clubs like ours, you’ve got grandfathers and sons that grew up following Olympic. Here you’ve got kids that are starting to follow A-Leagues clubs and in turn their kids will do the same.

It takes a while to build that momentum up, but I think it’s there. I think Australia is very unique because you’ve got three or four dominant sporting codes that are vying for interest and support. Not a lot of countries where football is their leading sport have those sorts of issues to deal with.

As well as that, the best players are encouraged to go overseas as well. So, our leagues tend to be up-and-coming players and players that are coming back. And that’s okay too, that’s where our game’s at. In saying that, there are lots of young players that are looking for professional opportunities and if our game can facilitate more of those players getting an opportunity, then I think we’re doing the right thing.

Olympic Madonis

As someone with an intimate understanding of the day-to-day challenges of running an NPL club, what do you believe are the next steps to ensure the growth of the NPL across Australia?

John Boulous: I think the next steps are certainly some kind of National Second Division with a greater national presence or footprint than what we currently have. There are clubs that play and participate within NPL competitions and that’s where they want to be, and that’s a very good place to be. There’s also clubs that still have a burning desire and supporters that want to see them play higher.

Certainly, in the short-term, there is definitely an opportunity for a second tier in whatever format that turns out to be. There are clubs that are interested and there’s lots of clubs with good pathways, structures and infrastructure in place to be able to take that step. It won’t be for everyone but it will be for the ones that aspire to do it. And I think that’s logically the next step.

The growth of the FFA Cup is important. Anything that links A-League with semi-professional football is essential. I think the link between the semi-professional level and the community is good and strong because people know where the pathways exist. But I believe that anything that continues to unite the game from the professional to the semi-professional level is a good step.

Australian football is experiencing a significant shift at the moment towards ensuring alignment across the whole game. Where do you see Sydney Olympic fitting into these prospective plans for a National Second Division?

John Boulous: We’re definitely interested. But you need to see what model exists and if its viable first. We have the interest and desire firstly which is important, but there’s many things that come with it.

I think what’s important for us – with having such a strong tradition and background with football in Australia – is we should be aspiring to be in whatever that era of football is.

Olympic Stadium

Each season we’ve seen National Premier League sides from across Australia competing against and pushing A-League teams outside of their comfort zones. Why do you feel the FFA Cup competition is so important for Australian football?

John Boulous: We are a big club, with a strong following and tradition in Australian football, and are still recognised nationally. In matches like this, Australians like to see underdogs – they like to see both the experienced and younger kids in our squad get that opportunity.

I think what’s important as a club is we need to give them that opportunity. You need to play against the best players in Australia. If you do that well, all of a sudden you’re on the radar.

You can’t take that desire away from players. They need to have that burn to be able to know if they can get to that next level. And these opportunities give you the perfect platform to do that.

The FFA Cup game against Sydney FC presents a brilliant opportunity for both clubs to come together for a truly special night of football. What’s the build-up been like leading up to the match?

John Boulous: We hope to be able to get a strong crowd here at Belmore. And it will be Olympic supporters and Sydney FC supporters, but we hope that it will be football supporters. Because people have been starved of opportunities to go and watch football matches, and now, they have the opportunity.

We’ve got a ground that can hold a really strong and big crowd in today’s climate. And I think that’s important to get people here and back into football. People here want to see it.

The A-League will be back in full swing and our boys will be training for four to five weeks and that’s okay too. Because they’ve got desire and they’re keen to have this match.

We’re always asked by Football Australia if we want to play this match and our answer from the very start was yes. Regardless of where teams are at in their preparation and their season, our players are very keen to play not just against the best players, but for their club and our supporters.

Tickets for Sydney Olympic’s clash with Sydney FC can be accessed HERE.

SFC

© 2021 Soccerscene Industry News. All Rights reserved. Reproduction is prohibited.

Most Popular Topics

Editor Picks