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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.

Pararoos captain Ben Roche: “Football has the ability to start important conversations”

Ben Roche has played 54 times for the Pararoos – Australia’s only national team for people with cerebral palsy – and captained the team around the world. He spoke to Soccerscene about what the Pararoos have done for him, the future of the team after the exclusion of the sport from the Paralympic Games, and how the footballing community can further embrace the squad. 

Q: How has the exclusion of 7-aside football from the Paralympic games impacted the Pararoos?

Ben Roche: For us, it almost instantly had an impact. Obviously, for the young kids pushing to want to play for the Pararoos, their attention has turned to other sports, and for Pararoos players who are in the program who had the ambition to be Paralympians have chosen other paths, which means you can lose key players and things like that. We’ve had to work hard to grow the game and we are probably in a stronger position than we’ve ever been in, in ensuring that we qualify for the World Cup.


Q: Funding has been an issue for the Pararoos, where does most of it come from?

Ben Roche: We don’t actually receive government funding anymore, we used to get a little bit from the Australian Sports Commission, which was cut in 2015 because of their winning edge policy, which means if they don’t think you’ll win a medal funding will be cut or limited. Since then we have survived off donations through the Australian Sports Foundation. With the work of Football Australia, they set a fundraising page and we try to raise $200,000 plus each year to go towards getting a team to a tournament, a couple of camps, and hopefully a national championship to identify the next generation. Unfortunately, there isn’t really any sustainability for us, we are always pushing to raise those funds and take the program to the next level. 

Q: It is a pretty horrific way to fund Paralympic sport, isn’t it?

Ben Roche: Yeah, it came to light this week that the Paralympians don’t get any funding if they win a medal, like the Olympians who win do. The Paralympians don’t get anything for doing the exact same amount of work if not more, and that isn’t the way it should be.

Q: What brought about the change in funding?

Ben Roche: The Australian Sports Commission at the time, they have to allocate across sports, and they probably saw that the sports might be better allocated to individual sports which they thought could secure more medals, whether that is athletics or swimming, I don’t know. For me I am a big believer in football being the game played around the world, and cerebral palsy is the most common physical disability for children in Australia. For me that is perfect, you’ve got the world game and the most common physical disability, what a perfect format. We’ve worked really hard to get that message out there and show what the power of football can do. It doesn’t matter whether it’s coming from poverty, or having a disability, or having a different background, football has the ability to start important conversations. For us that is where our messaging comes into it, our goal is to create inclusive opportunities for people across the country. Not just for cerebral palsy and things like that, we want to lead the way for inclusive football in all versions of the game. 

Q: How Important has football been to you?

Ben Roche: It has shaped everything I’ve done. I joined the Pararoos when I was 12 years old, and it has taken me around the world. It’s been really eye-opening in terms of that, but it has also put me in front of role models with cerebral palsy and other disabilities who have successful careers, families, social lives, and all those kinds of things. Being able to see that at a young age really shaped who am I today, and gave me the confidence to go and do the things I’m doing. I love football so much that I’ve been working in it, I was working for Football Australia as a team manager because I wanted to be in and around football, and it’s something I am extremely passionate about.

Ben at his first tournament with the Pararoos in Argentina.

Q: How important is it to have visible role models like these growing up?

Ben Roche: It’s massive, for me it was meeting those role models that shaped me. I launched a few programs across the country for people with disabilities, and the conversations I get to have with kids, and the conversations I get to have with the parents as well, the amount the community means to them is huge. For me to see someone who has faced similar challenges doing great things is the best thing I could have come across. By us having a successful Pararoos program we can hopefully empower and not only support these young kids that may want to play football but support them in their careers and everyday lives.

Q: Could the wider football community better embrace the Pararoos? 

Ben Roche: I don’t blame them for not doing so, we weren’t really a common name and still aren’t among the football community, which has been a big push for us to put emphasis through social media and get our messaging out there, to include us in conversation along with the Socceroos and Matildas. I hope that when people do get to see it, it’s something they can get behind. The game is quite fast-paced, it can be high scoring, really physical and we don’t hold back. I’d love to see the Australian football community embrace it more – and I’m not saying they don’t – but the more we can get them behind us the bigger reach we can have.

Q: What is the future of the Pararoos program in Australia?

Ben Roche: COVID has made the last couple of years tricky, just in terms of being able to fundraise for the program. For us we are really interested in taking it to the next level, to not only further develop the men’s program but a women’s program too, which more information will come out for in the next couple of months. We are looking to really create more opportunities throughout Australia, not only have our state teams which are filtering into nationals but also launching academies and programs that will feed into inclusive opportunities. On top of that hopefully we can keep having important conversations around disability.

If you want to help support the Pararoos you can donate through their website.

Football Coaches Australia presents ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ S2 Ep 7 with Gary Cole interviewing Dr Craig Duncan

Craig Duncan

Dr Craig Duncan is one of Australia’s top ‘Human Performance Scientists’. In the good old days Craig was a Strength and Conditioning Coach, it’s amazing how things change!

Craig played for NSW as a junior before realising his best bet in the world of athletic performance was via a university degree. He speaks about how his role today is to take a holistic approach with footballers to ensure that they are as best prepared so as to enable the coaches to do their magic with them on the pitch.

He has worked with various sucessful coaches, including Vitezslav Lavicka at Sydney FC where he won a championship; and with Tony Popovic at the Western Sydney Wanderers where he won an Asian Champions League; as well as alongside  Ange Postecoglou with the Socceroos where he won the Asian Cup and qualified for a World Cup. Craig has also worked Carlos Queiroz with Iran at the Asia Cup. Craig explains how he learned from all of these very experienced coaches.

We spend time discussing the importance of finding a ‘mentor’ for all coaches. And how both mental health and being present can only improve coaching and player performance.

Craig has had to deal with a ‘spontaneous coronary artery dissection’ and a few heart attacks which helped him focus on both his health and his family and also helped him to understand the importance to ‘Be wherever you are’ as well as the importance of resilience.

Dr Craig is also leaving a legacy by sharing his wisdom as both an author and content creator. His one piece of wisdom for coaches is to find a good mentor and not chase the dollars early but rather learn the culture of football.

Please join me in sharing Dr Craig Duncan’s Football Coaching Life.

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