It’s time for Craig Johnston

Craig Johnston

Since 2017, after spending many years in the U.S.A., Craig Johnston – our most decorated footballer with eight medals from his years at Liverpool F.C. – has been based in his hometown Newcastle.

The man who ventured to Middlesborough in 1975 at the tender age of 15 survived the harsh treatment of Jackie Charlton to make his first team debut at the age of 17 and was transferred for a record 650,000 pounds to Liverpool in 1981.

This was the example of his never say die attitude and created a lasting benchmark for many players who followed him.

Critically, Johnston has never lost his passion for the game and if ever there was a time for him to influence the course of Australian football, it is now.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Johnston espouses his views on the direction Australian football should be taking.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You’ve been back in Australia since 2017.

What was your plan to integrate your ideas into the Australian footballing landscape?

CRAIG JOHNSTON

I spent a long time travelling the world and after 20 years living in the U.S.A., I wanted to return home to impact player development, coaching and merchandising.

R.S.

How far have you succeeded in your intentions?

C.J.

I’ve spent every waking minute trying to get kids to play football more often.

I’ve made a lot of progress but it hasn’t been an easy task because the same difficulties exist as before.

This is because we live in a wonderful country with so many options to educate and entertain our kids.

There is a perceived public opinion that football is the sleeping giant in Australian sport but I believe the Women’s World Cup will finally awake the sleeping giant.

R.S.

There are a distinct lack of technical players produced in our country, evidenced by the quality of A-League and NPL competitions.

What are your observations?

C.J.

It’s exactly as it’s always been, that if you can’t trap or pass a ball it’s going to be difficult to succeed in football.

Back in the day of the Golden Generation and before, you had sons and daughters of first generation immigrants playing every day in their backyards, as their parents did in their countries.

Therefore, we have to be more innovative to take the kids of today away from their PlayStation and modify their short-term span of concentration.

The kids have to be enticed out of their bedrooms from their PlayStation and shoot up games.

They must be touching the ball more often and it has to become the new toy in their life just like the previous generations.

Image credit: David Cannon /Allsport

R.S.

Do we have the right people holding down technical roles to improve skill factors for youth players?

C.J.

I don’t know these people, but whoever they are, have they got the data to show they’ve improved the skills of young players, or for that matter any data at all?

R.S.

Our recent demise from the u/17 Asian Cup was largely attributed to lack of preparation.

Your comment?

C.J.

Our Asian neighbours have improved so much that the biggest threat is from them, not Europe or South America.

The Asians have approached development in a scientific way by using global currency as a way of being recognised on a global scale while the Australian government ignores it.

In contrast, the Saudis, South Koreans and Japanese are going ahead in leaps and bounds.

R.S.

You returned to Europe last May to watch Liverpool in the Champions League Final in Paris and stayed there a further five months.

What did you achieve in that time?

C.J.

I was involved with a Belgium broadcaster who was producing a documentary on the Heysel Stadium disaster of 1985.

Ironically, there was a riot between the opposing supporters in Paris and despite all the money invested in security, they still haven’t got it right.

I also met officials from FIFA and UEFA about the proposed Super League and expressed my disagreement with the proposal.

Basically, I believed the big clubs were going to take the game away from the supporters and monetise it through a closed shop and franchise model which would’ve resulted in splitting the game in two.

If the Super League had gone ahead it would’ve resulted in 12 owners dominating the game in Europe, mainly from American roots.

What football means to a Mancunian or Scouser doesn’t equate with the perception of an American business tycoon.

R.S.

You’ve been in talks with Northern NSW Football for some time.

Can you outline the progress of these discussions?

C.J.

As a proud Novocastrian, I was involved with previous regimes and the Dutch coaches in raising $9 million dollars to set up an Academy

However, the Dutch never allowed me to get inside the gates because they claimed it was their job to coach skills, and not mine.

Finally, I have an opportunity because of the new Board and the new CEO.

I’m also talking to the Jets and Lake Macquarie club where I played in my formative years.

One of my biggest ambitions is to pass on the secrets of my success which enabled me to leave Lake Macquarie and play first team football in Middlesborough at the age of 17.

R.S.

When will the powers that be engage you to make a significant contribution to the game by improving the development of youth players?

C.J.

I’ve experienced the fame and recognition so its best to have your own clever thoughts to provide solutions.

They know I’m here and they’re all aware of my success so I only have to be tapped on the shoulder.

R.S.

What is your take on the Women’s World Cup and how it can impact the game in Australia?

C.J.

It’s the best thing to happen for Australian football, just as England winning the European Women’s Championship has boosted women’s football in their country.

I well remember when I was living in the States and Bill Clinton was running for President and he was asked who would decide the election victory?

He answered the “soccer mums” because they run round all the week organising their children’s sport and they are the backbone of the nation.

They are a huge audience and they spend the money which will contribute to football’s success.

R.S.

Will you be speaking to Rob Stanton, the new Jets coach?

C.J.

I’ve already had talks with the CEO, Shane Mattiske, to arrange a meeting with Stanton.

R.S.

What is the progress of your concept of the Big Bash of Soccer?

C.J.

Based on the Big Bash of Cricket, plans are moving forward to introduce a pre-season tournament before the A-League season.

We plan to have eight A-League teams and eight NPL teams playing in one-hour matches, consisting of four quarters.

The aim is to produce a new culture, skills and most importantly entertainment.

There will be high scores on a reduced pitch with six players per side.

Players will receive a yellow card if they play the ball backwards and a red card the second time.

On receipt of the red card, the player will be placed in the sin bin for two minutes.

The TV coverage will encourage young players to play Little Bash at school and on training pitches.

Ultimately, I believe this format can be successful like its cricket counterpart.

Western Sydney Wanderers launch new programs for women and girls

Western Sydney Wanderers have launched a number of new programs and activities as part of their ongoing commitment to celebrate and growing the women’s game as part of Female Football Week.

The club have confirmed the launch of their first Girls Only Pre-Academy Development Program designed to advance the skills of players while teaching new skills and techniques to improve their game based on the club’s highly regarded coaching curriculum.

The Girls Only Pre-Academy Development Program will be led by Wanderers community coaching staff under the guidance of Head of Women’s Football Tom Sermanni and Liberty A-League head coach Robbie Hooker.

It is an extension of the Future Wander Women Program that launched in 2021 which gives 100 participants up to u18’s a free program which runs as a 20-week block across Terms 2 and 3 of the calendar year.

On top of both initiatives, the Wanderers will also be re-opening registrations for their FREE Girls Only Schools Clinics which engages students through football to provide them with a positive experience.

Wanderers have been vocal about their commitment to making football accessible to all schools and students in the Western Sydney region.

Female Football Week also sees the club’s FREE Active Mum’s Program return, which is designed to encourage all women to participate in basic football skill activities in a social and supportive environment.

Active Mums sessions are run at convenient times for parents, in parallel with junior training sessions held at Wanderers Football Park.

Western Sydney Wanderers CEO Scott Hudson described the benefits of the Wanderers Female Football Week celebrations and programs for the local community.

“We are very proud to have such an expansive Women’s football program at both a grassroots and elite level,” Hudson said in a club statement.

“Female Football Week is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the role that so many women play in football at all levels.

“We are delighted that we can not only play a role in the celebrations, but also make a real difference to supporting the growth of the women’s game with a number for initiatives and programs.”

The Wanderers are leading the charge in the A-Leagues regarding giving girls and women the opportunity to train with quality coaches and develop their skills whilst keeping it completely free of charge.

It’s a simple but brilliant program that marks another step for the Wanderers in the female football development space to actively engage, develop and support aspiring young players from the Western Sydney region.

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