Mt Druitt Town Rangers coach Stewart Montgomery: “We represent an area that doesn’t get the respect it deserves”

Western Sydney has become synonymous in recent years with the successful cultivation of countless talented players and coaches that call the region home. One of those coaches is Stewart Montgomery, who currently leads a Mount Druitt Town Rangers side that continues to defy expectations.

The NSW National Premier Leagues 1 club were left frustrated by yet another Covid-impacted season, with Montgomery’s Rangers stuck in sixth place. And if not for greater fortune and a few finished chances, it would have been Mt Druitt’s Popondetta Park playing host to the Central Coast Mariners in the FFA Cup in place of the Wollongong Wolves.

Having been instrumental in developing this Rangers side into the resilient and competitive NPL team that it is today; Montgomery’s footballing experience provides significant insight into the effort and long-term planning that goes towards clubs in the semi-professional tier. Here are his thoughts in this Q&A.

Montgomery
Stewart Montgomery (right) following Mt Druitt’s NPL 2 Championship in 2018.

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 Head Coach of Mount Druitt Town Rangers?

Stewart Montgomery: My background in football stems from playing in my younger years and coming through what was the State Leagues of NSW. I played in the National Youth League competitions with Penrith City and into the old National Soccer League. I then ended up at Polonia FC in the Men’s State League.

After a break from football, I started my coaching journey where I took up positions within the Nepean Association in the FNSW Metro League comp, going on to coach in NPL Youth League. From there, I took up the Technical Director’s role and Head of Football at Mt Druitt, where I’ve been for 10 years. During that time, I was also fortunate to be offered a head coach role at Western Sydney Wanderers YL in their inaugural season. It was a great experience and I learned a lot there under Ian Crook.

After the 2020 season, we made some changes to the coaching structures where I filled in and took over. Last year was good and we plan to be back up there again. Given how 2021 went we will keep the same coaching structures for 2022. I’m finishing my A Licence off in the immediate future so it all works well.

What was it like experiencing this second consecutive lockdown in NSW as coach of the Rangers?

Stewart Montgomery: It was the right thing to do, but it was frustrating. We were in a good position and were having a strong season with an ambition to come home strong and secure a place in the semi-finals.

Within the Men’s NPL we were unanimous that it was the right thing to close the competition down at that point, to focus on safety and also what was going to come in the future with regards to making sure that the 2022 season is the best it can be. Credit to all of the clubs and Football NSW for getting that done.

Mt Druitt

It’s certainly been impressive to see the Rangers become such a competitive side in NPL 1 following their promotion a few seasons ago. What has it been like for yourself at the club to be a part of this journey?

Stewart Montgomery: It’s been a long-term plan, and there’s been a lot of really good people that have contributed to that over the years. 10 years ago, when I came to the club, we had our boys’ Youth League sitting in the lowest tier of competition going in Football NSW leagues.

Our focus then was to make our youth and boys programs the best that we could. And that could be done with the right application, management and curriculum-based coaching. We won consecutive promotions in YL and now I believe many people would recognise the Mount Druitt Youth League program is a really strong one. It’s never easy for teams to come and play in our Youth League side.

Once we’d secured that, we looked at how we then move from Men’s State League 1 to NPL 2, and then to NPL 1. Again, that was a long-term plan that we worked on with a combination of youth and experience. And we’ve had some great people that have come through the program and helped us with that. Securing promotion at the end of the 2018 season was all part of the plan, and was achieved through great leadership from a whole range of coaches and players.

Our intentions from there turned to focusing on being the best that we can be in NPL 1. In that first season in NPL 1 it was like “what the hell is happening here?”. In our second game of the season away to Manly United, the first half saw four substitutions made for what were half-a-season ending injuries. We didn’t secure a win until Round 6, and from Round 7 went on to secure a sixth place finish, which was only three points off fourth place.

This season we had secured ourselves in the top half of the table and were really closing in on semi-finals and a top-three finish. For 2022, we’ve stated that we’re going to win the comp.

Mt Druitt

For you coming into the club originally, was there a collective realisation from everyone that there needed to be a shake-up and change? What was it that sparked that shift and long-term planning?

Stewart Montgomery: That same line of questioning was put to the board some 10 or 11 years ago prior to me coming on-board. The existing executive spoke to our long-term executive about needing fresh ideas and blood, and needing to push the club forward. Popondetta always had a fantastic facility and area in which to grow from, but we weren’t growing.

Financially we weren’t in a strong position and we weren’t commercially viable in terms of what we were doing with our local community, by engaging sponsors and bringing our local government authorities and council members into our program so that they could all understand what we were doing and where we wanted to get to.

So there was a whole new committee change where we drove the future desire for the club. From there, we’ve continued to challenge and push for all of the opportunities and grants. We’ve got a $5.5 million synthetic field going on the outside; one-and-a-half synthetics on the outside of where our junior fields are. And there’s a lot of positives still to come.

It was that change to make the internal decisions to put fresh blood in and from there, we’ve had a good bunch of people that are all there for the right reasons. We still keep in touch with our past executives as they, like all of us, put their heart into the club. Many still support and sponsor the club. We are very lucky there. Now we’ve got the likes of Narelle Telling and Jodi Yeo plus others who have given us a balance with the female side of the executive, and our female program is only getting stronger.

We’re really happy with where we are at, but we’re still restless in that we feel we still haven’t achieved anything other than become a serious contender. We haven’t won anything yet and that’s what we’re here to do.

Rangers

What was the transition process like for you to go from a Senior Technical Director to Head Coach of the Rangers?

Stewart Montgomery: We’ve always worked really closely as a team, but there’s obviously a fine line between being the head of the football program and allowing the first-grade coach to have their own freedom. Because I knew the existing coach well, we aligned on many things. So, it was a really consultative approach around how we secured players, what positions we were looking for, what kind of player DNA we were looking for and what were the attitudes that they brought to the club. In essence, a ‘no dickhead’ type policy.

At different times during our push for promotion we went into the transfer market to pick someone that might be coming off their NPL 1 first grade journey who would still have so much to offer at NPL 2 level. And we were really good at picking that special player. It’s a fine line but it’s one we’ve been able to tread pretty well.

In terms of the people that I’m working with, Stamati Glaros has come in and he’s working closely with me. He does as much around the program as I do, and he’s been at the club before. Bringing in those people that really understand what we’re about means we’re not changing too much. I’m big on succession planning.

Tarek Elrich

What has it been like to lead the Rangers and to represent the Mt Druitt community?

Stewart Montgomery: We represent an area that doesn’t get the respect it deserves and we take the park to represent the whole of the City of Blacktown and Western suburbs. We take a lot of pride in that and we’ve got a great, passionate vocal support that gets behind us.

A lot of people are waiting for us to fall over and they’re expecting us to drop back down. So, every day we approach it in the same way where people expect us to not perform, and every time we do the opposite of that we send a message.

Juventus Creator Lab: a novel strategy for football media

Over the years Juventus FC has had to endure substantial challenges on and off the field, however, they are making a robust return in the digital space. The club’s digital team is working diligently to establish new, stable revenue sources through the Juventus Creator Lab, initiating partnerships and launching new online platforms.

It is evident that the Italian giants have not been very forthcoming about their vision, strategy, and future plans for the club in recent years.

Considering the pressure they’ve faced after being docked 10 points by the Italian football federation’s appeals court, it’s understandable why they’ve been less communicative. This penalty resulted from an investigation into the club’s transfer activities.

The legal case remains unresolved, as the club maintains they have operated within the rules. Additionally, several executives were banned from football due to their involvement, leading to the appointment of a new executive team to bring stability to Turin.

One of the newer executives at Juventus Football Club is Mike Armstrong, who became Chief Marketing Officer in September 2021. The Canadian leader brings a diverse background in technology, having worked with Google and YouTube, and in advertising, with experience in fast-moving consumer goods brands like Kraft Foods and AB-Inbev, as well as in an esports start-up.

The Juventus Creator Lab is the birthplace of Juventus’ digital products, a fresh creative approach inspired by LA-style creator houses and gaming studios, designed to cater to a global fanbase.

The Juventus Creator Lab is designed to enhance accessibility and foster a closer connection across all areas of Juventus, including the men’s and women’s first teams, Next Gen, legends, esports teams, and even the innovative animated kids’ series dedicated to the younger fanbase, Team Jay.

With a rich background in corporate America, Armstrong objective is where the overarching aim has always been clear ever since he joined: to outpace competitors in growth while simultaneously enhancing profit margins.

This mentality is what Juventus and the entire football industry needs, a defined objective of consistently generating revenue to fund the development of a football team capable of competing with the world’s top clubs.

Armstrong talks about the instability within the industry via an interview for Off The Pitch, which he acknowledges as a fundamental aspect of sports. Success or failure in qualifying for competitions can cause substantial revenue fluctuations.

“For me, this is the approach we need to pursue. Players are always crucial, but they come and go, and their presence can be unpredictable. So, I believe all football clubs need to explore ways to make their business less susceptible to volatility. In my case, along with my colleagues, we confront a reality where players serve as key distribution drivers due to their social media followings,” he explains.

“However, recently, out of necessity, we decided that we had to develop a business model capable of ensuring substantial revenues even when major players departed the club. With this goal in mind, we’ve witnessed a significant transformation in our approach and operations, and we believe we’ve made considerable strides in recent years.”

With an annual revenue of $741 million, Juventus has faced difficulties in their digital operations after the departure of key social media influencers such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria, Leandro Paredes, and Paul Pogba.

To determine the type of content creator you should become, it’s essential to understand your audience. Armstrong recognised that with 90 percent of Juventus fans living outside Italy and 40 percent of them being under 24 years old, the club needed to significantly rethink their approach.

They have achieved impressive milestones with 60 million followers on Instagram, 30 million on TikTok, and 7.5 million on YouTube. Armstrong mentions that they have exceeded initial expectations, and he anticipates substantial revenue growth from sponsors in the coming years.

A clear indicator of their progress is the addition of 2 billion more video views last season compared to the one before, and an overall increase of 159 percent in video views across their ecosystem over the past two seasons.

Simultaneously, they initiated several partnerships, including one with Celine Dept, a rapidly growing digital sports creator with 43 million followers. Juventus also partnered with 433, one of the world’s leading football communities boasting 115 million followers, and Wave Sports + Entertainment, which has over 130 million followers across its various accounts.

The difficult part for Juventus, as with all other clubs, is making sure they create content that connects with all their fans.

Looking at all this from a football landscape in Australia, it seems too good to be true to have a physical laboratory of where a clubs digital products are born, this would greatly benefit the Isuzu UTE A-League men’s and Liberty A-League women’s to enhance the clubs around the country not only on social media platforms but also both in a traffic and engagement aspect to be seen by global brands.

Hanh Tran: “I have a passion for providing a voice for women in sport”

Hanh Tran is a familiar voice across Football Victoria, having served as the original Series Futsal women’s broadcaster. Hanh has become well intertwined within women’s football across the state.

An advocate for women’s football, she has effectively singlehandedly shone a spotlight upon women’s futsal.

Throughout her established commentary career, Hanh has had broadcast involvement in finals, cup competitions and League matches across both indoor and outdoor women’s and men’s football competitions.

Speaking to Soccerscene, she discussed topics including being a commentator, what her dream is as a commentator, and the changes she would like to see in Australian womens football.

Tell me about yourself as a commentator.

Hanh Tran: I have been commentating on women’s soccer for a little over 5 years.  I first began commentating on woman’s futsal for the Series Futsal Victoria Women’s league, played at Futsal Oz.

At the time the Men’s competition had weekly commentators calling their game and the women’s did not.  I was also a player for the women’s league at the time.

I felt that the woman needed a voice to help boost and build their game, so I then made the initiative to jump on the mic and give commentating a try with the encouragement from owner Peter Parthimos I was in the box commentating my first week after.

In the beginning, it was all voluntary work and was more than happy to provide my time each week as it was something that I loved doing and the players enjoyed watching the game with commentary on it.

In late 2019 Football Victoria held an information seminar for women in media. This opened a huge door for me to help bring my commentating to a new level and provide me with a new challenge.

I was invited to join the Football Victoria commentary team for the upcoming 2020 season of NPL and NPL Women’s.

Unfortunately, due to COVID, I couldn’t make my debut to call the NPLW games that year. Fast forward to 2021 and I have been on the roster for most of this season calling the NPLW games.

I have a passion for providing a voice for women in sport, where at times there has been a male broadcaster calling female games. I feel the industry is in the progression of providing opportunities for diversity.

Growing up, I played every sport that was provided to me and loved being part of the community of sport.

When I watch I hear sports on the TV or radio, I’m so intrigued by the commentators and the way they capture the audience and entertain us in their own unique way when calling the game. I’m always listening out to different techniques and phrases that they use.

I remember watching the Matilda’s vs Vietnam in the Olympic qualifying match and made myself a personal goal to one day commentate a Vietnamese vs Australia football game.

Being from a Vietnamese background, that would be a dream come true. To represent Vietnam, Australia and be the voice for women’s football.

I want to be the pioneer of a Asian background and be a role model for future generation of commentators and media personnel.

What is something with women’s football you’d like to see change?

Hanh Tran: I would love to see more promotion and increasing the exposure of women in the media and to boost diversity in the industry.

I found there was a lack of content to champion and showcase the female players; and most of these outlets were hosted mainly by men.

More games being streamed, especially VPLW. More podcast, reels, panel shows. Pre game and post game interviews.

Advertisement of the players and their clubs, introductory videos of the clubs and teams, similar to USA college basketball and NFL and side line reporters.

What are your thoughts on the Nike Cup competition?

Hanh Tran: Love to see a VPLW team to get to the finals. One of the best quality games we’ve seen in a long time. 2 penalty shoot outs and 3 games going to extra time. They’ve been very close games.

Great exposure to smaller clubs that normally don’t get much limelight. FV have invested time and energy this year to make the cup stand out for the womens game.

Where would you wish to see growth within football in Australia?

Hanh Tran: More investment in the A league and growing the women’s game. So much support goes to the Matilda’s, but then no huge return of money invested in the A league.

Need more growth and international players come to the A-league to grow the game internationally to make it more entertaining.

Similar to what cricket did with the Big bash. Try something fun and exciting to bring in new and young viewers.

90 minutes is a long time to concentrate on a game that is low scoring, something that can bring in new football fans to watch the game.

A more sense of community and excitement, or collaboration with the men’s games, more double headers. The All-Star game was a hit against Arsenal, that will draw in more viewers and spectators.

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