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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.