Phil Stubbins: Past lessons the key to reviving Australia’s youth development

Phil Stubbins believes that in order to create a competitive level of youth development and infrastructure, Australia needs to commit to a long-term vision with a clear and detailed plan.

The current Head Coach of Campbelltown City SC, Stubbins has had a storied career in football that spans three-decades, but during this timeframe there has been a marked shift in Australia’s football landscape.

“I think we can certainly get better and definitely need to keep looking at ways to improve our infrastructures and youth programs in order to keep on the shirt tails of the ever-improving world’s best. To not do that could prove extremely damaging to our game, both nationally and domestically,” Stubbins said.

“All of this will need money, of course. If you look at youth development currently in the UK alone, we must acknowledge that vast amounts of money and resource have been poured into their development systems.”

While Australian football lacks the financial muscle to compete with the globe’s leading leagues, the success of the ‘Golden Generation’, who broke the nation’s infamous World Cup drought in 2006, proves that there is an underlying capability to produce talent.

Despite this capability, Australia’s youth pathway systems have come into question from many influential figures and it feels like an age since world class players were being regularly cultivated.

Stubbins during his tenure as Newcastle Jets Head Coach.

“Here in Australia, we’ve actually taken away the most efficient development pathway available to our young players by sadly abandoning the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). The AIS was our most effective provider of top national team players at one time with a program truly aligned to a top centre of excellence,” Stubbins said.

“I’m not saying that A-League clubs can’t now run their own academies efficiently but, the AIS was a facility designed specifically to accommodate, nurture, and educate professional levels of the game to our ‘best’ young players of the country. These players would all be training against each other on a daily basis looking to stamp their mark. That’s now gone!”

The long-term ramifications of decommissioning the AIS and moving to an academy-based system are yet to be seen, but for Stubbins, players are not being exposed to enough competitive football or elite level football education.

“The English Premier League academy players are playing 40 games per season as a minimum, plus, 10 to 12 hours per week of training, and then educational analysis of themselves and opposition teams in the classroom. Can you imagine the development curve for these players?”

“To be competitive these players are challenged in all aspects of their ability. Preparation, commitment, discipline, desire and a winning mentality. That’s just to compete, let alone to succeed.”

Stubbins understands the AIS intimately, having spent a year there as an assistant then interim head coach.

Additionally, as a star player for Heidelberg United FC during the early 1990s, he played with and against some of the most prodigious talent Australia has ever produced.

“I played in the old National Soccer league (NSL) with the likes of Paul Okon, Ned Zelic, and the emerging Mark Viduka. Kevin Muscat was another who was with us at Heidelberg United. From memory, all of these boys were only 17 when making their mark in the game back then. How many of the same age players do we now we see having man of the match performances in the A-League like these players were?” Stubbins asked rhetorically.

Mark Bosnich, Graham Arnold, Robbie Slater, and many more were making their mark in the NSL during the era, many of which went on to become household names who represented the nation at the highest level.

“The lessons? It was tougher, far tougher back then I’d say. There are some excellent players today of course but holistically speaking, in terms of behaviours, attitude, mentality and the like I’d have to say that the old NSL was simply a tougher breeding ground of competition than the current A-League and that dogged mentality has evaporated to some degree,” Stubbins said.

“How to get some of that back plus, differing ways to progressively take the game forward is now a huge challenge for all of us.”

Stubbins’ Campbelltown City SC were crowned NPL champions in 2018.

Although a major challenge certainly exists to recapture the standards set from yesteryear, Stubbins believes it is possible by leveraging knowledge from current industry leaders and using it to setup a sustainable, long-term strategy.

“I don’t have all the answer but perhaps we could start by introducing the best people possible to oversee the reincarnation of youth development in Australia, with a mandate to provide ideas on gaining parity with the world’s best,” he said.

“To me, it’s very important to offer more educational insight into how top players ‘think’ and ‘train’ at the top level. Find out what separates the best from the rest with insights into their daily, weekly routines. We firstly need to showcase to our coaches exactly what those levels look like,” he said.

“We need to access the knowledge that these people can provide, otherwise, we’re simply guessing on how to improve.”

Another key talking point in recent times has been whether domestic-based talents are leaving too early in their careers. A trend has emerged of players thriving at a young age domestically only to move overseas prematurely, losing their momentum.

“We need to build the game here firstly and offer more elitist environments. That said, too many youngsters go before they are ready to go,” Stubbins said.

“There is no sense in going overseas when you are not prepared and ready. That’s why many of these young players that go overseas early never fulfil their aim to make it abroad. They simply go unprepared.”

While there is no obvious answer or quick fix to Australia’s youth development and infrastructure challenges, progress appears to be heading in the right direction under FFA CEO James Johnson  – and with rumours of a National Second Division starting to gather steam, Stubbins is keenly focused on his current role with the South Australian NPL champions.

“We have a strong junior contingent and a sound underpinning of direction and transparency from the board. Campbelltown City is an exciting club to be around with a terrific work ethic, and culture, both on and off the field.”

“I believe a second division would help to reinvigorate the Australian competition. If we can structure it to offer an attainable pathway opportunity from State Leagues across the country, then let’s make it happen. How? I’m personally not quite sure, but where there’s a will, there must be a way!”

Parramatta City FC: Celebrating 50 years and a place to truly call home

As a Club entrenched in history, Parramatta City FC has secured a double milestone in its future towards providing a football team for the region.

For many years, Parramatta City had no authentic home ground, having been based in the neighbouring suburb of Rydalmere.

However, coinciding with the half century of existence is the confirmed move to Old Saleyards Reserve in the suitably located heartland of North Parramatta.

Thanks to the individuals and committee members and their negotiations with City of Parramatta Council, the new fields bring a range of benefits – such as increased capacity for participation, improved facilities and enhanced community engagement.

Two of those committee members to turn the plans into reality are Club Secretary Lou Mantzos and President Angelo Aronis.

Having been at the Club since day one in 1974 from their junior days in numerous capacities, both are still heavily involved in driving future growth in participants in junior and senior level.

Mantzos described what it was like at Rydalmere and how the move across to Old Salesyards Reserve unfolded.

Training at Eric Primrose Reserve in Rydalmere.

“We had been at Rydalmere since 1981 and it’s an older area that is now growing with some new housing,” he told Soccerscene.

“However, the only way for us to survive long-term was being back in Parramatta, rather than competing with Rydalmere FC who are based up the road and with brand new facilities.

“The breakthrough occurred last year with executive general managers of council in the parks & recreation area.

“We had follow up meetings early this year and eventually our mission was accomplished in leasing Old Saleyards Reserve which is a nine-year-old facility.

“The fields are in excellent shape and rated as one of three A-grade grounds in the Parramatta precinct.

“We now have a dozen teams training and playing at the venue and once the junior rugby league moves across to Doyle Park nearby, we will be permanently based at our new home in 2025.”

The new home of Old Saleyards Reserve.

Similarly to all clubs involved in the negotiation process, challenges are always going to occur, whether it be due to capacity or financially.

Aronis shared his involvement at the Club alongside Mantzos during a difficult period.

“We came into it 4-5 years ago as a sub-committee, working on the new grounds and other issues involved in the Club,” he said to Soccerscene.

“The previous committees did their best in trying times, worked hard, kept the club afloat especially during the Covid pandemic but lost numerous teams during and post this period, and potentially other clubs had similar problems.

“It did make us realise that Rydalmere was not a growth area.

“For example, across Silverwater Road, Newington and Sydney Olympic Park precinct was thriving and nobody wanted to cross over and get to us which is essentially walking distance.

“The other side of Silverwater Road, which includes Wilson Park, now NSW cricket academy, was growing exponentially and the previous committees just weren’t able to attract the numbers we needed.”

The Covid-19 pandemic was not immune to Parramatta City, who needed to navigate through postponed games and seasons.

It presented the confronting reality that even a Club like Parramatta City could fold due to mounting hardship and pressure.

However, Aronis and Mantzos persevered and played a crucial role in keeping the Club afloat.

It was one initiative in particular that Mantzos believes changed the Club’s fortunes entirely.

“In September last year, after failed attempts due to Covid-19 lockdowns, we finally held a reunion game to bring back some familiar faces,” he said.

“It was Andrew Charlton (Federal MP for Parramatta) who assisted with funding for some new equipment and together helped bring many former players back to participate on the day.

“There was a collective buy-in from all participants – the former Parramatta City state league (a powerhouse during the 90’s) and all-age players paid $20 to enter as a way to raise funds and interest.

“We got 40 players on the day and the game attracted a lot of attention as people started talking about it and that was the reason why we did it – we wanted to get traction back rather than see a slow demise.

“We had a ‘Beyond 50’ push that really urged Club members to get behind us and do what they could to keep us around for the next 50 years.”

The reunion game welcomed many familiar faces.

The reunion proved a major hit, paving the way for long-term success in participation.

Aronis added what the overall impact was like post-event and a great indication of what we expect to see.

“We had two teams in 2023 as a band-aid solution, and if it stayed that way, we would have had no choice but in folding the Club,” he said.

“For this season, the number of teams is up at 12 and the reunion was one of the springboard we needed as we reached that figure without really trying.

“Now, we anticipate that we will double that figure by 2025 which would be a fantastic result.

“We were really proud of the efforts of all involved on reunion day and every bit that went into it was worth it.”

“In closing, I sincerely thank all those individuals and recent committees of this proud club for the contributions.”

Football West achieves incredible growth of player registrations

Football West have confirmed that player registrations in the state have reached an all-time high after passing the 50,000 mark for the first time.

The number of players in Western Australia registered on Play Football currently sits on 50,231 – 18% up on the same time in 2023 and also includes over 10,000 female players, another record figure and 34% increase from last year.

There are also 3,806 registered coaches in 2024, a massive 74% increase of last year’s figure which stood at 2,226 coaches.

Referee numbers are also 25% higher than at the same time 12 months ago, 408 in 2023 while in 2024 it is 510.

Football West CEO Jamie Harnwell was ecstatic to confirm this new milestone being hit in the state amongst other participation records.

“These numbers are incredible, and we are delighted to share them with the WA football community,” Harnwell said in a statement.

“We were expecting a spike after the success of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. However, this is a wider success story and the result of much hard work done across clubs, associations and the Football West team over a number of years.

“We also know that there is a lot of work to be done to ensure these record numbers are not a one-off, rather part of a long-term growth that sees football continue to be the No1 participation sport in Western Australia.

“This includes tackling the extra demands on clubs by providing adequate facilities, including more female-friendly facilities. This will help attract new people and hopefully see them develop a lifelong love of football.

“This is why Football West is currently carrying out a new facilities audit across the state. We are also working closely with the State Government and the Local Government Authorities to identify key areas required for investment.”

Football West are doing a fantastic job in providing adequate funding at grassroots levels for facilities, encouraging the youth to play the sport and ensuring that across all divisions of participation there are more willing to sign up.

As Harnwell mentioned, it’s much more than the sudden boom of the Women’s World Cup that was expected but rather years of hard work and great decisions that have led to these promising statistics and the plan now is to sustain this growth to hopefully become the most played sport in the state.

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