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I first witnessed the football talent of Andrew Bernal at St.George Stadium when he captained the Young Socceroos in a friendly back in 1985.
The young man was so technically competent in his role as a libero that I believed he possessed the qualities of a young Australian Beckenbauer.
Unfortunately, Australian football lost Bernal’s contribution for the 1985 World Youth Cup Finals because he decided to ply his trade in his parent’s native Spain which for bureaucratic complications denied him the opportunity to lead his country in that tournament.
As many players who ventured overseas will testify, it’s hard to combat the obstacles which are presented in trying to make the grade in a foreign country but just like Craig Johnston, David Mitchell , Eddie Krncevic and Alan Davidson before him, Bernal overcame these and spent four years in the professional game in Spain.
When you’re riding shotgun, one thing is for sure – you have to take the initiative and Bernal succeeded in this endeavour when he miraculously managed to escape the clutches of the Spanish authorities before he arrived in England in 1988.
His account of the meeting with Brian Clough, the Nottingham Forest Manager, is pulsating and largely explains how Bernal was able to survive the cut-throat world of professional football and carve a career for himself when his playing days had ended.
The book reads like a Who’s Who of British football talent as he was able to mix it with household names on and off the pitch at his time with Ipswich Town and Reading.
Perhaps his biggest playing disappointment was Reading’s failure to win promotion to the Premier League when they were defeated narrowly by Bolton in the 1995 play off at Wembley Stadium.
However, a sterling career for the Royals until 2000 when he often played through the pain barrier was sufficient compensation for all those years he had devoted to a career in professional football.
Life after football can be a rude awakening for some but Andrew Bernal applied all his tenacity and contacts to acquire a position with SFX Management and ultimately be awarded the prize responsibility of looking after the welfare of David Beckham when he signed for Real Madrid.
To mix in the company of Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Raul and Figo was a dream come true and a lifestyle the average fan could only dream as Bernal met some of the biggest celebrities and influential people from all walks of life attached to Real Madrid and the Spanish game.
He became part of an inner sanctum while rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.
Nevertheless, Beckham’s star status didn’t come without its challenges as the paparazzi would demand every piece of the England captain and there are some harrowing experiences recorded in the book where Bernal was lucky to stay alive.
Life was surreal, and for Bernal it seemed the party would never end until Beckham changed management companies and Bernal’s world came tumbling down
Bernal was no longer riding shot gun and his unfortunate resort to drug reliance took him on a never-ending downward spiral.
This part of the story is something many high-profile people would not divulge but Bernal’s honesty in recognizing his human frailities is one of the features of his story.
Andrew Bernal’s story should be read by all football and sporting fans, and particularly by the football hierarchy in Australia who should finally realise there has to be a pathway created for professional footballers when they retire from the game.
Last Monday night (May 24) saw Football Coaches Australia (FCA), in tandem with representatives from all across the Australian football family, invest their time into a FCA Women’s Football Webinar discussion around the immense challenges facing Australia’s female football coaches in the pursuit of their careers.
The panel discussion, hosted by Aish Ravi, who is currently undertaking a Doctor of Philosophy with a focus on women’s coaching education in football, FCA CEO Glenn Warry and Matildas legend Heather Garriock (FCA Vice-President, Football Australia ‘Starting XI’ representative and current CEO of Australian Taekwondo), aimed to provide insight into the barriers for female coaches in Australian football, and by extension, wider society.
Notably, Heather Garriock’s role as CEO at Australian Taekwondo reflected not just the difficulties in finding roles as a female footballer or coach after one finishes their playing career, but the loss of talented and passionate individuals to roles away from football.
“If we don’t start investing in our females within our game, we are going to start losing them. And as we can see with Heather, we’ve lost someone who’s played over 100 games for Australia and has been a pioneer in the women’s game. For me, that is really sad to see,” remarked Western Sydney Wanderers legend Catherine Cannuli.
Cannuli, who balances her time between her seasonal duties as assistant coach at Western Sydney Wanderers and as the Women’s Technical Director at the Southern Districts Soccer Football Association, admitted to facing a dilemma in how to progress her career to where she wants it to be because of a lack of stability in women’s coaching roles that are typically part-time.
“For me now, I’m in a very hard place. Being a new mother, having to worry about my son now and wanting to have that stability, if I want to progress my career and make the step towards becoming a full-time head coach in a professional environment,” she said.
“For me, I’m in a very stable situation with my association, but is it where I want to be? If I want to progress as a head coach and get into that professional side, do I take stability in my full-time role or do I take the risk in becoming a head coach in a part-time role?”
Perth Glory legend and manager of Bristol City through three Women’s Super League (WSL) seasons since 2018, Tanya Oxtoby, acknowledged that despite the fact that the WSL is a full-time setup there are some critically similar challenges facing both the W-League and WSL.
“It’s a full-time role. All the players are full-time, all the stability that Catherine was talking about, we have that. But there are still similar barriers in having to fight for those rights every single day. And that’s a shame that in 2021 we are still having to push the boundaries and ask for what is fair. It doesn’t come voluntarily and that’s a shame unfortunately,” she said.
And in response to Garriock pondering what is fair, Oxtoby conveyed: “For me, I’ve just had a little boy and changing attitudes towards coaches, whether you’re a female coach coaching men’s football or women’s football, has to change. That for me is what’s fair; seeing people through equal eyes and that does not always happen. Trying to educate people on what’s appropriate and what’s not, it’s difficult, and you’ve got to be a strong character to go through that.
Aish Ravi, in her studies on the experiences of female coaches in Australia, has worked to understand the strategies that can be formulated to overcome these challenges.
“From what I understand, the literature tells us that women are underrepresented in coaching football and there are very few women in some of these positions from coaching all the way through to analyst positions and to Technical Director positions,” she said.
“In terms of lived experience, from what I understand and what the literature says, women do feel highly scrutinised in some of these positions and there is a pressure to overperform and gain credibility. And sometimes that can be afforded to others as opposed to some women. So, we do need to find out what these strategies are in the context of the unique Australian footballing landscape, as they can then be provided to inform these organisations on how to improve the space for women coaches.”
What proved to be particularly pertinent was the lived experience of an attendee in the webinar.
As a female coach making the transition between working in a major city’s footballing environment to the setup in a smaller rural town, the attendee remarked how astronomically challenging it is to grow the women’s game because of a lack of initiative on the part of the outfit who runs football there. And critically, the opposition to change stems from a board that is bereft of female representation.
Ros Moriarty, Chair at the Football Australia Women’s Council and Managing Director and Co-founder of John Moriarty Football, spoke on the inequality in workplace culture in Australian football.
“A workplace is a workplace, and football is a workplace. If a coach is being paid for her work, then she can expect that a workplace will have the basic tenants that we all hope and wish for, and fight for; that you don’t have to ask for things that are simply part of you doing your job,” she said.
“Culture is about attitude and it’s about respect, but I think culture also plays into structure. We have a problem in Australia because we don’t have a full home and away season for the W-League, so coaching in the W-League isn’t full-time. So, the Women’s Council have been pressing for a really long time about making sure under the new arrangements with the clubs that full home and away eventuates.”
With a Women’s World Cup to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand in 2023, the time to start delivering on the passion for the women’s game is now, not in two years when it is beneficial to a select few in the short term. There is impetus, as there always has been, for all stakeholders to help lead change in the women’s football space.
And despite the fact that the resilience of Australia’s female footballing contingent has been perpetually undervalued all throughout its history, there remains a constant drive and determination to instigate change in Australia football for players and coaches. Discussions, like the one that took place on Monday, mirror this sentiment. Moreover, it is essential for Australian football’s variety of stakeholders to take in and to learn from the discussion that was had in order to aid in the fight for equality in Australian football.
Taking place between Monday May 17 and Sunday May 23, National Volunteer Week (NVW) is Australia’s largest annual celebration of volunteers. NVW recognises the significant contributions of over six million of them throughout the country, with over 600 million hours reportedly spent helping others each year.
Since 2014, Australia has seen a 20 per cent decline in the number of hours volunteers give – during COVID-19, two-thirds of volunteers stopped working. In this modern era of uncertainty where time is as important a commodity as it’s ever been, collaboration should be a priority amongst Australians. Particularly in how we adapt to the lives of volunteers and engage volunteers to continue their incredible output and contributions.
The last few years has seen Australia as a nation dealing with drought, devastating bushfires, floods and a global pandemic. Whilst many of us stayed home during the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers dedicated their efforts to delivering essential services, organising food packages and providing care, comfort and plenty more in support of Australians. Through crisis Australia persevered and this resilience was built off of the collective strength exhibited by our nation’s volunteers.
Many people in the last year saw their mental health take a significant hit, particularly in a year where isolation and loneliness were forced upon us, adding to financial stress, anxiety and fear. Volunteering can be a tool which facilitates not just a reconnection with others, but a reengagement with the world around us and the community spirit that drives our local competitions that are the building blocks for many of our sporting and social aspirations.
Those interested in contributing to football off the park would have benefitted by the experience of contributing to a local grassroots club where the reward is ensuring the game that we love is played week in, week out.
Truthfully, university students are best placed to gain authentic experience in a grassroots football environment, with roles on offer across the board in media, health, finance, legal and coaching capacities among many others. The manner in which obstacles are overcome in grassroots football is like nowhere else, and it is a substantial learning curve for those willing to give their time to the game.
In honour of NVW, Football Victoria, Football Queensland and Football NSW have all published articles this week which aim to put a spotlight on the tireless work of individual volunteers across clubs in their respective states. Each story reflects the positive impact of volunteers for Australian football – from Jasmine Hirst’s contributions towards growing the game for women and girls as Vice President of Darebin Falcons Women’s Sports Club, to Buderim Wanderers’ Brigitte DeCourcy being named as the April recipient of the Volunteer of the Month Award for her efforts that date as far back as the 1980s.
These stories stir a myriad of memories that one will undeniably have from playing football in their youth, whilst ensuring a newfound appreciation for the volunteers we’d encounter growing up who put their heart and soul into the clubs they loved.
Football has seen a downturn of volunteers in the last year, with Football Queensland’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Cavallucci noting last month that “research by Volunteering Australia suggests that an estimated two in three volunteers stepped away from their roles in 2020 due in part to COVID-19 restrictions.” Obviously, this is wholeheartedly understandable, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its far-reaching effects across Australian football.
Volunteers are an essential part of the Australian football family, with contributions being made to the everyday running of clubs and organisations right across the country at grassroots, semi-professional and professional levels of the sport. Campaigns such as Football Queensland’s Good2GiveBack initiative demonstrate a push towards recognition and respect of volunteers, those of whom were the reason why we have the memories of weekend football that we all do.
Saturday and Sunday league football harkens back to memories of being driven to games by your parents. Of sharing the responsibility of washing the team’s jerseys between each player. Of your parents – some louder than others – issuing you on through a haze of discombobulated moments of play and opportunities to win the second, third, fourth and fifth ball that deflected in between you, your teammates and the opposition.
And it was often these same parents who took on the role of coach, team manager, trainer, barbecue wrangler (or accompanying jostler) and canteen attendant. Volunteering and initiative are intrinsically tied in with the idea of community. The building of collaborative spirit, through a dedication to assuring one’s love for the game is fostered in the same way for their kids, is pivotal to developing the next generation of Australian footballers.
When speaking to brothers (and footballers) Jacob and Dominic Falla about Oxidate Performance, one begins to understand the true passion and insight behind their work. Oxidate Performance is Melbourne’s newest training centre dedicated to delivering football and performance coaching like never before.
Oxidate is much more than just activities and training drills, the performance centre was established by the pair in an effort to take athlete development and education, injury rehabilitation, recovery and football development to new heights. In addition, Oxidate currently have the lowest injury statistics across the state of Victoria.
Currently plying his trade with Heidelberg United in Victoria’s National Premier Leagues 1, Dominic previously spent five years in Europe learning from the elite schools of Spanish and English football. Jacob has had his own experiences in working with footballers across various levels, often with an eye on what could be done to provide athletes with the right tools to continue to evolve throughout the remainder of their career.
What is Oxidate?
Jacob: So, we’re a sports performance and coaching company who specialise specifically in the football development and physical development sectors. We tie a few pillars of performance together; including strength and conditioning, nutrition, skill development, massage therapy and myotherapy and physiotherapy. Working closely within the sports science realm and exercise science realms.
Undoubtedly there are a range of things on offer at Oxidate, how did it all come together though?
Jacob: Dom and I have been footballers for all our life, and we’ve figured out that there’s a good portion of development, help, education and training programs that have been missing. So, we thought, based on our experiences, our studies and our expertise that we’d develop the missing link, and provide the training content that is Oxidate Performance.
And now, the launch of our new performance centre in Coburg is very much that. It’s your one stop performance destination where football athletes, of all ages and skill levels, can come and receive the right types of help, training and guidance to enhance their opportunities overall.
How do you go about educating your clients?
Dominic: The big thing we think is missing is the educating of the parents. So, every single session when a client comes through, we spend time describing what the session is, what it entails, and what we’re looking for in terms of the performance and how we can maximise each session. It’s about giving them an education on what we’re actually doing in the session, rather than coming in and just running through training drills and skills.
So, giving the education to the player or the client, as well as the parent, is key to the overall experience so that they can learn in the short term and long term. They can then implement these things throughout the remainder of their career.
What are some of Oxidate’s other points of difference when compared with other football and performance coaching places?
Jacob: We pride ourselves on the physical development of our clients and the fact that we have the lowest injury statistics in Victoria. And we’ve held that statistic since 2016.
We track the metrics and the data of every club that we work with, from the grassroots level all the way through to the NPL. So, we’re recording these stats and each year we are progressing and developing by fine tuning our programs. Which in turn continues to provide these opportunities for athletes to develop and hopefully reduce that risk of injury as well.
How do you want Oxidate to impact the football industry?
Jacob: For us, it’s about bridging the gap between professional football and semi-professional football, or the elite to sub-elite. There’s a lot of areas that we can improve on, from the football fundamentals and the basics right through to athlete development.
We pride ourselves on the athlete development side of things more so, to us, this is what is currently lacking when comparing Australia to other nations. It’s the level of athleticism, and the ability to play the game at high tempo and speeds, or having the engine to cope with the physical demands of training two sessions per day, 6 days per week.
We’ve got an awesome gym setup here focusing on strength training not just in the off-season and pre-season, but in continuing the right types of training throughout the season. Because a child or athlete’s career should be seen from a progress standpoint, as every season they’re getting stronger, fitter and faster and developing their skills.
How similar is Oxidate’s coaching philosophy to your own personal coaching philosophies?
Dominic: Pretty much Oxidate, for Jacob and myself, is our baby. So, it is our own personal philosophies that we’ve built together through years of experience. I personally spent five years in Europe learning from different coaches, different teams and different types of football in Spain and England.
So, we’ve molded these experiences, including the missing links together to create our own version of football performance, now trademarked as the Oxidate philosophy. And that is what Oxidate performance is. We practice what we preach and teach. It is our mission to help improve the standards of Football in Australia.
What is the science behind Oxidate?
Jacob: We do a lot of performance analysis, and that may be viewing players on the pitch as we get a lot of parents request that we go and watch their child play, but also, we work in the sports science realm as well. That involves bringing players in, whether that be teams or individual clients, and testing them through a range of different things.
So, we do a full-body assessment and screening, where a physiotherapist assesses ankles, knees, hips, range of motion and the likelihood of where injuries could arise. And then we look at the performance testing as well with strength and power tests, and speed and agility tests. From there, what we do with those metrics is we build the training program specifically and then retest that client or athlete before the next training block. This is the pinnacle of individual performance.
We’re taking individual performance to the grand scale as well. We’re working with Heidelberg United, so what we’ve done is we’ve formed a collaboration with that club and launched an Athlete Development & High-Performance Program that includes working with over 100 athletes to provide these same opportunities.
What does the week-to-week look like for Oxidate?
Jacob: We’re here seven days a week and our coaches and staff are available for a range of high-performance sessions, recovery or rehabilitation. We’re here to provide opportunities for everyone that would like to enhance their careers.
Obviously, we follow a set structure, we set up a weekly schedule for each of our clients and we give them our opinions based on when and how they should train, and we setup a weekly forecast for them. So, for example, it might look like a Monday day recovery where (tying back into that point of difference) a lot of footballers, coaches, teams and clubs are taking a recovery day as a lesser option where they’re not really doing too much. Whereas, recovery can be enhanced if you stick to the science and stick to a proper structure.
Recovery at Oxidate includes our recovery pools. Hot and cold contrast water therapy. We do a lot of active recovery style sessions and a lot of injury prevention stuff too, including strength training. So, that’s a huge point of difference here as our clients are always progressing, instead of plateauing due to doing nothing. Rest is not always the answer for recovery.
A midweek session on a Wednesday will be your heavy strength power sessions, and then we do a Friday session which is game day -1. And we do what’s called a neural priming session, which involves a lot of work on the nervous system, a lot of stimulation work, a lot of low volume work at a high intensity. We do some sprints and agility training as well. All of our systems and programs are designed purely to make sure our clients dominate on game day, week in, week out, all season long.
It sounds like there is a huge variety of coaching and treatment on offer, who are the type of coaches working with Oxidate?
Jacob: All of our coaches have exercise science and sports science-based backing. So, every coach has a university degree of either 3 or 5 years. But, they’re also more importantly either current football players or previous players, so they understand the demands of the sport. They’re not just gym-goers or lab-tech gurus, they know what it feels like to play and they know what the demands are of a coach or a club. So, I think it really gives us a unique backing which then ties into that unique experience that you get when you step into our doors and come train with us.
It sounds like you both have an in-depth knowledge about performance coaching, but what inspired the way you approach things? Was it a particular coach or club experience?
Dominic: For myself, I have had some really good football coaches throughout my footballing career. There’s one or two here in Australia, but over in Spain the standard of actual coaching over there is on another level. And I guess, throughout my 4-5 years over there in Spain and England, I was consistently speaking with Jacob and saying how crazy the coaching was and how different it was.
From that I think I learnt a lot. I don’t need to name drop anyone because they’re overseas, but there were a few coaches who really took the technical side of the game to another level. And I think it shows in the way, for example, the way international teams like Spain and England play when compared to Australia.
So, that experience of training 4-5 times a week in Spain compared to here where it’s 2-3 sessions in a club setting, that contact time in terms of football development, hours spent in terms of load and actually improving the physical aspects as well made a massive difference. For me, learning all that from those coaches and that experience is where I personally got all the knowledge, we have today that I have passed on to Jacob.
Jacob: It really just comes from trial and error. So, I like to call it being “in the trenches”, and I’ve sort of been in the trenches for the last 10-11 years in the industry. That has involved trialling, erroring, testing, reassessing and shaping this hybrid program, philosophy and format. So, my knowledge has come from years of working with 100s and 1000s of different athletes, trialling different areas and just tweaking and always improving them.
We’re very grateful Dom and I, that we’ve still got youth on our side. We’re still optimistic and open-minded, and we’re not too set in our ways. Which gives us that edge of adaptability and that’s probably a key word, ‘adaptability’, and that includes being adaptable to the client, situation, team or performance that’s needed.