Socceroos legend Gary Cole: “This is a great shot in the arm for the game in Australia”


Just five days on from their landmark win over Tunisia at the World Cup, the Socceroos have continued to enamour the nation following the side’s historic 1-0 victory over Denmark to reach the Round of 16.

The result is a historic feat befitting the squad’s gargantuan efforts navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and two one-off playoff matches to reach the world stage, with the side more than matching the success of 2006’s ‘Golden Generation’.

Soccerscene chatted with Australian football legend, Football Victoria Hall of Fame inductee, and Football Coaches Australia Executive Committee member Gary Cole to discuss the significance of the qualification and how critical Australian football’s next moves are.

As a former Socceroo who has undergone all of the trials and tribulations of international football, how are you feeling with the team more than equaling the efforts of the 2006 squad?

Gary Cole: I’m just incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved thus far. The current team has a part of their brand “many journeys, one jersey” and we’ve all come from different backgrounds and different walks of life. The journey of the Socceroos has been from part-time player, possible teacher, possible bricklayer, through to the golden generation where many of them were playing in the EPL, through to the current generation and their different stories – but we all feel the same amount of pride when we put that jersey on and hear the national anthem play and you realise that you’re out there representing your family and your country. That moment never leaves you; it’s just incredible. I’m so wrapped for they’ve achieved so far and am hopeful for what they might achieve.

How significant is the Socceroos’ qualification to the Round of 16 for Australian football?

Gary Cole: It’s massive. We know firstly, how hard it is to qualify for the World Cup. This is our fifth in a row and our sixth overall but we had that massive gap in between qualifying in ’74 and through to 2006. It was such a long time and was incredibly difficult to get there, and then once you get there, you’re playing 32 of the best teams in the world, and there’s no one where game where a team gets a clean sheet or scores goals easily. For us, by world standards, to get to that Round of 16 is incredible and another great shot in the arm for the game in Australia.

What do you feel will be the impact on the wider Australian sporting landscape?

Gary Cole: That’s so difficult to predict. On my way to film my podcast yesterday I stopped for a coffee, I don’t read the newspapers and haven’t for a long time, but on the table next to me while I was waiting was Melbourne’s Herald Sun. And on the back page there were two or three pictures of the Socceroos and I thought “oh wow Herald Sun, it must be a World Cup”. In The Age there were double-page spreads of the AFL and the Australian cricket team and that sort of gives you a whack between the eyes as you remember where the media is at right now.

Will getting to the Round of 16 change people’s perception? Will it change the mainstream media? History says no, but it adds another layer of credibility to us and this is the world stage. We’re at the biggest sporting event in the world and have made the final 16. Everyone within the game knows it, many of the people outside of the game know, and then there’s a section of government that continue to ignore it. So, what do you do? You just ignore it and keep scoring the goals and hopefully one day we’ll get there.

Graham Arnold spoke ahead of the Denmark game about the need for a review into Australia’s youth development pathways in football. With the Socceroos reaching the Round of 16 and the Matildas hosting a Women’s World Cup next year, what do you feel is necessary from Football Australia and the Australian Professional Leagues to capitalise on the momentum?

Gary Cole: I think Ernie Merrick, as our Chief Football Officer, has a massive job because the pathways need freshening up. There’s no doubt there’s a whole bunch of confused people, and there’s organisations doing things in different ways.

We hang past the development of our players to A-Leagues and NPL clubs through their academies to private academies over the journey. We had a wonderful AIS and state Institutes of Sport and that played such a significant part. And we decided to do away with those and this was going to be the next best way of doing it – that’s proved to have a measure of success but maybe it could be more.

That’s what we need to do. We’ve got to get everyone (somehow) on the same page and determine the best way to help us develop our players. And I’ve got a bit of a bias because I’m on the Technical Committee of Football Coaches Australia. But if we want better players, we’ve got to have better coaches. You can’t have better players without investing in coaching development and not just licensing. Getting people their licence is great but it’s a bit like giving an 18-year-old a driver’s licence: giving you access to the road doesn’t make you a great driver, that takes a lot of time, effort, and in some cases mistakes.

We’ve got to help our coaches do better and in doing so our players will get better. If we can arrive at a point where there’s a more unified pathway forwards – that’s my answer in the short-term.

Having coached yourself and been a part of the executive committee at Football Coaches Australia, how significant of an achievement is this for Graham Arnold as a coach?

Gary Cole: Well, it’s just another huge pat on the back for an Australian coach. Arnie’s one of a growing range of male and female coaches that are performing on the world stage, and it seems like every month someone else pops up. The thought of Ange taking over in Japan and Scotland and “can he actually win it?” and then it happens, and then Kevin Muscat taking over in Japan and doing the same. And now Paddy Kisnorbo has gone to France, Tanya Oxtoby is at Chelsea, Belinda Wilson is in a women’s technical role in FIFA.

It just adds to this armoury of wonderful Australian male and female coaches doing great things around the world that we should hold up with esteem and look at how we got this lot through and how to get the next lot through. We could look at this right now and say it’s our ‘golden generation of coaches’. But unlike the players, how do we make sure we have the next generation coming through. We’ve got thousands of coaches licensed but how do we get them to do better. Hopefully, Arnie having this success and being celebrated is made all the more wonderful of an achievement if it’s then part of the overall truth of how do we develop coaches?

You’ve spoken with Mike Conway, the Socceroos’ Mental Agility coach, during their stay at the Aspire Academy in Doha. How influential has his work been in helping the Socceroos perform at their best in Qatar? What have been his insights from his experiences there?

Gary Cole: It’s fantastic that Mike is there, he’s obviously the CEO and founder of XVenture and Football Coaches Australia has a fantastic partnership setup with the FCA College that is a virtual world training course for coaches that is just absolutely sensational.

Mike has worked with Arnie at Sydney FC and now the past four years with the Socceroos and has been key. If you think about football, it was tactical-technical for a long time, then we added physical and strength and conditioning and sports science became really important. The best teams and coaches in the world understand emotional intelligence and that side of the game.

The fact that Mike as a coach and a teacher has that gift of all great coaches making the complex, simple would be key. The fact he has that relationship with Graham that goes back a long way is a contributor in all of this. He’s a wonderful communicator and he cares about human beings and understands that communication is integral to any team that wants to be successful.

Robert Cavallucci discusses important Perry Park upgrade

FQ CEO Robert Cavallucci recently featured on an episode of The Subs Bench podcast to discuss an improved stadium in Brisbane in a bid to grow the game further.

Football Queensland and Football Australia’s push to upgrade the state’s spiritual home of football, Perry Park, has been a hot topic of discussion for a good amount of time.

In a submission to a federal inquiry into Australia’s preparedness to host the Olympic Games, Football Australia called for an upgrade of Perry Park to become a 10 or 15,000 seat stadium with improved internal facilities.

Cavallucci discussed why this upgrade needs to be completed following the rise of the games popularity.

“The question should be, does football require a more appropriate stadium that reflects its needs? Absolutely it does,” he said on The Subs Bench podcast.

“The city and the state needs a football appropriate that reflects football’s very unique requirements and the fact we don’t have one is symptomatic of 20 or 30 years of failure as a code to actively advocate for our needs. Thats obviously changing dramatically and very quickly.

“Perry Park obviously has a lot of suitable elements, it’s in the inner city, which is perfect, it’s on a train line which is even better, it’s on major road infrastructure. You can access it from everywhere and very quickly.

“Importantly it links in with the broader sporting spine on those train lines so you can get from there to Suncorp to the Gabba and get to Perry Park from all those places.”

Cavallucci added that this upgrade is necessary for the sport to advance in the state and shed light on how it would affect all tiers of the football pyramid.

“There’s no question it’s been on our top three infrastructure priorities for four years and we’re absolutely putting in significant work to eventually bring that to life,” he said.

“It’s important for the code and it’s important for not only professional and semi-professional levels but it’s important for women’s football but also the A-League expansion as well.

“We should have a second Brisbane team; it will absolutely mobilise a broader fanbase. It can only be brought into life if we have appropriate infrastructure.”

With the Olympics a hot topic at the moment and FQ’s push to secure more funding for a second top rectangular stadium, it will be an interesting talking point that the government will have to consider to help progress football in the region.

The story of Kamal Ibrahim: An inspiration to young migrants

The founder of One Ball, Kamal Ibrahim, understands that football is a beacon of light for him and the people that experience adversity and hardship in their countries.

Along with his family, Ibrahim migrated from Ethiopia in 2003 for a new life in Australia at the age of 12 to flee the civil war.

By not understanding a word of English along with the difficulties of settling into the cultural ways of life in Australia, that’s when he turned his passion for football as a form of expressing himself and communicating with his new community.

His football career began for his local team, Port Melbourne Soccer Club, the noble act from the NPL club to pay for his membership, providing him with his uniform and most significantly making him feel welcome instantly the moment that he had arrived was an admirable act of generosity.

Looking back on his playing career, Ibrahim talked about the life skills football gave him, not only on the pitch but also off it.

“Through football I learnt skills that helped me on and off the field. I looked forward to my games each week, my team was my ‘family’, I had a sense of acceptance and a way of communicating without having to speak, I learnt how to work as a team, improve myself as an individual, I was supported in a fun and safe environment.

“Football has given me opportunities that I never expected. Football gave me the opportunity to represent Australia and Victoria on a national level and I was given the opportunity to travel the world. It gave me that sense of encouragement to do more with my life and that with hard work anything can be achieved.”

He has gone on to make appearances for Melbourne Heart (now known as Melbourne City) in 2010-2012 and representing the youth team of Australia, but his career was at an all-time high when playing for Port Melbourne Sharks, which is where he won the 2015 NPL’s best and fairest award.

Now Ibrahim has decided to show his admiration for the sport, by starting a program designed for children and adolescences between the ages of 5-17 year olds.

The program is open to all people, especially those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) nationalities from all over Melbourne to play football in a social and friendly environment, no matter their religion, culture or gender.

The mission of this program is to encourage children to be fit and active, as well as supporting their physical and psychological health and well-being, One Ball also aims to guide and empower young individuals to develop personal qualities such as cooperation, self-control, respect and integrity by playing football with others along with the mentoring they receive from their coaches.

Ibrahim explains why he started One Ball.

“I started One Ball trying to not only help the best players, but the overall community. Kids who have never played soccer before, kids who have the passion but they can’t play for a soccer club because they will be told they aren’t good forward or who aren’t good enough to play for an NPL club or a community club, so One Ball was established for that reason,” he said.

“As human beings when we realise belong in the community, we feel a part of the society, then we can achieve things. Every kid who comes to our program gets a uniform just like they are part of their soccer club, they feel like they can belong at that club.”

The PFA’s Footballers Trust supports One Ball and other similar organisations, giving an opportunity for players to give back to their communities in a positive and impactful way.

It was established by former footballer Mark Milligan prior to the 2019 Asian Cup, ever since then it has grown remarkably to the extent where they have partnered with over 10 various player-driven charity initiatives.

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