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42 Countries, Winning, Match Fixing & Pigeons - Steve Darby

"Coaches should remember winning is political power. If you are winning a few games try and get better conditions for your players. If you are losing? Keep quiet...."



Photo Credit: Sportskeeda


Name, age, where are you based?

Steve Darby currently based in Oxton Wirral (opposite Liverpool)



Current Role/Past roles:

Currently not coaching football. I came back from Asia as my 88 yr old mum was struggling so it was time to come home from Asia to “do the right thing”, add this to the current corona situation, then it was indeed the right thing to do.


I offered my services (free of charge) to two County FAs but received no reply! Despite my last game coached being a World Cup Qualifier,( Laos v Korea). I even applied to be an FA Coach mentor, but apparently did not meet the criteria to even get interviewed... Even though previously I had staffed FA Coaching Courses and had staffed courses for AFC and FIFA.


Luckily I had trained as a PE Teacher when playing, and with Special Ed qualifications, so I am inundated working with kids having special needs. Maybe I am better coaching players on grass than utlising power points and having a philosophy! Never mind knowing what a low block or vertical penetration is!


I am also doing some online tutoring for the excellent Sportspath programs ran by Robin Russell.



Qualifications/Licence:

I took my FA Prelim at Carnegie College and one of the staff coaches was Howard Wilkinson and then did my FA Full Badge, where my lecturers included Allen Wade. I was told I was the third youngest to pass the Full Badge aged 24.


I became a FIFA Instructor for Oceania after I had moved to Australia and my lecturers there included Eric Worthington, Ivan Toplak, Heinz Marotzke and a certain Sepp Blatter! Later I was invited to be an Asian Football Confedration (AFC) Instructor when working in SE Asia.

Though the reality was that if you were working in football at a professional level, it was difficult/impossible to be able to instruct on courses. In fact, I have often been disappointed when I see the quality of the instruction on some (not all ) courses as the Instructor has never coached professionally in the real world.


For example; Is your mortgage on the line with a result. I have also been disappointed when I have seen some people passed for either political reasons or shall we say economical? reasons to the Instructor. So difficult to prove, but we all know it goes on. There are so many unemployed Pro Licence Coaches in Asia, you have to ask why? And how did they qualify? though the system does appear to be getting better.





How many different countries have you coached in and which was the most enjoyable, and which was the most challenging?

I've worked in 12 countries professionally at elite club level (National League) or National Team level. These are England (Sheff Wed) USA, Bahrain (East Riffa and National Team) Australia (National Federation, National Womens team and Sydney Olympic) Fiji (Nasinu and National Youth Teams) Malaysia (7 seasons with Johor, Perak and Kelantan) Vietnam (SEA Games and Olympic Team) Singapore (Home Utd) Thailand (National team) India (Mohun Bagan,Mumbai City FC) China (Everton FC) and Laos (National team).


Coaching these teams meant I was lucky enough to visit over 42 countries, through either the AFC Cup, AFC Champions league, Asian Cup and World Cup Qualifiers. My bank manager said Singapore was the best place! We won the league and Cup double, AFC Cup semi finalists and also lucrative TV pundit work!


I always felt comfortable in Malaysa and met some wonderful people there. Thailand gave me the opportunity to work with two football legends Peter Reid and Bryan Robson and it was both an honour and an education to work with two great football men. Vietnam was politically challenging and in India I saw two extremes of the football spectrum the I League and the superb Indian Super league (ISL) and finally, Laos gave me the opportunity to coach in the World Cup, also to work with great people and also to have 4 of my team suspended for life for match fixing!



You probably have hundreds of funny stories to share, but do any specifically in your mind?

As a Player/Coach in Tasmania, I was met off the plane by a Journalist who asked me to walk down the plane steps carrying a sponsored bag and juggling a ball! If I could have done that I would have been at Madrid airport! Also on my first away trip with Devonport where I was player/coach, we stopped in the middle of the countryside and my captain let his pigeons out of the trunk of the Bus! But Devonport was a fantastic club, ahead of its time and a real proper community club. Tasmania was a wonderful place to live, but there was just no football career path in the state so I had to move on.


I had players drinking Kava during the game in Fiji, saw the gate receipts of a national league game in Australia piled on a table and creative accounting began by the committee! In Malaysia the Bomohs existed and I had a striker who put chicken blood in the goalmouths so he could score. So much for my coaching sessions.


In Thailand there are many stories but as you can imagine, they cant be repeated in public, but I played for a Bahraini team in Thailand in front of about 2000 silent monks! I also discovered tear gas in Bahrain, and believe me it does make you cry! I've had international players who couldn’t come training as their Mum made them go shopping. I've also had to get a couple of players out of jail.


Coldest place I've been to was Jordan, with the wind off the desert and the hottest was probably Iran in the Azizi stadium when I thought we may get a result v Iran. Though the heat may not have been the sun!


In hindsight some of the results of games I have been involved in were “humourous” ! When you are winning you can’t see the fix in a game, as you think all your wonderful coaching plans are working, but when you lose the atmosphere was terrible. Was it fixed? Who can you trust?

I learnt a lot about fixing in Laos. I had 2 players who I knew in my gut were fixing but they were always first eleven choice and only fixed in friendlies! Plus two more I would have put my mortgage on to say they were honest but are now banned for life. I am convinced until today one is innocent.


It was amusing when an AFC blazer came to Laos to warn the team about fixing and gave each player a shiny brochure with a hotline and email address for whistle-blowing. Problem was, the brochure was in English so there were 22 paper aeroplanes flying around after training as none of the lads could read English.


Fixing is a cancer on the game and it's a complex and serious matter, (which I will talk about in more detail in a separate article) it's not black and white. What do you do if your family is threatened? Or as one player said 'Coach we don't get paid for national team, we are going to lose as they are better than us, so we may as well lose by a certain score and everybody is happy'. Plus of course spot fixing where you can win the game and still make money...


On a final funny note I was once sacked on facebook! The power of social media!



Photo Credit: FTBL


How did you first move into coaching abroad?

I was a PE teacher in my first job in UK and I got a call from Merv Beck my College Lecturer, who first taught me what coaching was. He asked if I wanted to go to Bahrain as a Player/coach with a club and assist with the national team. I never even asked about the money, but it was 6 times my Teaching salary and tax free so I would have swam there!


There really is luck in the game and some need for 'right place and right time'. Plus of course who you know. I have never got a job I have applied for, but got all my jobs through word of mouth or contacts. So it's essential a young coach builds networks and also refrains from publicly slagging off other Coaches. It's not only unprofessional but we have enough enemies in the media and the Boardroom to be slagging each other.


I have known a few coaches who do that and their name is mud and they eventually run out of places to work. Overall, I have found fellow coaches supportive and good lads and I have made the decision that there are better coaches than me unemployed and worse coaches who are millionaires, and I don’t mean in Vietnam Dong or Indonesian Rupees.


There is no best Coach in the world, only the Coach with the best players.



You’ve won league titles and cups in Malaysia and Singapore and claimed Vietnams first ever Gold Medal in history. What principles of success do you believe must be created in Asian football?

I think the main principle is you must be a player's coach. I have seen Coaches make a career by kissing either of both the President’s or media’s backside. But I like to sleep at night. I always felt it was best to die on my feet than live on my knees. Accept that in your career you will be sacked at some time, its a reality. But the long term relationships I have kept with my players gives me a feeling money can’t buy.


I really enjoy seeing my ex players enter coaching and doing well. Also it is pleasing when they write to you to say I now understand what you meant!



Among all the experience you’ve gained through your career, what have been the most important lessons learnt and which have been the harshest?

I learnt in Asia you have to be like bamboo. In that you must be strong and stand up for your beliefs but be prepared to bend occasionally. You have to adapt to the local culture, both football and national. You are not going to change a country. It makes me laugh when I hear coaches say we do it this way in England, Germany or Holland or Brazil. Usually they are back there in a few weeks.


Try to learn the language it really helps in many ways.


Most importantly, you are coaching people first, then players. If you can’t get through to the person you will never improve the player. Not easy and I've made quite a few mistakes in this area especially when I was younger.



With strong knowledge of football in the region, what skills would be beneficial for coaches to develop, to support success in the Asian game?

Managing upwards! You have to accept you are an employee and the man who pays the wages is in charge. In many cases I was lucky and I had good intelligent administrators. But I have seen and experienced some crazy ones e.g getting 3am phone calls telling me to play 4-4-3 (we wouldn't have won with 12 players).


But coaches have to keep pushing for better facilities to train and play on. JDT has shown in Malaysia it can be done. Better and safer contracts for players. The advent of PFAs has been essential for this in some countries.


Also Coaches should select their players not administrators. Forget the opportunity for corruption or kickback that goes on in many football clubs, but its the coach who gets sacked first so choose your own players. Work in conjunction with admin as there are always budgets to work on. Also if you are choosing foreigners, get good people. The character of your foreigner who should be your best player is essential. The best players I have worked with have been both good Pros and good people.


Coaches should remember winning is political power. If you are winning a few games try and get better conditions for your players. If you are losing? Keep quiet.



You coached Mumbai City F.C in the first ever Indian Super League. What was that like and did your previous roles allow you to deal with teething problems an inaugural competition can bring?

Coaching in the ISL was great. The administrators who set up the concept really treated players and staff well. That's why so many local Indian players wanted to play in it. Good contracts which were actually fully met and excellent off field conditions. Mumbai City FC were a top club to work for. The only sadness about the league was that many con man agents took advantage of the football naivety of the new administrators, and ripped them off with ridiculous wages and fees for often very average foreign players. But overall it really raised the standard of Indian football.


What it taught me on a personal level was to learn never judge a person by their media reputation. Mumbai signed Nik Anelka who had just been suspended by the English FA after his West Brom stint. So I was wary of what we would be getting based on media reports. But for a bloke who had played for Arsenal, Liverpool, Man City and Real Madrid you could not have got a better Pro and a really humble man. And what a player by the way!



Photo Credit: TheSetpieces.com


What was it like working together with Peter Reid and Bryan Robson with the Thailand National Team?

It was a pleasure and an educational experience to work with both of them. The track record they had in both playing for England and managing in the EPL would have made it easy for them to be arrogant about coaching in Asia. But the reality was they were both great blokes, who genuinely loved football and to use the cliche, were real football men. Neither ever missed a session and were as passionate about results as could be. Especially when Thailand drew with Liverpool, Reidy was a bit delighted!


That gave me one of my happiest moments in football. Not only coaching against my boyhood team (coming from Anfield Rd) but I had brought back into the team Sutee Suksomkit who I had as a foreigner in Singapore. He had been left out of the initial squad given to us when we arrived, but I brought him in and he scored v Liverpool. Sutee epitomised good charcater, he could light up a dressing room.


It was also great to see a lad walking through Bangkok with a Man Utd shirt on with number 7 and the name Lobson on..and that's not a spelling mistake from me!



In your opinion, are there still opportunities for British Coaches to make a good career abroad and what balance between performance and results could aid their longevity?

If you get a chance to work abroad take it. You never know what it may lead to. I have ended up coaching in front of 100,000 people, saw the world, met Kings, Presidents, PMs and Mafia, Triads and a hit man (who was a lovely bloke). Coached in World Cup Qualifiers and become financially secure. The chances of me coaching Liverpool were a lot less! So give it a go. Nothing to lose, get out of the comfort zone. Have a life.


Also forget about this philosophy and project rubbish. If you are in professional football especially in Asia its all about winning. Long term is next week and development is winning by a bigger score.



Any tips or advice you can share for budding coaches looking to develop themselves in readiness for international coaching?

Be like bamboo, use local knowledge and try to learn languages. But most of all treat people like you would like to be treated and of course...Win games!




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