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Justin Walley - CONIFA WORLD CUP & Military Coups

Updated: May 11, 2019

Name, age, where you are based? Justin Walley, 48, currently a free agent based in Leicestershire. Current/most recent role: I was Head Coach/Manager of Matabeleland until August 2018. I took the team to the CONIFA World Football Cup in London, having prepared the team for the tournament out in Zimbabwe. We even brought in Bruce Grobbelaar as part of our coaching staff. As the role was completely voluntary, and I had achieved what I set out to achieve, it wasn't really realistic to return to Zimbabwe after the June tournament. I spent a few months in Colombia and Russia after the CONIFA World Football Cup writing a book about my experiences with Matabeleland, so finding a new team to coach had to be put on the back burner until the book was finished in December.

Qualifications: I have been stuck on my FA Level 2 in Coaching for 6 years. I wanted to do my B and then my A in Latvia, where I was coaching previously, but initially I was prevented from doing the B because, understandably, I wasn't fluent in Latvian. Having improved my Latvian and committed to intense lessons to get me up to the level required, the Latvian FA told me I could do the B but then changed its rules in the lead up to the course . Suddenly they told me my English FA Level 2, was no longer recognised by them and I would have to do the Latvian C before the B, setting me back a further 18 months. My own ex-players have gone on to do their C, B & A badges in Latvia while I am stuck on my level two. Various English county FAs, meanwhile, didn't allow me to do the B in England as I didn't have a team in England. In the end, I gave up. That was how I ended up coaching a CONIFA team because there isn't a strict requirement with coaching badges in some CONIFA federations.

How did you get into coaching?

I did the English F.A Prelim Badge back in 1996, when I was 25. At that time I planned to get into coaching – possibly in the USA – but things didn't work out how I planned and my life took another direction. More than a decade later I helped co-found Riga United Football Club in Latvia. In 2012, I decided to make football coaching and management my main focus. I became the assistant manager of Riga United and also started coaching at the kids academy that we started up. This in turn lead to me personally creating Riga United Ladies, who are currently the third best women's team in Latvia. I volunteered in Sierra Leone with the Craig Bellamy Foundation and later on coached Latvian Second League AFK Aliance before, eventually, Matabeleland out in Zimbabwe.

What was your training focus with last team?

With Matabeleland it was creating a more professional, less naïve mindset. Technically some of the players could possibly play in the EFL or decent non league but they lacked experience and game sense. Some of my coaching was back to basics such as defensive shape. But we also spent the last weeks leading up to the CONIFA World Cup, working with many different kinds of rondos encouraging the players to move the ball fast in patterns and developing fast transitions. When the lads did that in London, they were unplayable in those passages of play. I recruited a team of sports science students in the UK to analyse our opponents prior to the World Football Cup and that subsequently also played into our training focus. What’s been the best thing for your personal development?

Coaching boys and girls from kindergarten ‘fun groups’ through primary school and onto junior and senior football for both men's and women's football. I made a conscious decision to do that. That has allowed me to understand how individuals develop intellectually and physically throughout their playing days. I feel I can now relate to a 6, 16, 26, 36 or 46 year old player, male or female.   I have also coached within informal environments where I could coach how I wished rather than through prescribed frameworks. This has allowed me to develop my own philosophy. Also working with no money at all of my clubs has forced me into finding unique solutions to seemingly impossible problems.

What things have been difficult?

Limited resources and limitations in educational advancement. In Zimbabwe we played on mostly shocking surfaces and often didn't even have more than a couple of footballs. In Latvia, we were trying to compete for the women's national title against a side that had an unofficial budget of hundreds of thousands while we had to ask our players to pay-to-play just to cover our pitch rent. As mentioned previously, for various reasons, I have been unable to take my B and A badges. Quite apart from all the things I would have learned, it is also preventing me from taking on roles in the game going forward.

Has anything developed you more than if you were working in UK?

I suspect most foreign-based coaches say the same thing: coaching abroad gave me opportunities as a coach I couldn't possibly have had in the UK. Any footballer or coach who wants to develop should consider working abroad for a period of time. Chances are you will always be a small fish in a big pond full of piranha in the UK. You have England legends coaching in non league. If I'd had my badges before I coached abroad, I believe I'd now be coaching a first or second-tier team in Europe.

How has your development as a coach been hindered by not being in the UK?

Qualifications. Qualifications. Qualifications.

Do you feel you need to move abroad to coach to work in football?

My advice to anyone who wants to make coaching a career but also fancies the challenge of living and/or travelling abroad is to give it a go! But, ideally, get those badges first!

How do you feel British coaches abroad are perceived?

From the places where I have coached – mostly very positively, especially in Africa. But it comes down to how you conduct yourself. If you disrespect local cultural sensitivities then don't expect anyone to perceive you too positively.

In terms of the perceptions of people back home, I think they see coaches working abroad as a curiosity. From my experience, when you succeed abroad it makes others dream of moving abroad themselves and giving it a go. It opens up a world of possibilities. I now get a lot of coaches – of all ages (and many more qualified than me) – who contact me and ask for my advice about giving it a go abroad.

During your time as head Coach of Matabeleland you experienced some quite dramatic events including a military coup…

Yes, you’d certainly never describe my experiences coaching Matabeleland as boring. Immediately after arriving in Zimbabwe, the political and economic situation there began rapidly deteriorating, with the military removing Robert Mugabe from power after four decades in control of the country. It was scary at times because there were fears of a bloodbath with some even predicting civil war. Thankfully, for all of us, things seemed to improve in the lead up to the CONIFA World Football Cup and it remained largely peaceful until I left the country. But, sadly, now in 2019 the situation in Zimbabwe has significantly worsened.

Lots of other stuff went on, which I explore in detail in my book, including the recruitment of Liverpool legend Bruce Grobbelaar for our team, CNN coming to film the team in Zimbabwe and a handful of us chasing the new President of Zimbabwe and the Head of the Armed Forces to try and get the team to England. At one point, I was even accused by a journalist of working for the Kremlin.  

The future - what’s next for you?

I love scribbling ideas for future plans down on paper. I find I do it all the time. And I find that new adventures are born out of this process. My what's next scribblings are quite long and varied currently. In December I published my first book – One Football, No Nets – telling off my experiences with Matabeleland and coaching as an amateur coach at a world cup (as well as about the crazy stuff that happened in Russia afterwards at the FIFA World Cup). I am spending the first few months of this year promoting the book, including speaking engagements in London (see below), Glasgow and Preston, as well as doing radio interviews with the likes of the BBC World Service World Football Show and These Football Times Podcast.

I am rolling with that at the moment to see where it takes me. Then, if things go to plan, I am heading to Brazil for the Copa America. Might I stay there and coach? Maybe. Maybe not. Let's see. In all likelihood, I am potentially looking at a fresh challenge beginning in August or September, somewhere far far away. One thing I would definitely like to do is write a second book. I have a few other ideas but I will keep them on my pieces of paper for now.

Where do you get your inspiration from? Life itself. Living life. Living a great adventure. If coaching doesn't bring me joy and adventure then I will quit it and become a Trance DJ or a travel tour leader or an author or whatever I think works. In terms of coaches, I am inspired by Sir Bobby Robson, a true gent. In the modern game, I am a massive fan of Chris Wilder. Look at what he has done with the resources he has had at each club he has gone to! Listen to what he has to say and the way he conducts himself! For me he is the best in the game.

I also get inspiration from grassroots coaches who turn out in the wind and the rain or in the middle of a scorching hot desert, or wherever, and give their heart and soul to the game of football; giving so many others great pleasure in their lives.

How can British Coaches Network members and followers get hold of your book?

The book is available: Amazon

Book Depository:

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