As a coach who has enjoyed success in coaching on three continents, what would you say are your personal attributes that allow you to adapt well to different footballing cultures and climates?
Personal attributes I think would be a willingness and desire to fully involve myself in the new culture and environment. I certainly don't want to try to 'enforce' an English mindset or behaviours on the place that I am working. Beyond that I think my work ethic, instilled by my dad, and then just my passion for what I do and the belief I have in my coaching and playing model.
Defeating Barcelona in the Women’s Champions League with Bristol Academy is an outstanding achievement for a coach. What other achievements do you rank highly?
I am proud of a number of specific achievements throughout my career; winning the Australian W League with Melbourne Victory in 2013/14, which saw us totally dominate the final against a Brisbane Roar side full of Australian internationals and Nadine Angerer (at the time World Footballer of the Year). The semi-final win over Sydney FC that season was also a huge performance against a side packed with the likes of Sam Kerr, Jodie Taylor, Caitlin Foord, Ellyse Perry and coached by Alen Stajcic.
Beating Barcelona to reach the 1/4 finals of the UEFA Womens Champions League was obviously a highlight as Barcelona were stacked with Spanish internationals and had been on an unbeaten run for something like 54 games. The performance was one of huge discipline and organisation as well as incredible team spirit and togetherness, with everyone knowing their role and performing it exceptionally well.
An equally pleasing result was with London Bees (Barnet) then of the FAWSL2, defeating Chelsea in the Continental Cup and going on to reach the semi-finals of the competition. After Bristol I took over at London Bees and the club was in disarray, with players not wanting to be at the club and even not wanting to play football anymore after a couple of seasons where performances had been poor but also the environment had been very negative, even toxic. We were able to turn around the culture and performances improved, at one point leading the FAWSL2 and the highlight of defeating Chelsea with their budget and their superstars at The Hive.
Other highlights are around individuals going on to do some great things, from Abby Erceg (Adelaide United) going on to become one of the worlds best defenders and dominate in the NWSL, to Marco Rojas (Waikato FC) go on to play for Melbourne Victory in the A League, in the German Bundesliga and most recently sign for Colo Colo in Chile, as well as many others playing professionally around the world or achieving great things beyond football.
Early on in your career, you worked for Noga Soccer in the USA. This was during the before times, back before the modern luxuries of smartphones and internet connections. Many coaches considering their first roles abroad today would be wondering; how did you cope?
It wasn't easy as, as you say, the ability to stay in touch wasnt so simple. Embarrassingly at a coaches meeting one week, a message from my parents and girlfriend of the time was read out as I hadn't rang for a week or so and they had been calling the main office pretty frequently. It was also a time of writing letters/postcards, which seems so out of date nowadays but was definitely a source of enjoyment when letters were received.
I think I coped partly because of the camaraderie amongst the coaches there, which has in many cases continued until today but also due to my personality. I am not massively outgoing and am comfortable in my own space so in those solitary moments I struggle less than some I guess?
In 2022 we can do our research and speak directly to coaches and clubs around the world, learning about our new homes with the touch of a button. To move abroad to coach in the 1990s would have taken a much greater leap of faith than today. What persuaded you to go abroad?
I didn't need much persuading to be honest. At the time I was at University studying PE and some of the past students were involved in recruiting new coaches. They sold the opportunity well on both lifestyle and as a learning opportunity. I also really wanted to travel and explore other countries and opportunities as even then I saw that as a non ex-professional player my opportunities in the UK were going to be limited.
To those in the UK who have never been, Australia and New Zealand may appear similar, yet they are their own separate countries with different histories and cultures. Sporting wise, what are some of the differences between Australia and New Zealand, and how do they compare to the UK?
Yes Australia and New Zealand are very different whilst at the same time being quite similar. Both have an unfortunate history with the treatment of their indigenous people which they are working hard to improve. Both hold sport very highly within their society and culture both as a way of respecting the indigenous cultures but also as a lifestyle and positive element of growing up in NZ and Australia. In comparison to the UK this is probably the biggest difference for me, the UK is getting more and more sedentary and the value placed on sport and physical activity is diminishing. Another massive area of difference regards the position of women's sport! The UK has, sadly, such a backward and negative agenda towards women's sport - the social media outcry when a woman commentates on football or when women's football is shown on TV is embarrassing and to be brutally honest makes me ashamed to be British. In comparison Australia and New Zealand seem much more able to accept that women and girls can play sport and they are supported more equitably and without the sexist agendas seen in the UK.
Although football is growing in Australia and New Zealand, it still has to compete with the hugely popular sports of cricket and rugby. How does this impact the strategy of growing the game of football?
Football has the highest participation rates of any sport in Australia and New Zealand despite the lack of funding it receives from the governments and councils. Unlike the UK where a top-down funding system is in place with the professional game creating billions of pounds, Australia and New Zealand have to fund programs differently. This is the biggest issue I see as it can result in the sport becoming very middle class as to be a part of a junior club or 'an academy' you have to be able to afford the fees. In comparison NZ Rugby with its top-down funding model can afford to make junior rugby basically free. In Australia it is similar with AFL providing many more opportunities to schools and young children compared to Football, again due to the funding model. This obviously impacts the strategy for growing the game as funding opportunities need to be identified and where possible training opportunities and support/mentoring needs to be provided to the volunteers that are required to grow the game.
Moving around the world for different jobs, which has been the hardest adjustment?
New Zealand was probably the hardest adjustment, the first time, as it is just so far away from home. A 24-28 hour flight makes it difficult to get back home, especially if there is a need to! In 2008/9 my dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer and he kept the news from me until the day before he was due to go in for surgery because he didn't want me rushing back. That for me highlighted the distance and with ageing parents certainly made me consider my choices a little differently in the future.
You have enjoyed several stints as a PE teacher, either alongside or in between coaching roles. How has PE teaching helped your coaching, and vice versa?
I think the two are very similar, both require knowledge of your subject, ability to connect with your students/players and an ability to deliver your content in an engaging and positive way. Teaching multiple sports as a PE Teacher has introduced me to different styles of play and coaching/teaching as well as different tactics that have and can be used within a football context. I have also been very fortunate throughout my time as a teacher to work alongside some excellent people who have taught me a lot. Teaching, unlike coaching is a much more open and supportive environment with a much greater willingness to share ideas and learn from each other. As an example I worked alongside Stuart Lancaster in my first teaching role. Stuart went on to coach England Rugby from 2011-2015 and is currently on the coaching staff at Leinster Rugby.
How did it feel to be appointed head coach of the New Zealand U17 women’s team?
It was an enormous honour to be appointed as head coach to the NZ U17's. I had just missed out the previous campaign and I had made it a major goal to be appointed in the future. To be in charge of a national program and team is a huge responsibility. To first of all qualify for the tournament and then go and compete on a world stage is something I will never forget and something I would love to maybe repeat one day!
In your role of head of women’s football for Football Federation South Australia, what were some of your roles and responsibilities, and what kind of targets did you have?
The role was very much about growing the game at all levels, from grassroots through to the 'elite' state programs both in terms of playing numbers but also in terms of coaching numbers and coach education. Targets included numbers of new coaches, coach education/development opportunities as well as increasing playing numbers.
Coaching for Adelaide and then Melbourne in the W League, what were some of your favourite moments?
Some of my favourite moments have been mentioned above, like the semi-final win with Melbourne vs Sydney FC and the grand-final of course. But getting Adelaide's first win after almost three seasons without a win (when I took over they had been reported as Australia's worst 'professional' sports team), on a rain soaked pitch.
Another huge moment with Adelaide was another victory over Western Sydney Wanderers, inspired by a hattrick from NZ international Sarah Mc Laughlin.
Having spent a considerable amount of time working in New Zealand, Australia, and England, do you ever feel a reverse culture shock? Which one, if any, would you say more feels like home? Most definitely! returning to the UK in 2014 after 11 years away, I definitely felt a reverse culture shock. It was supposed to be 'home' but it definitely didn't feel that way. I will always call Manchester 'home' but I'm not sure any 'location' is truly home for me anymore. As a husband and dad now, home is with my little family, be that in New Zealand, Australia, the UK or now Switzerland. Women’s football is continuing to grow in attendance, participation, and quality in many countries around the world. What do you feel have been the key factors in driving that? The key factors driving that have undoubtedly been some very committed and determined individuals who have fought the negativity and resistance to women's football. Only now have the mainstream media started to buy into women's football and only now have some of the big clubs decided (for varied reasons) to get involved. The rapid growth in opportunities for young girls to play the sport on 'equal' terms to boys has not surprisingly seen a rapid increase in the quality of the game at a senior level, which in turn has made it more appealing to the viewing public and therefor media.
What advice would you have for aspiring young coaches who want to become head coaches of senior teams? The biggest piece of advice would be to go for it! Take the jump! Believe in yourself and don't listen to the people who say you can't do it. The other piece of advice would be continue to learn, be that on courses or simply by observing other coaches from multiple sports. Be a student of the game and a student of the art/science of coaching itself.
You have some excellent testimonials from great players such as Jess Fishlock. What is important to you as a coach regarding building relationships with players? Building relationships with players is vital. Every player is different and they require or want different things from you. Jess is a hugely experienced senior player and wanted to be treated accordingly but she was also travelling to the other side of the world to play in a second league competition on top of her NWSL season so she needed to be managed accordingly. Lisa de Vanna on the other hand was an out and out winner and demanded the highest standards of everything from travel to training to effort from all players etc which needed managing differently. Within the same team I also had 16 year old students, like Beattie Goad who was making the step up to W League and was in awe of the likes of Jess and Lisa. Identifying and addressing all of these individual differences are key to the success of any team and help mould and create the culture that you have at a club. Coaching and teaching is just as much about developing relationships with your players/students as delivering your 'content'.
You have taken coaching courses from several different federations. Can you see how the constraints and demands of each country shape the coaching education pathways? Yes definitely, although I have also been fortunate enough to have learnt from outstanding coach educators who have been able to see beyond the country constraints. Osian Roberts at the Welsh FA embraced ideas and coaches from all global backgrounds from Roberto Martinez, to Thierry Henry and Pep Ljinders. Kelly Cross, Rob Sherman, Raymond Verheijen and Han Berger delivered outstanding coach education in Australia, again delivering ideas and concepts from all around the world, from Han and Raymond's Dutch background as well as the Asian influence from the likes of Japan and Korea. Both countries impressed me with their ability to have the game of football at the centre of their education model. Also their ability and desire to NOT impose a certain way of playing the game, rather an expectation that you would develop your own playing model based on your playing resources etc..
What has been your most recent role in Switzerland? In 2018 we moved to Switzerland as a family due to a work opportunity for my wife. I was a stay at home dad to our then one daughter as well as continuing to mentor a couple of coaches in Australia, one of whom is now the head analyst at Western United in the A League men's competition and the other who has just been appointed as Head Coach at Western Sydney Wanderers in the A League women's competition. I also continued to support a number of former players in securing contracts around the world or University Scholarships. With Covid restrictions and the arrival of our second daughter at the start of 2021 we decided to return to New Zealand where I was Director of Football at Macleans College in Auckland, In the first season the Boys 1st X1 secured promotion to the Premier Division, winning the league playing expansive attractive football scoring an average of 4 goals per game. In the second season the girls 1st X1 also won their league, securing a playoff position for promotion. Despite enjoying success back in New Zealand the lure of Switzerland and the lifestyle it provides meant that just two weeks ago we returned to Switzerland and again I will be a stay at home dad to our two girls aged 4 and 1. I will be continuing my mentoring work and supporting players but this time I will also be looking for a more hands on coaching role.
What advice would you give to your younger self? I'm not one for regrets or looking back as I think things happen for a reason etc. but there have been a couple of opportunities I have missed out on either because I played safe or because I felt I 'owed' a club some loyalty. So maybe I would tell myself not to be afraid to make some risky or 'selfish' choices along the way. Whilst I value my loyalty, in football it definitely is not a two way thing so if things offer themsleves up, take them!