7 December 2015, VAFA AGM Presentation Dinner, MCG, Melbourne, Australia
Like most successful coaches, it comes down to having good players who perform as a team.
First and foremost, I would like to thank the players of the West Brunswick Amateur Football Club who for the last four years have spilt blood, broken bones, tackled hard, kicked goals, and most importantly built a bond of trust and belief as strong as I have seen at any club. At no stage did you yield, and conquering undefeated sides in consecutive GF’s is testament to your strength of character. You did the work, and the rewards are yours. You are magnificent young men, a credit to yourselves, your parents and family and also marvellous ambassadors of our club and the VAFA. The story perhaps is a little deeper than that though, as we are a club where the players not only play, they also fundraise and form the committee. There is a no burnout mentality; the job just needs to get done.
Football can be a cruel game, and a game of inches. St Leo’s in particular have ended their year by a point in consecutive seasons, the manner in which they conducted themselves post game was a credit to them, and they will be a force again next year.
VAFA President, Tim Nelson, the VAFA Executive, the team at VAFA headquarters Elsternwick Park, VAFA major sponsor, Sportscover, thank you. We are all privileged to be part of what I truly believe is the most amazing and unique Football League in the Country. 1000’s of people each and every week, the majority unpaid, doing what they do for the love of football. Not because they have to, because they want to. Along with an overwhelmingly safe football environment, this is what continues to make the VAFA a “Destination League” in what is an increasingly competitive leisure/sporting market. Whilst we are Amateur, we should continue to strive, if we are not already, to be the most professional Association outside the AFL. With your continued vision, planning and communication, I believe the VAFA is in safe hands. Again thank you.
When I received a call from Benny, my first thought was “what I have done now”, a bit like getting called to the principal’s office. When Benny explained the reason for his call, a different wave of emotions/feelings came over me:
A hint of pride
But overall, I was extraordinarily humbled to be recognised.
These initial feelings were quickly replaced by fear and nervousness, as the realisation of two of my greatest fears; being centre of attention and public speaking! As I sat down and tried to formulate some thoughts, it quickly became apparent that this award was not about one, but rather a reward for many individuals, and mostly the West Brunswick Amateur Football Club. A place that I walked into in 1995 and has had me on the hook ever since.
Established 1959 – 56 Years
Premierships (7): 1960, 1976, 1980, 2002, 2008, 2014, 2015
3 VAFA Life Members:Cliff & Mavis Bastow, Bruce Ivey
4 VAFA Certificates of Merit Recipients:
Peter Webber, Cliff Bastow, Bruce Ivey, Steve Fyffe
VAFA games record holder and VAFA personality of the year in 2002, Bob Baker.
Former club Captain, Steve D’Andrea was awarded VAFA Junior Coach of the year in 2013.
As a club, West Brunswick is special. Clubs are always about the players, but never have I been part of a club that is completely player run. As we have had some success over the last two years, the efforts of a number at the club will highlight what I mean.
President – Anthony Gibson, not only oversaw back-to-back Premierships, was also a key contributor on the wing in both sides.
2014 Vice President – Louis Martin was also head of Football Operations 2015, and also happened to skipper the Senior side in both grand finals.
2014 Secretary – Raph Touzel, was also President 2012 & 2013, played in Senior flag 2014 and Reserves flag 2015, and I think he has retired for the 5th or 6th time but we expect him back again. He also won the Raph Touzel 3rd XVIII B&F award this year!
2016 President – Ben Lichtenstein, was Secretary last year, as well as captaining the Premiers and champions Reserves side.
I could go on, but will just add that all committee and football-related roles except VAFA Rep and Senior Coach and Runner are filled by current players.
The club also prides itself on being very socially aware and proactive, particularly in the area of men’s mental health, particularly young men. We were extremely proud of the Uni Blacks #GayThat’sOK initiative, the way in which the VAFA embraced it, and we’re proud to have played a small part.
This year we also linked with VICE Media; leading youth media company and Movember – a global charity committed to men living happier, healthier, longer lives. We featured in a film about how difficult it is for adult men make friends, by having a member of Vice come and train, interact and talk with our players and coaches. This involved players being miked up, cameras on the field during training, and having a guy that had not played football, and didn’t know anyone taking part in training. I put it to the senior players as to whether they would support this going ahead, as it would be a bit of a disruption to training, it was unanimously supported. By the way this was set for our Thursday training session prior to this year’s grand finals. I felt a great sense of pride towards the boys, that as much as playing in a GF mattered to them, there was a realisation that football is a game, and that as a club we could be part of something that can make a positive change in someone’s life.
I would say that my coaching is more mentoring and guiding, and to be honest quite an easy job as we have so many on and off field leaders at the club. Trying to ensure that all our parts are working together is my main role. My mantra is be positive and be consistent.
I have been fortunate to have crossed paths with many amazing people in my VAFA journey, but two in particular have played a huge part in my coaching philosophy/style.
John Jackson – Took a punt on a lippy back pocket and appointed me Captain of the club in 1998. He is the single most positive person I have ever come across. I think we lost our first three games reasonably easily, and I thought we were in for a very long year. John saw something and continued to promote belief and trust in the group. We started to believe and made finals for the first time in a number of years. It was his continual positive messages that turned us around, and to this day when negative thoughts come into my mind, I have four letters at the front of my notebook; WWJS (What Would Jacko Say). So happy he could be here tonight.
Matthew Drain – I had been in the UK working for a number of years and returned to Melbourne at the end of 2011, with no intention of coaching again. West Brunswick had just been demoted to D4 and was without a coach, when Matthew asked if I would be interested in a co-coaching arrangement. With his other commitments he was unavailable every week, but was keen to take on a coaching role in his own right. To have someone of his football, sporting pedigree keen to be involved at our club and at our level was a once in a lifetime opportunity, how could I say no. He brought experience and knowledge of the game from the highest level that blew me away, but also an ability to make the complex seem simple. I brought a terrific ability to text, email and phone players, the perfect recipe, so we thought. At 2-7 and close to the bottom of D4 this didn’t seem to be the case. Some tweaking of how we went about it and the decision to pick players on their “now”, rather than their “might and could” slowly started to turn things around. Belief grew and confidence appeared. A positive ratio in the 2nd half of the season showed we were heading in the right direction. The following season was a breakout year, one in which we understood the strength of a plan, training to that plan, and sticking to it. A close loss in the preliminary final to the amazing story that is the Northern Blues, cut us deep, but provided us the fuel for the next two seasons. Unfortunately Matthew couldn’t continue as work and travel from Ballarat became too much. But his vision and ability to convey a message has been the cornerstone on what we have achieved over the last two years.
Over the last two years we have as a club continued with the co-coaching role, but tweaked it to include senior playing assistants. It has been an honour to work alongside two brilliant young men in Scott Hulm (2014 & 2015), and Bill Irving in 2015. I think the opportunity to be both a player and coach is not one to be taken lightly, but the rewards have proven immense. To see the growth in both Scott and Bill’s leadership qualities over the last couple of years has been incredibly satisfying to me. They both are still young and have fantastic futures ahead of them both in out of football. To see them lead the charge when we were 26 points down with a quarter to play in this year’s GF was one of the more inspiring things I have witnessed in my life.
I would like to save my biggest thank you to my wife, Ana. Without your love, support and backing I wouldn’t have been able to continue to live the dream.
We have over the past two years produced a grand final booklet, in which we ask each player to provide their thoughts and what actions they will bring to the game, and then a reflections post game. The following is an excerpt from one of our players, not our most talented, but probably our most passionate, and it was his first season at the club. To me such raw emotion (and willingness to share it), more than any win loss ratio, is why I coach.
“I had for a period of time been living in a very unhealthy way, both physically and mentally ( both alcohol and drugs leading to anxiety/panic attacks), I needed to play again. Coming to the Ransford Oval, I have never felt so welcomed upon arrival at a football club, the sense of egalitarianism, fairness and friendship is warm and generous, whilst the banter is relentlessly entertaining. I love this club, I love all the players, the care and dedication we have for each other from the thirds through the reserves to the seniors. We are one club, which is a rare and awesome. When I take the field I promise not let my teammates down and have full confidence in each and every one of them.”
Again thanks to the VAFA, I am truly honoured, embarrassed, proud and humbled to receive this award.