Thursday 20 January 2005

Melbourne Victory’s Football Operations manager, Gary Cole, can best be described as an Australian football journeyman.  Cole represented his country on 40 occasions, netted 20 goals, and was inducted into the Australian Soccer Hall of Fame.  The impact Cole made and is continuing to make to Australian football and his value to the Melbourne Victory are best summarized by Victory coach, Ernie Merrick, who describes Cole as a “fantastic soccer player, an excellent coach, excellent manager, a very good person, and a huge asset to the club”.  John Bonacci caught up with Gary Cole to meet the face behind the Melbourne Victory’s Football Operations.

Congratulations on the efforts of the Melbourne Victory thus far.  Have you ever been a busier man?

That’s an interesting question.  It is the second time in my life that my career and my football have collided.  I was a trained school teacher, and I also played in the NSL and for Australia, so that was a busy time.  When the two things are different, you get the opportunity to switch off.  I was teaching, then would go to training or go away to play, so it was a busy lifestyle.  When I finished playing, I went to the Australian Institute of Sport, which was busy, but they were already established, had a playing squad there, so I had time to ponder.  I’ve been really busy in the last three years because I’ve had my career with Belgravia Leisure, soccer, and a young family.  Right now, the Melbourne Victory is an unbelievably exciting opportunity because my career and football have collided again.  We now have a wonderful opportunity to create something on a clean sheet of paper, and we’re starting from scratch.  When I arrived on the scene, all we had was a successful bid, and that was it.  Obviously, Tony Ising, Alen Rados and Glenn Wheatley have developed a plan behind Melbourne Victory, but there was a lot of work to be done, so it’s been an unbelievable nine or ten weeks.  In the first two weeks in the job I was taking up to 70 phone calls a day, spending four hours a day on the mobile, and handling about 50 emails a day.  I also had at least two appointments each day, and my family has been very understanding with starting early and finishing late.  Busy is an understatement, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Are you getting sick of players and support staff ringing and asking you to employ them?

If only we could turn back time, I could plant the Brazilian rainforest with all the paper I’ve got from CVs and emails, and I’d think to myself, ‘not another phone call’.  But when I put that into perspective, the exciting thing is that people want to be a part of the Melbourne Victory.  The fact that someone would want to give up a career and work for the Melbourne Victory is very inspiring.  It does get frustrating, particularly with player agents, but you take it all in because you don’t know where an exciting young player is going to come from.

You are a former Socceroo and were inducted in the Soccer Australia Hall of Fame in 2003.  Do these accolades put extra pressure on you to succeed with your involvement in the Melbourne Victory?

I put pressure on myself as it is.  I’m not a worrier, and I never have been, so I’m lucky with that.  I have a positive approach to life, and the theory that things will work if they are meant to.  I can work three weeks on a player deal and miss out, which can be disappointing, but just 24 hours later I could have two other possibilities that really reinvigorate me.  I can’t change the world by myself, and we’re in this as a team.  I make suggestions and recommendations and the board have to approve it.  We’re trying to build a culture of excellence, and we want to become the best football department in the country.  Excellence is our goal, and I’m very positive that we’re going to put a team on the park that will make Melbourne and Victoria proud.

You earned your first Australian Cap as a 19 year old, and scored 20 goals in 40 appearances (which included goals against England, Mexico and Greece).  How would you sum up your international career?

I probably got more out of it than I expected.  I left England as a 15 year old, and came to Australia.  I didn’t get picked up by a talent scout in England and didn’t have the opportunity to play in the English first division as it was then.  I was feeling very homesick, and my dad suggested I get involved in soccer.  I trialled with the Victorian Under 16 team, got picked to play and that set my football path, because all of a sudden people were interested in Gary Cole.  I didn’t sit down as a schoolboy with dreams to play for Australia, but when I got on that representative pathway, it was something I wanted to do badly.  I was fortunate enough to have that opportunity and with my hard work and dedication I made the most of the opportunity. I tell people: there would have been a lot of soccer players with more technical ability that I was given, but I worked harder than most and I was rewarded with that.

Something a lot of football fans might not know is that you are in the record books for the fastest ever hat trick in the NSL (11 minutes).  How well do you remember that day?

I’ve never really been into stats, but I only know that because when I was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Kyle Patterson did a half hour show for SBS.  In sporting terminology, I was in the zone.  We (Heidelberg) played West Adelaide at Olympic Park, which was probably my favourite place to play because of the big wide-open spaces, and the big crowd and good atmosphere.  It was a nice sunny day, and we just dismantled them.  To be honest with you, I probably should have had seven or eight.  I hit the post two or three times and had a couple of one on one’s too.  It was quite amazing how that turned out.

Something else people might not know is that you may actually be one of Australia’s most expensive players when you were transferred from Ringwood to Fitzroy in 1976 for $6000, a lot of money back then.

To be honest, I don’t know.  I don’t think that fees were discussed with me at the time.  I couldn’t tell you what the transfer fees were, but if you run an equivalence over it, it was decent money.  Strikers always went for decent money I guess.

When everyone thought your playing days were over, you participated in and won the 2002 Master’s Games.  Do you still enjoy having a kick at training?

I love it.  I join in as often as I can, and it’s the best way of keeping fit.  That’s the reason that you get involved in the game, because you want to play.  I played in the old boys for Collingwood last season, and it’s amazing the people you bump into, like Alan Davidson and Bobby McGuiness.

Many fans are getting inpatient regarding the lack of signings thus far.  What message do you have for Victory fans?

Keep asking questions.  If people are making a comment about the Melbourne Victory that means that they are interested.  Most former players don’t go and watch games anymore.  I said to my peer group that when the Melbourne Victory happens, we need to go out and buy a membership, because this is the last roll of the dice.  If this Hyundai A-League doesn’t work, I don’t know that we’ll have a good opportunity again in my lifetime.  Be inpatient, but make sure you buy a membership as well. 

When will you expect the squad to be assembled by, and when is training likely to commence?

We are expecting to commence training on the 1st of March.

Having been involved in the Victorian Premier League since 1996 as a coach, what percentage of players can you see being able to step up to A-League standard?

That’s a hard question this time round, because there are a bunch of players from the National League playing in the premier leagues around the country.  We’re going for the best young players who might have just started playing NSL or represented younger Australian teams.  There are also very good established players doing well in the various premier leagues.

Ernie Merrick beat off the challenges of five established club coaches.  How exhaustive was the process?

It was a very difficult process.  All six of the candidates were very capable of doing this job, that’s why it took as long as it did.  To be honest, I thought it would be simple to get rid of three or four.  A number of the guys had good experience, and some had won championships.  So when you’re trying to build a team to win a championship, that aspect can be very appealing.  If I can summarize the appointment, the term ‘new football vs old soccer’ is where we ended up. 

How attractive are the packages that Olympic Park and Telstra Dome have offered as a home venue?

That’s not one of my job responsibilities, so I can’t comment.  Darren Gosling, our CEO is involved in that, and will explore all avenues.

Can you enlighten us on the potential involvement of the Melbourne Victory in the Singapore Cup?

I just wish the clock had rolled around another 12 months and we’d had a good 12 months under our belt.  It’s a knockout tournament that starts in March and goes on through the course of the year, so it would have involved continually returning to Singapore every month.  I believe it goes right through until October and that would overlap with the A-League, so I don’t think it’s going to work out.

How useful were the ASA workshops late last year in helping establish a club from scratch?

That was fantastic.  It was informative and great to hear from the likes of Frank Lowy and John O’Neill.  They gave a summary about how the FFA were trying to get involved in Asia.  The conference was marvelous.  They put together the most impressive group of professional people I’ve ever seen involved in a National sporting organisation.  There are very talented people involved in the FFA.  They offered us as much advice as we were prepared to accept.  The other thing that was quite remarkable was the sharing among the clubs.  I think everyone realizes that this time we have to move together.  We’re competing for players and points, but before kickoff, we’re all working together to better the game.  Nobody can afford for one of the clubs to go under, because the whole strength of the league would be compromised.

What is your take on the signing of a marquee player?

A marquee player by definition would be a player that stands out, is well known and would put bums on seats.  The whole principle is, where can a club find the money to find a player with a big enough name to attract the fans?  There are a lot of companies that love our game, and some companies invest small amounts of money in the Victorian Premier League, because of the small exposure than can receive.  But if you look at the exposure that the A-League will bring, those companies may pledge tens or fifties of thousands of dollars, and a private enterprise company may have the money to do that and sponsor a marquee player.

And finally, you must be a happy man as a Chelsea fan?

I’m totally over the moon.  When I was a boy, I lived just a walk away from Stamford Bridge.  Those were the days when we didn’t have a hotel in the stadium.  I love Roman Abramovich, Jose Mourinho and the team they’ve put together.  I’m really enjoying the way they play and I love the fact that they’re on top of the table.

Name    Gary Cole
Age    48
Socceroo appearances 40 (1975 – 1984), 20 goals.
NSL appearances  204 (109 goals)
Coaching history
2004    Whittlesea Stallions (VPL)
2003    Victoria (vs NSW and Fiji)
2002 – 2003   Altona Magic (VPL)
2000 – 2001   Bentleigh Greens (VPL)
1998    Bulleen Inter Kings (VPL) VPL Champions
1997    Thomastown Zebras (VPL)
1996 – 1997   Altona Magic (VPL) VPL Champions 1996
Playing history
1984 – 1986   Preston Lions (NSL)
1977 – 1983   Heidelberg United (NSL)
1976    Fitzroy (VPL)
1973 – 1975   Ringwood (State League)
1971 – 1972   South Yarra (State League)


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