Coaching Venture in Europe (part 1).

Coaching Venture in Europe (part 1).

In 1999 I set off from New Zealand to Europe in order to visit several clubs and observe and record some of their training sessions. It was my intention to publish my findings in the form of a video tape which could be marketed by my sponsor Lotto Sports.   My overall task was to dispel notions that there was a ‘secret’ or ‘mystique’ to the coaching of association football.  I had the impression that some coaches and institutions in New Zealand were claiming that their particular method of coaching football was the panacea for football success.   I totally rejected the idea that there is a particular method of coaching football which surpasses all others.   By observing professional clubs in Holland, Italy, Germany and England I hoped to produce a coaching tool which would be of value to all levels of football coaches.

At this time I had completed five years at Auckland University as a ‘mature student,‘ and I had reluctantly decided to graduate; get back out in the real world, earn some money, and begin to pay off my substantial student loan (which I continue to do so up to the present day).

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Auckland University’s majestic ‘Clock Tower Building.’

My BA had been hard earned, taking in a plethora of subjects which included a major in Physical and Social Anthropology, numerous papers in Philosophy, Social and Developmental Psychology and Education, other papers which I sat included Ancient History, Women’s Studies, Italian, Linguistics and music (I sang in the University choir).   On top of all this I was a regular attendee at the Student Learning Centre, where for a paltry $10 per semester, I could join the Second Language students and brush up on my essay writing, English skills, computer learning’s and any other subjects which took my fancy.

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I did not have an academic background, therefore, my degree in the humanities had been hard earned

With all this academic knowledge, gained from the human sciences, to add to my football coaching qualifications and counselling training, I felt more than confident that I could use my ‘fieldwork, observation and interviewing skills’ to good advantage and present a worthwhile educational football coaching tool.

The owner of Lotto NZ; Rex Dawkins, was very enthusiastic about this venture, and even though the company operated on a marginal budget at that time, Rex was very generous in providing me with airfares to Europe, a small video camera and he also contributed a small budget to help me get around Europe.

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Lotto NZ Boss Rex Dawkins was always very supportive of my business and football ventures.

My first ‘Port of call’ was Holland, where I had arranged to stay with my Dutch friend Bertus Zwerus.   I had met Bertus two years previously, at the time when I was Head Coach of the NZ Women’s team touring in Holland, Germany and USA.   On the Dutch leg of the tour, Bertus kindly offered to assist me in the role of Goalkeeper Coach, which I was happy to accept.   Our relationship continued when he joined me the following year in Auckland when the team contested the Oceania Qualifying round for the Women’s World Cup.

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In Holland I resided with Bertus Zwerus; a well known Dutch goalkeeper coach.

On my arrival in Holland, Bertus and his wife Gerrie, kindly accommodated me at their home in Deventer: this became a base from where I could take off and return to on my excursions to Italy, Germany and England.   For the next two week Bertus escorted me to daily training session at Zwolle FC where I could observe Junior and Senior teams in training sessions and matches.   The head Coach at Zwolle was a genial character called Dwight Lodeweges.   From Dutch parentage, Dwight had spent the early part of his life in Canada and consequently spoke fluent English, making it very easy for me to gain immediate rapport and strike up a good relationship with him.   I have followed his career since his time at Zwolle FC which has taken him as far afield as Canada, and Japan alongside stints at other top Dutch clubs.

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Dwight Lodeweges and I enjoy a break from training.

Dwight ensured that I was included into the ‘inner sanctum’ of his first team squad and the players became very used to me filming their training session, often becoming the butt of their jokes.   Unbeknown to them I could understand much of what they said, as I had retained my knowledge of ‘Nederland’s’ from my four years at Royal Antwerp in the nineteen sixties (see; memories Royal Antwerp on this website).   I got great pleasure from their flabbergasted expressions, when I spoke to them in their own language, prior to leaving the club.

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I took footage of the promising Zwolle Junior players in training routines. 

My two week stint at Zwolle was very rewarding and I took lots of footage of their sessions which finished up on my fully edited video tape.   At the time the team played in the 1st Division of the Dutch League (one division below the Premier League) and were in the promotion places, playing excellent football.   I had observed in the training sessions that all the drills and small sided games were played with only 1 and 2 touches of the ball.   In the two weeks that I attended their trainings very rarely did I see a player run or dribble the ball.   This had a ‘carry over’ to match day, when their rapid change of direction and ball speed was very effective, this was borne out by their results.

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Zwolle FC Senior players played many ‘one touch’ games in tight areas.

After the two weeks in Holland it was time for me to make my way to my next venue; Treviso in Italy, however, one further treat was in store for me when Bertus acquired tickets for us to see the match between Willhelm 11 FC and Ajax Amsterdam.   This finished in a high scoring thriller producing all that is good in Dutch football.   I seem to remember one of the Laudrup brothers scoring a hat-trick for Ajax, but I’m not sure whether it was Michael or Brian.

The bus trip taking me from Holland to Treviso in Italy was one that I can only describe as a ‘journey from hell’.   It started badly: because of circumstances, I had to wait for a full six hours in the bus station before I even boarded the bus.   As the bus made its way through Belgium I realized that I only had a minimum of Dutch currency; this was not going to buy me much to eat on the way.   I had a credit card, but the café stops which we made were reluctant to accept it.   However, it was fascinating to pass through Antwerp where I had spent four years at Royal Antwerp FC almost thirty years previously, and as the evening approached we passed through the city of Liege, the place where I had made my debut in the Belgian Premier Division (see Royal Antwerp on this website).    As night fell and we made our way slowly through Northern France towards Switzerland I became acutely aware that I wasn’t going to get anything to eat or drink until the bus arrived in Madrid.

In the middle of the night, somewhere near the Swiss border I was awakened from my restless slumbers by a loud screeching female cry, “he’s got a snake, and it’s escaped.”   The female in question was sat almost adjacent to me and my first reaction was to hastily bring my feet off the floor and onto the seat.   The commotion intensified when she screamed out again,” he’s got another one.”   By this time the bus was in uproar with passengers standing on their seats, and the bus driver, swearing in Dutch, as he grabbed the small swarthy offender and manhandled him off the bus.   The Swiss border police arrived and promptly arrested the rather insignificant looking victim, who had by now managed to recover his snakes, and he sat remorsely in police custody, evoking some sympathy from a lady who appealed passionately for them not to arrest him.   Obviously, this incident added a substantial amount of time onto what was already a lengthy journey, so by the time that the bus arrived in Madrid the driver insisted that no one travelling onwards to Venice would be allowed to leave the bus, as he was way behind his schedule.   Having left Madrid in our wake another amount of time elapsed before we finally pulled in en route to Venice, where I was somehow able to conjure up enough lire to buy a hunk of cheese and an apple.   As I unceremoniously crammed the food into my mouth, I noticed that I was being observed enviously by a young man (who turned out to be an Australian tourist).   “Do you want some?” I asked, and offered him some of my cheese which, with a quick, “thanks mate,” he immediately pushed into his mouth in similar desperation as me.   The bus journey now took on a much pleasanter demeanour and we arrived in Venice just in time for me to catch a service bus for the short trip to Treviso.   On arrival in Treviso a kind taxi driver pointed at my ‘Lotto’ bag and said in broken English, “you a footballer?”   Fortunately Lotto was a major sponsor of the football club and he kindly dropped me at my ‘bed & breakfast,’ free of charge.

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The picturesque Italian city of Treviso.

With my head throbbing as though it had been hit by a sledge hammer, I gratefully sank onto my bed and slept until I was awakened by the early morning sun streaming through my window.

The next day I managed to find my way to the stadium, which was not far from the city centre, where I was welcomed and interviewed by no less a person than the President of Treviso FC.   One might ask the question why go to Treviso FC, a second tier Italian club, well the answer is that ‘Lotto Italia’ (through Rex Dawkins) had directed me to them and Treviso FC promised to assist me.   The club had its training ground a distance away from where their headquarters and stadium were located, committing the Head Coach to drive me to training each day, and dropping me off at the stadium each afternoon, where I enjoyed a meal with the youth players.

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Treviso FC provided me with meals with the young professionals.

As at Zwolle, I had full access to all training sessions, which included the youth and senior players, and was once again fully integrated into their daily routine.   Although I experienced a few hiccups with my camera, due to my lack of filming experience, I was putting together some excellent clips of their training routines.

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I was putting together some excellent clips of training routines.

It was October in Northern Italy and the temperature was mild, which could explain the contrast in the approach to training between Treviso FC and Zwolle FC.   The Italians trained for longer (a session sometimes lasting for more than two and a half hours) but at less intensity than the Dutch.   There was a strong emphasis on technical exercises, and there was also evidence of ‘phases of play’ and team ‘pattern work’.

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I had good rapport with the Head Youth Team Coach at Treviso (even though we found it difficult to communicate).

Even though I could not speak Italian I was very impressed with the friendliness of the people of Treviso.   Before I left I spent a whole day exploring the sights of this beautiful ancient city, which is almost a small replica of Venice, with its inner waterways surrounded by the old fortification walls.

My journey back to Holland by train and bus was far less eventful than my earlier trip, nonetheless, I was exhausted when I arrived back in Amsterdam, only to be greeted by Bertus who informed me that Zwolle FC had and evening fixture.   We promptly drove to another venue in the west of Holland: I must have looked an unshaven bedraggled sight, prompting the Zwolle players to rename me ‘Indiana Jones’.

By now I was halfway through my schedule and I looked forward with anticipation, but a little apprehension, (concerning my meagre budget) at my next two appointments; European giants Werder Bremen and Leeds United……