This exclusive column comes courtesy of Declan Doherty, from The Glory Guerillas podcast. The Glory Guerillas podcast discusses all things Perth Glory. He was kind enough to write a piece for FTS. You can find The Glory Guerillas on Twitter, Facebook and you can find their podcast on Soundcloud.
I walked into the Terrace Bar in the Perth CBD on Wednesday 26 February for Perth Glory’s second member forum for the season with a feeling of anticipation and intrigue. Given that the previous one had been immediately after the removal of Alistair Edwards as Head Coach, one would have expected that this forum would have had a more routine and placid feel about it. Hardly. This is Perth Glory after all – the club which seems these days to stagger from one crisis to the next. The intrigue, conspiracy theories and debate in social media leading up to the forum were perhaps more entertaining and told us more about the current state of the club and the mood of supporters than the forum itself. Everything from the fact that the forum was being held in a pub part-owned by the Communications Director Declan Kelly (“surely it’s a conflict of interest!” protested some); to the structure of the forum dictating that members email their questions beforehand (even though there was ample time for on the spot questioning from the floor on the night); to the introduction of a social media policy that week to make it clear that unacceptable and offensive language on Perth Glory social media sites was unacceptable, were all the subject of hotly contested debate in the lead up.
In attendance were CEO Jason Brewer, Declan Kelly, Interim Head Coach Kenny Lowe and Assistant Coach Andrew Ord and about 60 or so members. Kelly started off proceedings in a very defensive manner, stating that he did not select the venue and that future fan forums (to be held every 2 months) would be featured all around Perth. He also defended the social media policy and pretty much grizzled his way through his introduction. He then left the majority of the proceedings to Brewer, who was in a much more positive and upbeat frame of mind.
The night was structured into four sections based on the questions submitted and the messages that the club were trying to convey to fans: Memberships; A-League; the NPL and members’ game day experience. Questions were put into a PowerPoint presentation with other information of relevance to the topic. Members received an email the following day containing the presentation. Plenty of time was allocated after each topic to allow for unscripted questions from the floor, which allowed a few of the budding Jose Mourinhos to put forward their views to Kenny Lowe.
While memberships are at their highest level for the A-League, Brewer stated that they were still well below where they should be for a club of Glory’s size. It was also recognised that membership benefits and communications to members needed to improve. We were also told that a membership survey would be commencing shortly. In answer to one member’s question as to why Glory’s membership costs were the second highest in the A-League, Brewer spoke about the significant cost of running games at N.I.B. Stadium, which are clearly the highest in Australia.
The sooner that the club resolves its long running differences with the stadium owners, the better.
There was also a lot of discussion from the floor about lack of responses to questions from members via social media and emails. Brewer stated that a new membership team and new communications staff were in place this season and that we would start to see improvements in terms of response time from the club.
Finally Brewer noted that there was a proposal to establish a members committee, partly in response to some supporters urging for member/supporter representation on the board.
Unsurprisingly this was the liveliest and longest segment of the evening, one which saw Lowe and Ord spend a lot of time on their feet. Brewer opened up and tried to reassure us that while the team is in transition (which reflected in the poor results on the field), the business plan and strategy remained the same.
We were told that the development of young players at the club still remains a focus and that the aim was to get the best young Australian talent, not just West Australian talent, to the club. However the team needed a mix of players and that up until the recent transfer window the club was relying too much on very young players and players in their mid-thirties coming to the end of their careers. This was exacerbated by the early season injury crisis with players such as Jamieson, Risdon, Smeltz and the like out for long periods due to injury. The recent transfer window was used to try to change this with three players in their late 20s coming in: Griffiths, Sernas and Marinkovic. Lowe chipped in by saying that those 3 players were still “underdone” and not ready to play 90 minutes – which left a lot of us wondering why they were brought in if the purpose of them coming at this stage was to hit the ground running and get the club to the finals.
Another problem highlighted was that much of the “footballing infrastructure” such as conditioning and fitness coaches was removed under Ali Edwards. Lowe and Ord stated throughout that the team is not fit and has had the largest level of soft tissue injuries in the A-League. Lowe stated that he is effectively doing pre-season training for much of the squad. A new conditioning coach has finally been appointed. It left a lot of members at the forum and afterwards scratching their head wondering why then were some of the younger players such as Davies and Zahra who had been performing well, dropped completely to the Youth Team during this recent period while the likes of Griffiths, Sernas, Marinkovic and Risdon etc seemed to struggle through matches due to a lack of fitness and an inability to acclimatise to summer football.
Lowe copped a lot of criticism during the evening and it is to his credit that he stood there and answered all of the questions in a good spirit. He was asked why the youth policy, advertised so heavily by the club in pre-season, seemed to have been abandoned. He was questioned also on his overall football philosophy, given the plodding and predictable style of play since he arrived, and Glory’s inability to string passes together or create chances, let alone score.
In his typically impassioned manner, Lowe stated that the youth policy had not been abandoned and that numerous young players had played for him this season. He said that he believed in youth, but needed to balance this with getting results on the field (irrespective of style of play). He said making the finals were part of his “KPIs” and that it was therefore a trade-off. The club has made it clear that he is being judged on results. Lowe said that Danny De Silva had not been available for 5 matches, although Matt Davies and Riley Woodcock had played a lot of games, but he needed to build a stronger squad. There are a few ageing players coming to the end of their time and a lot of very young players who still need to develop. Hence the recent signings of Sernas, Griffiths and Marinkovic who fit the “mid-to-late twenties” category. Lowe again said that the problem is that those 3 are “underdone”, even though they are three very good players. He also said that this problem is compounded by the fact that Smeltz, Gallas and Risdon recently came back from injuries (of which Risdon looked particularly unfit until recently).
What was perhaps most interesting were the comments and questions from the members that followed Lowe’s remarks. Many who commented made it clear that results should not be the focus at the moment, given the problems that the club has had this season. Rather Lowe should be focusing on the level of performances and the generally poor standard of football on offer, which was a particular turn-off. While there are some good players at the club, it was stated that the team currently cannot put 3 or 4 passes together without losing the ball, and that the midfield keeps getting overrun. Lowe kept coming back to the conditioning problem and that he didn’t have the luxury of a pre-season that coaches such as Josep Gombau have had.
When asked what his footballing vision for the Glory is, Lowe stated that the club needed to identify the best Australian players in the country between 24 and 29 (i.e. those who haven’t already gone overseas) and get as many of those as we can (for example WSW with Spiranovic and Mooy). And then get the best younger players before they have left. And then make sure the best young WA players don’t leave (he again opened the wound of Taggart and Sainsbury leaving). He said that we shouldn’t lose these types of players. Finally, the club needed to get a few foreign players between 26-30 who have just missed out overseas (followed by one big marquee signing).
Sounds easy, doesn’t it!
When asked about his football philosophy, Lowe stated somewhat unconvincingly that he wants his teams to play on the deck with movement, “the way the game should be played” (whatever he means by that, I’m not sure). However to do that he needed a lot more time with the squad. Ord chipped in to say that some of the squad just don’t fit with the Gombau-type philosophy and that we can’t abandon them mid-season. Ord and Lowe also stated that scoring goals and creating chances was a long term problem at the club, and not something they had created, but they did admit it is something they haven’t improved either.
This led to the questions regarding status of the coaching recruitment process, and what footballing philosophy the club is looking for. Brewer stated that Lowe was not a band-aid solution and that he was very much in the mix for the full time role. He is one of the best youth coaches in the country and that it wasn’t a rushed decision to bring him in. Despite this, the club wants to run a proper process, which is currently underway. This process has involved a third party recruitment agency (with experience in professional sports recruitment) running the process. A series of flashy PowerPoint slides were put up explaining the process being followed and the experience and type of coach the club is looking for.
However Brewer did make it clear on a number of occasions that they were watching Lowe and Ord closely in action at training and to date they have been ticking the right boxes (despite the results, perhaps).
Obviously the club is trying to find a coach who can unite the team and help the club to heal after what has been a very fractured season on and off the field. And it will need a coach who can manage transition and moving on players who, despite being great servants to the club, have reached the twilight of their careers.
There was clearly a lot of frustration in the room given the where the club is at, particularly on the field, and that there is a strong sense of deja vu given the seemingly endless rotation of first team coaches and CEOs at the club.
National Premier League
The topic of the NPL lifted the mood somewhat. Brewer stated that Glory will be one of the 12 NPL teams in WA and the majority of the Glory players will be from the youth squad. This will give them year round football, providing a better pathway for elite player development. The 18 National Youth games currently on offer is clearly not enough, and particularly when a lot of those games kick off at 10am in Sydney/Melbourne (i.e. 7am in Perth!). A host of former Glory players have come into assist with coaching at the various youth levels including Naven, Miller, Despotovski, Hassell and Garcia. Glory members will be given half price entry to matches, which is welcome.
Game Day Experience
Much of the content here overlapped with the membership section. Brewer stated that the upgrade to NIB Stadium had clearly improved the match day experience, but that they were working hard in the background on other matters, including focus on stadium atmosphere (including active support), working with the A-League to improve kick off times (to try to avoid matches in 40 degrees in February), more friendly security and the like.
Brewer stated that while attendances had increased this season, they were still obviously well below capacity. He said that a lot of work was being done with the local football community as well as the public in general. He again referred to issues with the stadium owners and stated that the club was the most expensive in Australia to play in. Taking into account these costs, the club needs approximately 10,000 people in attendance just to break even. Despite this the club had reduced tickets for juniors this season.
In closing Brewer stated that a lot of work was being done behind the scenes to improve the game day experience and the membership experience generally.
The presentation was emailed to members the following day and the plan is to run these every two months.
Overall, the member forums such as these are welcome and providing members with the ability to access and question the CEO and coaching staff can only be a good thing. The right noises were clearly being made in relation to memberships, communication and game day experience, and it seems that the club is moving in a positive direction on this front under Brewer, who is clearly very accessible to supporters.
However, on the pitch, where it matters most, the messages from those representing the club were far more mixed and it is still very unclear what footballing philosophy and vision the club is striving for. Why give Lowe the target of making the finals if all that results is him bringing in three underdone players and dispensing with the youth policy that the club started the season with. In terms of the club’s vision, its all well and good stating that we want to develop more young Australian footballers, but it seems that there is a missing piece in terms of how management wants the team to play on the pitch. Performances under Lowe have been very poor and defensive and, even taking into account the problems with player fitness, its hard to see that he is the type of coach that will bring attractive, high scoring football to the club. Perth Glory’s long suffering support have seen constant changes in coach and management each season, and many have lost faith in Sage’s ability to bring any sort of stability to the club, let alone a top class coach who can bring success on the field.
Until we get a decent team playing decent football and scoring goals, I suspect there will be a few more tetchy fan forums in coming months.
POST SCRIPT – in finishing this article the news that one of Glory’s best players this season, Danny Vukovic, has bizarrely left the club to play for Graham Arnold in Japan has just hit the news. Just as well the fan forum wasn’t being held this week.