I don’t ever remember not playing football. I’ve always been kicking a ball around with my Dad, it’s the first thing I ever took seriously from a young age. When I was young it there wasn’t a thought process saying, ‘this is going to be my life’, there was no conscious decision, but playing sport was all I ever wanted to do. Whenever my Dad was home I wanted to go and play football or have a kick about. As soon as I was old enough to think about it I didn’t want to do anything else with my life.
When my parents split up and there were many times when it wasn’t easy but my Dad would always take me out and play football, it didn’t matter where we were in the world. To this day if he’s in the same country as me he never misses a game, whether I am playing or coaching. He came to all my youth games from U6 to U18, all of my senior games at semi pro level, and then at 26, all the Haywards Heath FC games when I was player manager there. He was such a supporter he even got himself a place on the clubs board so he could also support from within the club. He still try’s to get to my games, and is always the first to tell me what I “should” have done. Along with my wife, he is my biggest critic but my greatest supporter.
My Dad worked in the airlines so I was born, raised and educated commuting distance from major airports. I was born in Aberdeen, Scotland and then we moved south to Newcastle, England. At 6 we moved to Burgess Hill, Sussex and lived there for several years. Before the age of 11 we went on to live in Toronto, Canada, Berlin, Germany and Amsterdam, Holland, before returning to Sussex to start senior school.
Up to the age of 11 I’d been on more planes than I had trains or buses. Since then I have amassed 17 different countries, on 3 different continents that I have coached football in and I think at 35 years old that familiarity with travel plays a vital part in being able to do this job so far from home.
As a kid I was always one of the better players, I scored a lot of goals but it was only later that I found out that a lot of scouts were looking at me from the age of 12 right through to when I was 18 but for one reason or another I never got taken on. I had trials at Southampton and Wycombe Wanderers and that was it. From 14 to 18 I was scoring goals, being noticed, and probably one of the best players in the county at the time. I was playing county representative football but it wasn’t enough to get me into the professional game.
Scholarship in the US
I finished Sixth Form College with 10 GCSEs and three A Levels. I never struggled at school, I loved school from start to finish and if I could do it again I would. I never had any issues or problems but playing football does give you a certain status amongst your peers. If you’re good at football it definitely doesn’t do any harm to your popularity. The only issue I ever had was being in the classroom and staying switched on when I wanted to be outside playing football. At 18 I was offered a scholarship to the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I spent two seasons in the states. They were the hardest two years of my life to date ultimately ending in the hardest thing I’ve ever had to hear.
Up until that point I had never imagined a life without football and so even when the best spine specialist in the US looked me in the eye and told me I was never going to play the game again I never really believed him. Upon returning home one of the first things I did was to see my doctor and told him exactly what had happened. I showed him copies of all 23 X-Rays, 4 full body MRI’s and 2 CAT scans from the US. He passed me onto a specialist and the specialist said I was very unlucky to lose the scholarship, as he didn’t see anything wrong with my medical history. They just didn’t have the history of “soccer” injuries to make an educated judgment. Instead I wore a red bib as to stop anyone from tackling me. But that just isn’t football.
I transferred to a UK University and went back to playing for a local semi professional side to eradicate the last couple of months from my memory. At that point I realized I was never going to play at a very high level because of my medical records, no professional club is going to offer a contract to a player under those conditions. My only other way into professional football was to coach. I had been coaching since I was 16 at youth level, my first official job being Junior Varsity Head Coach at McGill-Toolen High School while I was at college in the US. This often meant coaching 16-17 year olds while I was only 18. Upon returning to the UK, a worked for Arsenal Soccer Schools near my University. I went on to coach my University women’s team, leading them to their first win over Loughborough University in many years. Upon finishing University, I worked for Chelsea Soccer Schools all over London on the promise of a full time role within their community scheme. After 4 months this job failed to materialize so returned back to Sussex with the intention of gaining my first job.
Brighton and Hove Albion
My first “proper” job was an Account Manager for a frozen foods company. I found it difficult not being involved in sport in anyway. After 8 months my Dad moved to Brunei on a work contract and asked me to look after the family house in return for paying no rent. This ability to accept a much lower salary allowed me to leave the Account Manager position and take on as many casual coaching hours as I could for Brighton and Hove Albion Football in the Community Scheme. I earned very little but after 18 months built up the role enough for the club to approach the Football Foundation for funding to make my role full time. I went on to work another 3 years at BHAFC FICS and enjoyed gaining experience coaching players aged U5 to U18, working with kids with social problems, motor skills issues, anti social behavior problems, mental health issues and many other problems. The experience of working in varying social settings gave me a fantastic knowledge base for being adaptable to every new cultural setting I come across. Some of the work we were able to do contributed to BHAFC FICS winning the Football League Community Scheme of the Year award and led to various other organizations taking note of the work we were doing. I left BHAFC to join a sporting brand in the hope of continuing development work on behalf of one of the biggest and most recognizable brands in the world.
At this time player - managing Haywards Heath FC wasn’t a full time job, it just brought in a little bit of extra cash at weekends. I was employed with Nike as UK Development Manager and “the Nike guy” at all of the football league clubs. In November 2008, Nike Asia came across and did some filming with Lucas Levia up at Liverpool FC and I acted as the assistant coach. What Nike liked about me was that as well as coaching I could step in as an extra so they wouldn’t have to hire anyone else. I could defend against whoever the star player was and get them to do what we wanted them to do. So if we needed them to turn and nutmeg me I would hang out my leg a bit knowing that’s what was going to happen.
After the Liverpool shoot with Lucas they asked me to fly out to Milan to do some work out there. We went straight to Inter Milan’s training ground to do some fast footwork drills with Marco Materazzi (This was until Jose Mourino arrived at the training ground which then saw tattooed hard man Materazzi sprinting for the changing rooms like a scared school boy late for dinner, as not to upset the gaffer). We then travelled on to AC Milan's training ground. I got to work with Pato then Gattuso, then the man himself, Ronaldinho. I went on to work with other Nike contracted players such Cesc Fabregas, Deneilson, Theo Walcott, Robbie Keane, Gabby Angbonglahor and Aarron Lennon.
At one point in Milan, I was alone standing opposite Ronaldinho being watched silently by 300 crew and Milan supporters. They were all expecting me to drive a perfect ball into his chest from 40 yards away. Cameras were rolling and I had to be precise on every attempt as not to waste everyone’s time. At that point it felt like a lot of people and a lot of pressure, even after now having worked in front of 90,000 crazy Indonesian fans. I think I’d still be nervous if I had to go back and do it again, you just don’t want to be shown up for a lack of basic skill in front of the most skillful player in the world and in front of 300 watching cameramen and crew. He was a cool guy though we talked, as we played keepy-uppy.
It was sunny in Milan, it was beautiful, a 'pinch yourself' moment. Then six weeks later I hit a low point, lying in the rain in Pease Pottage, Sussex with a broken leg. But that’s the rollercoaster that is my life. My broken leg, my only broken bone to date, controversially ended my employment with Nike. I found it very difficult to stay upbeat. I was in a hip to toe cast, I had lost my dream job, and I knew I couldn’t play football for at least another 6 months.
Upon recovering I was eventually fortunate to be offered a Business Development Manager role with a local company. I had spent 9 months searching for work. I had Ronaldinho's name on my CV but could not find work anywhere. Too qualified for basic manual jobs, but not qualified enough for more senior positions. I spent 14 months working to the best of my abilities in an office but dreaming of once again being employed by football.
A chance “chat” on Facebook with a player that I had coached many years earlier convinced me to apply for the Philippines National Team Head Coach position. I had no right, nor the experience to get such a position but none the less found myself on a plane to Manila. The rest as they say……is history.