He's the local boy made good. Gary Phillips has plied his football skills both as a player and a coach in the National League as well as internationally. Coffs Coast Advocate sports journalist BRAD GREENSHIELDS found that although Gary loves being home he's keen to get back into coaching.

BRAD GREENSHIELDS: You've played football internationally, coached football internationally, even travelled internationally like last year for the World Cup. What has Garry Phillips got left in football?

GARY PHILLIPS: Hopefully all of the above.

Certainly the playing days are finished but obviously from a coaching point of view, my ambition next is to get into Asia, I think that's the future. In Australia, A-League opportunities are limited so Asia's where I'd like to be. The money there is a lot better but it's not just about the money, I think it's a developing area and I think there's a lot of opportunities over there.

So that's where I'd like to go, I've been there before as you know and I'd like to go back.

BG: Those opportunities that you've had previously in Asia, where did they start for you?

GP: I had a season in Hong Kong and then I coached in Vietnam after I left Sydney Olympic. I spent two years there, initially I went as the director of youth football and then the first team coach got the sack and I moved in.

The time to return was sealed because it coincided with the wife wanting to go back to work, the kids were ready for school and I'd had enough of Asian football so it was time to come home and re-invent myself.

BG: You always end up coming home to Coffs Harbour don't you?

GP: Yeah, even when I first left here, you know I went to Sawtell Primary and Coffs High and even when I left, every opportunity, be it an injury or a weekend off, I'd come home.

I guess my parents have always been here and the beach I love and it's just great to get away from it all. Unfortunately there isn't the opportunities here in football that I'd like to have. As I mentioned I had to re-invent myself and if I'm not coaching football somewhere around the world, I might as well be on the beach so here I am.

BG: On top of playing with Sawtell in the local comp, you're doing a bit of work with the local elite players like Sam Galloway and Jenna Tristram. Does that help to keep the fires burning?

GP: Certainly the fire's burning and every day I'm speaking with my agents around the world and putting my CV in for everywhere.

On Wednesday I sent my CV off for the Malaysian national women's job. These opportunities come up all the time in football, it's just the nature of the business that someone is going to get sacked somewhere around the world so you just keep knocking on the door and hopefully the right one comes along and you get in there and start all over again.

So the fire's always been there and I'm just waiting for the right opportunity now to go. It's going to take decent money to get me away from this lifestyle of course and to get the family to up and move again, I've got to think about them as well but it's still there and in the blood and that's why I'm playing I guess, because I still love it.

BG: Everyone appears to be loving football at the moment though. Sports stores are reporting record sales of footballs and equipment since the World Cup and it was only four weeks ago that there was 55,000 people at the A-League grand final. Does it seem a long way from your Brisbane and Sydney Olympic days?

GP: Well strangely enough I read in the paper just after that event, they were comparing previous records and the last five biggest crowds that they had. There was a 50,000 prior to that, there was 40,000 at Subiaco, there was 40,000 at Suncorp Stadium for a grand final, 35,000 for a grand final at Parramatta Stadium and there was another one from earlier in the season between Sydney and Melbourne. Three of those five I'd been involved with so from a personal point of view that was very satisfying.

BG: Did you ever envision the national league booming to the point of it consistently getting the large crowds that it's currently drawing?

GP: In the early days when I left Coffs High School to go to Sydney we had crowds of 20-25,000 which were full houses in those days, it wasn't seated stadiums either it was all on 'The Hill' and we had some wonderful atmosphere.

Prior to that there were days of 30,000 on the South Coast in the old days and they slowly deteriorated over the years for different reasons such as second generation ethnics and cultural clashes. The game didn't bring out the superstars that the game needed at the time.

In the early days there was those overseas players like the Dwight Yorkes and the Freds that are playing now.

Tommy Docherty, a famous Manchester United coach was coaching me at Sydney Olympic and I played alongside many superstars in the game but there was a period there when that didn't happen, maybe for financial reasons or whatnot so for a lot of years it deteriorated and for that reason I could never see the game pushing on until we started to bring those superstars out.

Everyone knew that's what had to happen but no-one really had the entrepreneurial skills to be able to make it happen.

BG: You're talking about record crowds. You were actually famous for three days for holding a World Cup record. Unfortunately it was as coach of a team that copped the biggest defeat ever wasn't it?

GP: Was it three days or two days?

There's not many people in this country that hold a world record. I had the BBC ring me straight after the game saying we've just heard about this, it's made news around the world, 22-0 at the time.

I could say that Tonga's World Cup was to beat Samoa and American Samoa and funnily enough I didn't play our strongest team against Australia because I was saving the better players for two days later when we were playing Samoa. There was talk that the President then offered me an island after beating Samoa and then American Samoa, so that was their World Cup and they were happy with that. They always knew they were going to get smashed by Australia, there was no question about that.

A lot of the players got new boots the day before. In Tonga they play in bare feet with coral popping up out of the ground and whatnot. Some of the players after the first training session in their boots all had blisters so we were always on a hiding to nothing, no doubt about that.

I was very proud about my time in Tonga and there's a lot of things that happened in a short space of time but before I was 40 years of age I'd coached in a World Cup, albeit a qualifier and won a National League as a coach so there was a lot of things I was proud of but obviously 22-0 was just something to laugh about. I certainly didn't take it seriously.

BG: The positive from that was that the record did only last a couple of days.

GP: Of course, you certainly don't want those things hanging over you but within 12 months I'd held the world record for 22 goals then I'd won a national league title.

Coaching's over-rated sometimes Greeny and you're obviously determined by the quality that you've got. Leigh Matthews can't win an AFL premiership without quality players.

It's about management more than coaching. It was just an experience that obviously I'm glad it's gone, no doubt about that.

BG: Just to finish, we've had a boom at the top of the football pyramid, do you think the changes made locally will see that boom filter down to the North Coast level?

GP: I think what's got to happen for the game to develop is obviously the quality coming out of the game here. I think there's been three players over a 40-year period go on to play in the national league from here. Obviously from my point of view I'd like to see more quality coming out of here.

From a national point of view they need to revise the coaching and development programs, it needs a serious overhaul again. We need to fall in line with the South Americans and the Europeans if the game's going to progress.

There's always going to be issues from an administration point of view, it doesn't matter who's there and how they're running the show but from a game point of view I think if they can overhaul it and bring it up to speed with the rest of the world, we will produce more quality.

That in turn will hopefully promote the area from a football point of view. I'd love to see in 20 years time having an A-League team out Coffs Harbour Stadium. Who's to say with all the people moving to the area that that won't happen?

Ultimately that's what I'd love to see and I'm sure everyone would.

BG: Well if that happens we'll have a beer together at a Coffs Harbour Cosmos game.

GP: Yeah well let's hope so.

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