Small steps, big steps: the story of O Tecnico and his boys

The mighty Zebras after their game against Another Suburb FC (Photo: Cate Elkner)

 

 

It’s a bitterly cold Sunday. Weak sunshine takes a bit of the bite off the chill wind, but not much. The mighty Brunswick Zebras prepare for their match against Another Suburb FC. Anthony Perkins, O Tecnico, is calling out instructions: “Stand on the line and jog forwards and I want you to stay in a straight line.”

 

Some of the boys sprint off, some jog off and some forget to go at all and the line looks like a lightning bolt more than it looks like a line. “Keep the line,” yells O Tecnico.

 

He gets the boys do it again. They do it a wee bit better. I can make out a line. And again, and eventually they jog together in a nice line.

 

They do some other drills with the balls. They get warm. O Tecnico is thinking about positions.

 

The boys are waiting for the game to start. They’re (sort of) thinking about what they’ve been doing at training. They are hopeful. And happy. The parents are hopeful too.

 

In one way it’s been a difficult season for the Zebras. But in another way it’s been a fantastic season. Our boys have lost their share of games. If we look at the scoreboard, it’s easy to feel disheartened. But that’s not the only way to look at a season of soccer or football or basketball or tennis. Or anything really.

 

Before they signed with the Zebras, quite a few of our boys had never played in a proper soccer match, for a team with proper soccer shirts, against teams with proper soccer shirts, on a proper marked out soccer pitch (even with plastic cones), with proper soccer goals with proper nets and proper(ish) referees with proper loud whistles. So, when on that first drizzly morning all those months ago, we came up against the very experienced FC Clifton Hill side on their home turf by the railway line, we lost.  The opposition were used to playing with each other and they had a structure and a system and they looked for each other and played for each other. They scored a lot of goals.

 

But O Tecnico was not concerned. He could see our boys tried so hard and he could also see they were happy. He could see their smiles.

 

It was going to take time to learn how to play in a proper game. What positions meant. Where to stand. Where to run.

 

Our boys trained hard.

 

“Pass and go,” yelled O Tecnico.

 

“Good pass Meer,” yelled O Tecnico.

 

“Good call Ted,” yelled O Tecnico.

 

“Nice touch Toby,” yelled O Tecnico.

 

“Good run Dallas,” yelled O Tecnico.

 

Every Sunday the boys ran out to play their match and they gave their best. One Sunday they played Moreland who come from The Land of the Giants. Moreland steam-rolled some of our boys. But our boys were resilient and we very nearly won that game. Another time we played away against Another Suburb FC and our boys were right in the game. It was more exciting than the World Cup. The ball went from end to end. But Another Suburb snuck away and won.

 

O Tecnico kept talking to the boys. “Pass and go!” he’d say.

 

We lost a few games and then one day against Essendon Royals at home we played a fantastic first half. It was 3-3 as the boys ate their oranges. O Tecnico encouraged them to keep going.

 

“Talk to each other,” he said.

 

“Help each other,” he said.

 

“Look for each other,” he said.

 

They played an even better second half and won 6-3. It was a fantastic team effort. Our first win.

 

The boys were improving. Our keeper Jordan was amazing in goal one day against a very good team, but the boys had trouble clearing the ball from goal kicks and we gave up some easy goals.  “Kick towards the sideline,” O Tecnico said.

 

Still, everyone was happy. O Tecnico believed in happiness.

 

Players were finding the positions that suited them. Dallas was a good sweeper. Theo was solid at full back. Ted could help out in defence. Toby and Augie were versatile, able to play all over the park. Up forward Armaan was dodging and weaving and shooting and Bryn was strong wherever he played. We were competitive.

 

But some tough weeks followed. Bryn turned his ankle and then kept reinjuring it and it just wouldn’t come good. Armaan got crook. Some families were taking a well-earned holiday in the July break. And Bruno and his Mum, Iara, had gone to Brazil. A rumour went around that Bruno was trying out for the Sao Paulo FC Under 11s and he had an agent and a manager. O Tecnico missed Bruno, and Iara, as any father would.

 

For some matches we had no-one on the bench. Then on the windswept fields of faraway Glenroy the boys got walloped by Broadmeadows Stars. We had seven players. Things felt a bit grim. We even had to borrow one of the opposition’s players, Hakan.

 

O Tecnico stayed positive.

 

“Keep at it,” he said.

 

“Training is good,” he said.  “There are good signs.”

 

And so today we’re at home at Balfe Park wondering how we’ll respond. Our opponent is Another Suburb FC again. The warm-up is finished. O Tecnico has called the boys in and is showing them the whiteboard. We have a full side. And now we have Hakan. When he helped us out last week, he liked our happy, friendly team so much he decided to become a Zebra. He’s one of us already.

 

Bryn is back, looking fit. Armaan is over his bug. We have two subs. We’re only missing a couple of players, Bruno and Isaac.

 

Augie puts on the green goalkeeper’s vest. Armaan and Hakan are up forward. Theo, Dallas and Jordan at the back. Meer, Toby and Ted in the mid-field. We begin well. Our mid-fielders get the ball in to Armaan and Hakan and they keep finding space. We’re passing really well. We’re getting clear. We have a zillion shots at goal. But their goalkeeper is amazing.

 

We’re pushing into the strong wind. When they win the ball they sink the slipper and it sails towards our full backs. We are calm. Jordan is always calm. We control the ball, look up and pass to one of our midfielders who are dropping back. “Give him something,” yells O Tecnico as Bryn looks up field.

 

The boys present well. We continue make space. We attack. We win corners. We keep peppering their goals and one shot hits the cross bar. Another one goes over the cross bar.

 

“Oohhh!” says the crowd.

 

“‘Aaahh!” says the crowd.

 

“Come on Zebras!”

 

Finally Hakan beats their brave keeper. Zebras 1 Another Suburb 0. Then we really start to look for each other. Armaan is on fire. Is the ball glued to his boot? Should he be on Little Big Shots talking to Shane Jacobson? He slots a couple. Hakan scores again. And suddenly we’re up 4-0.

 

There are chances everywhere. Max up forward now and he’s a dynamo. Toby is giving an option in the mid-field, calling for the ball and then passing it. Ted is getting involved.

 

At half-time O Tecnico is happy. We lead, which is great, but it’s the way the boys are playing which everyone is talking about. “You’re putting together some great passes,” says O Tecnico.

 

The boys eat their snakes. They are happy.

 

“There’s a half to go,” says O Tecnico. They stand in front of him looking at the white board, concentrating.

 

After half-time it gets better. We have the wind. Meer goes into goal so Augie can play in the mid-field. Theo also goes into the mid-field. Max plays forward for a while. O Tecnico is giving our whole squad an opportunity to play in different positions.

 

Everyone is reading the game well. Ted keeps the pressure on. Toby is always there to help. Bryn keeps looking up the field and sends off some excellent passes. We control the ball. Our mid-fielders drop back when they need to and go forward when they can.

 

There are some amazing sequences of play involving three and four players. Pass and go. Through the centre. Bryn and Augie look for teammates who have made runs. Hearing their calls. One beauty is started by Augie after a difficult trap and a punched pass down the left touch line. Quite a few chains of passes end up in great team goals. Max scores. And there’s an own goal in there somewhere.

 

Armaan and Hakan put in some threatening crosses. Dallas just misses when he tries to get on the end of one. Then Theo makes a run to the goalmouth and, when the cross comes, the ball just bobbles over his foot.

 

O Tecnico has a big smile on his face. All the weeks of training and the boys are playing proper team soccer. “Pass and go,” O Tecnico says.

 

He turns to the supporters. “They’re doing it!” he says.

 

Jordan, Toby and Max won’t let anything go past them in defence. Meer even comes out of goal for a while. We have a wall. Dallas pumps the ball forward with his strong boot.

 

We score a couple more. When the final whistle blows it’s 9-0. It’s a great feeling. We celebrate. The boys shake hands with our opponents. We know how they are feeling and we wish them all the best for the rest of the season.

 

But it’s our moment and it’s time for us to enjoy it. We do a huge ‘ZEBRAS’ on the ground. And to get a team photograph.

 

It’s a memorable day.

 

O Tecnico wanders off. He has to do the housework because Iare and Bruno are arriving on a late afternoon flight from São Paulo. He thinks about his Zebras’ performance as he vacuums and scrubs.

 

Bruno and Iara return. I’m not sure if it’s true but I heard that São Paulo FC offered Bruno a contract which included as many bags of Wizz Fizz and boxes of Cheezels as he wanted.

 

But Bruno chose to come back to the happiest team with the happiest coach in the world.

 

Welcome home Bruno. We all think you made the right choice.

 

Read more stories from John Harms HERE.

 

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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo10, Anna8, Evie7. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Dave Brown says:

    I admire any coach that is able to create a happy team not built off the foundation of winning almost every week. Here’s to the O Tecnicos of this world!

  2. David Baker says:

    Bravo O Technico !
    The zebras are blessed to have a mentor who understands that the game revolves around the importance of ‘the team’ & enjoyment whether winning or losing. If the team all stick together then it’s been a good season.
    Go zebras

  3. This is a wonderful story of hope and resilience.
    I feel many in the AFL have lost this joy of playing.
    Go The Zebras

  4. As we’re currently a soccer-playing family too I could relate to this. Early in their first season I suspected our coach- who also does a terrific job- might be an Aussie Rules man at heart when more than once during his addresses to the team he referenced not “the box” but “the goal square”.

    I’d make a comeback for Wizz Fizz.

    Thanks JTH.

  5. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    So much pleasure in this JTH. Talk to each other. Help each other. Look for each other.
    (I also love Hakan’s instant defection. And Bruno’s return.)

    I called the Frenchman the morning after the World Cup final to share thoughts.
    ‘Are you happy?’ I asked.
    ‘Yez, I am ‘appy. But zey played murch better zan us.’
    ‘Yes, they played well.’
    ‘Zeir passing is tairiffic!’ he added.
    ‘Yes but ultimately … the Frenchies kicked the goals I suppose,’ I said.
    ‘Oui. At least Modric got player of ze tournament. So I am ‘appy. We can all be ‘appy.’

    May the Zebras continue to be happy.

  6. Jarrod_L says:

    Great stuff, JTH – I was riding every shoulder drop, slide tackle and attempted nutmeg in my mind! Carn the Zebs!

    Echoing Mickey, I’d also make a comeback for Wizz Fizz – that most elite of sherbet lollies.

  7. E.regnans says:

    Well. Thank you JTH.

    As I’ve written elsewhere, this piece is a perfect example of why I’m drawn the the Almanac. Inclusive, hopeful, superb.

    One aspect I love is the absence of that dominant “winners v losers” view of society.
    Us and them.
    So simplistic.
    So misguided.

    I manage an Under 13 Netball team. And I’m happy that our girls understand that that there is no league without each other, and without an opposition. (All opposition goals were applauded on court today in their 10-13 loss. Perfect).

    Something wonderful here is that this story, far from criticising or minimising any opponent, seeks only to highlight the collective growth of some young boys. At no one’s expense.

    This is an uplifting tale of hope and the collective. Indeed, we are all part of something much bigger. Doing what we can.
    Muddling along.
    Sometimes it clicks.

    Love it.

  8. Yvette Wroby says:

    Ditto to all above. Wonderful story. Great experiences. Lots of love.

  9. That is one way to recruit a player: borrow him for a game!

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