From the Humber to the Hunter

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Phil Stubbins left the Humber in 1988 and it’s taken him until 2014 to reach the Hunter.

For Newcastle Jets fans, Stubbins’ journey seems to have taken forever but it could be a case of better late than never.

Stubbins has changed significantly since arriving in Australia from England to play with Victorian club Heidelberg United.

Sure, his mates will tell you that Stubbsy is still Stubbsy and you can take the boy out of Hull but you can’t … you get the picture.

But Stubbins has undergone a metamorphosis that started slowly as a player here, gathered some impetus as a coach at Australian club and AIS levels then reached rapid completion over the past three years coaching in Thailand.

“To actually learn to survive in Asia is not easy but although I’ve suffered a bit I’ve enjoyed the journey,” said Stubbins.

“It’s been massively beneficial not only for my journey as a coach but as a person because you learn to understand and recognise other people’s needs so much better.

“I felt I had to do it (coach in Asia) because if I wasn’t seen doing it, if I wasn’t pushing myself to the boundaries in a volatile environment albeit a professional one then I don’t think I would have given myself the opportunity of getting the Newcastle job.”

And it’s a job he’s chomping at the bit to get stuck into.

From day one he was keen to draw a parallel between his upbringing and the working class history of the Hunter region.

It was easy to do for Stubbins who loves talking about work ethic and a belief that there’s no substitute for hard graft.

“We want to focus on our behaviours and behaving in the right way will set up a culture at the club.

“Rolling our sleeves up and having a crack has always been something that the club has been known for but I want to work us in a way that’s football detailed, to entrench a certain standard that we’ll accept as a group, as a club, and that we will always abide by.

“If we collectively get focussed on the one vision of how we want to conduct ourselves in terms of our behaviours and training in a way that complements that hard work ethic of the region then I’m confident that come round one we’ll be a very competitive team.”

Stubbins has only been in the Jets hot seat for the past month but he’s already learned that the club’s potential is even greater than he first realised.

“We’ve got the emerging Jets program from under 9s all the way up to the youth team and I’ve come to understand very quickly just how big this club could be.

“I’m really buoyant about the prospects of this football club.”

There has been much movement in playing and coaching personnel in recent weeks but it’s been in one direction.

Ruben Zadkovich, Connor Chapman, James Brown, Joey Gibbs and Josh Marshall no longer are on the playing list while assistant coach Craig Deans, goalkeeping coach Bob Catlin and strength and conditioning coach Karl Dodd have joined the exodus.

That’s about to change dramatically and soon.

“We’ve looked at signing someone in a central defensive position but that hasn’t been finalised,” said Stubbins.

“We’re also looking at bringing in a striker and we’ve already agreed with someone but there are a few other things that need to be fixed.

“We’re also looking at one – possibly two – in an attacking sense in that midfield area that we feel could be a very big signing for the club but to be perfectly honest we don’t need a lot.”

(Editor’s note: The Jets signed defender Adrian Madaschi and attacking midfielder Joshua Baresi days after this interview took place.)

“With regard to the coaching staff we still are trying to bring in the right goalkeeping coach.

“We’re in negotiation with certain people we feel can move forward with the group and we’re close to tying up a new fitness and strength conditioning person.”

Stubbins already has mapped out the club’s pre-season program and the players will be called in on 16 June for an unusual start to their training.

“We’re getting them all in to do their C level coaching licence.

“It’s a decent initiative to get all the boys together and get them interacting in a less stressful environment – mind you though it can be stressful doing a coaching course.

“We’ll have a players’ meeting prior to doing the coaching course and there will be a presentation on how we want to structure things moving forward, the etiquette that we feel is necessary for the group and how we want the players to represent the Newcastle Jets jersey.”

A highlight of the pre-season is the Jets participation in the four-team Townsville Football Cup in August alongside Brisbane Roar, Sydney FC and Northern Fury.

“It’s going to great because the weather will be fine, the pitch is sensational in terms of the surface and there’s going to be real interaction with the locals up there.

“They’re expecting 8000 to 10,000 at the games and it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to test ourselves against the current A-League champions and Graham Arnold’s Sydney FC, who I think next season have a real opportunity to move forward.”

Much has been made of Newcastle’s young list and the potential of its squad but Stubbins bristles when he hears such language and he has a blunt message for the club’s emerging talent.

“For me potential means that you’re simply not good enough yet and I’m not having that.

“My approach to these young kids coming through will be to say to them ‘you’re not kids anymore, you’re actually young men’ and as a consequence of that potential is out the window.

“We’re going to be performing to our maximum and I’ll be expecting them to perform as real senior pros.

“I think there’s an advantage in that they’ve gone into the A-League as young players but now they understand what the A-League is all about so it’s time for them to show the benefit of that this coming season.”

Stubbins’ has a clear view of where he wants to take the team next season and his track record suggests that he’ll get there.

“From the outside looking in I don’t think that we were seen as a really progressive footballing club and we’ve got to take this chance of turning that around.

“We want to be seen as a team with a really clear identity in terms of how we take to the pitch and how we perform on it and hopefully at this same point next year we’re talking about how we did in the finals, something we haven’t been able to talk about for the past four years.

“I’m not going to be naive enough to say we’ll finish in a certain position, however, I will say that we will make every endeavour to get our club into a position where we could be vying with these other clubs that are around that top four.

“I want us to be seen as a progressive football club and I want everyone to see that coming up against Newcastle Jets is an intimidating proposition.”

In Stubbins’ long journey to Hunter Stadium he has left behind a trail of clubs and fans who sing his praises and who take an interest in his career.

So what is so special about Stubbins the coach? What sets him apart from his A-League counterparts?

“Look, I think I’ve been a bit like Robinson Crusoe for a while now.

“I’ve been on my own island and I’ve had to make decisions that impact on whether or not you keep a job as a coach.

“I learnt the trade at grassroots level which has been great for me and something that I’ve been able to fall back upon on a number of occasions.

“I think as a manager I’m communicative and I think over time that I’ve become more open to empowering people and letting them work around me.

“At the same time I obviously have my own style and there certainly are times when I can be very, very demanding of the input of the group but when I look back on it all that effort, that diligence, that passion I have for the job has stood me in good stead.

“The players at the Jets will get a coach that’s prepared to work hard, a coach that’s immersed in the journey with the group and pretty detailed in how he goes about structuring our periodization model moving forward as a club and as a football team.”

The players also will get a coach that is not only highly credentialled but is a winner. An AFC Pro Diploma and seven championships attest to that.

Jets players and supporters alike have much to look forward to.

Craig MacKenzie

Craig started writing about Australian football in March 1979 and it has been an obsession ever since. He has a sports writing background with Fairfax, is the former editor of Soccer Action and for six years wrote for Goal! Weekly.  His work has been published on Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix websites and can be currently viewed on Football Federation Victoria's website.  Craig has twice won FFV's 'Story of the Year' award - 2010 & 2012

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