The first story I ever wrote about football was for a glossy sports magazine in Australia called Total Sport. It was a profile of Frank Farina, a pioneering Australian who played in Belgium (for Brugge), Italy (Bari), France (Strasbourg and Lille), and (very briefly) England (where I watched him on TV for Notts County). By 1995, Farina had returned to Australia to end his playing career and coached a team in the national league called the Brisbane Strikers.
In 1996, though, it was a big deal for a mainstream magazine to cover “soccer”. I interviewed a friendly Farina in a Sydney hotel the morning of a game against Marconi, a team he he’d played for a decade earlier. He was a good host – especially for a rookie coach meeting a stranger – and offered me dressing room access during the game to help with my story. That sort of thing doesn’t happen often.
The subsequent published story suggested Farina may one day coach the national team, a theory shot down in the same article by the Australian legend Johnny Warren and the-then Australia coach Eddie Thomson. But the story did win an award (albeit from Soccer Australia, the sport’s governing body), possibly because few others were writing about the sport locally. Three years later, Farina was appointed coach of the national team. Our later relationship was like a rollercoaster, the ups and downs of which were mirrored by his success, or otherwise, in the job.
Guus Hiddink took over coaching the Socceroos from Farina in 2005 and became something of a national hero when Australia qualified for the 2006 World Cup Finals. Farina landed on his feet to coach in the newly-launched A-League but was fired Brisbane Roar after he was charged with DUI when cops pulled him over on the way to training one morning. He then coached Papua New Guinea’s national team but, as of December, 2012, is back in the A-League now in charge of Sydney FC.
Johnny Warren and Eddie Thompson are now dead. I live in New York City. This blog probably won’t feature much of Frank Farina but he was there at the beginning and there will be stories of characters like him.