George Bugeja – a man who has been synonymous with West Panthers Soccer Club – announced his retirement following the Broken Hill Soccer Association’s Grand Final day marking the end of an era for the famous red and black club.
Mr Bugeja recently sat down with the Barrier Truth to discuss his life and career. Here is part two of that chat.
BARRIER TRUTH: So, let’s go back slightly to when Theresa signed your eldest lad up for soccer and the club out the call out for coaches, what age group did you start in?
GEORGE BUGEJA: I think it was under sevens. We didn’t have under sixes back then.
BT: You began with under sevens, did you have any sort of feeling then that you would be involved for four decades.
GB: I was just there to help. It was a case of the more I did it, the more I loved it. I loved the challenge of it, teaching people the game. I still do. When you get someone who can’t kick a ball, doesn’t know the game at all and then by the end of 12 months you have them reading the play and passing the ball like everyone else, it gives you a good feeling.
BT: Over the journey have you coached every grade at West?
GB: Yeah, I have. I did it in one year. I think it was 2005, from memory. I don’t know how it ended up that way. I think people were sort of not interested in coaching. I think it was from the under tens and up.
There were just so many kids playing and I thought, well I want everyone who wants to play to be able to play so I just did it. I coached two combined teams that same year too.
BT: You began coaching in 1983, I know it is a bit of a while back now, but can you give me a timeline of your progression through the age groups?
GB: I coached every single year since then. Initially, I wanted to get up into the grades that played for points. I got there in ‘85 or ’86 with the under nines. They used to pay for points back then on the top pitch – full field. And it just went on from there.
BT: Do you remember your first senior game as coach?
GB: I do, Robin Chapman was in the team. And they didn’t have a coach. Joe Bosnich had finished up and the club asked if I could give them a hand. And that’s how I got dumped with the A Grade team [laughs].
BT: And how did the first game play out? Do you remember the score? Did you win?
GB: I don’t remember the score, but we won. There wasn’t a lot of coaching to be done that day. But we just built and built and after that match we just continued building.
BT: I have seen you on the touchline over the past couple of years, and you are a hard man to please. Did you crack a smile that day?
GB; [laughs] Being my first game, I think I did. I allowed myself to smile. [laughs again]
BT: It was the early 90s when you took over the A Grade side at West Panthers. Do you remember when the premierships started rolling in?
GB: All the tags are on the trophies mate. I haven’t had a chance to chase them up. I think we did win the flag [that first year]. We won a couple in a row, then we had a bit of a downfall. Then, when the Rudolph Alagich Trophy came in, I think we won nine or 10 in a row. There’s a big South Mine trophy that has a bunch of my premierships on it as well.
BT: So, it is safe to say you have been a pretty successful coach, then? [laughter]
GB: [laughter continues] Yeah, I guess that is safe to say.
There has been so much [success]. I have had my fair share of luck, and it has been hard work too. I think almost equal parts luck and hard work. The last coupe years have been amongst the hardest with shift work and things like that. One week you might have your best team then the next you’re missing six or seven of your best players – it has been difficult.
In our next edition, we’ll present the final part of our conversation with George. We’ll delve deeper into the remainder of his illustrious career, his accolades, and the enduring legacy of the Bugeja family in the beautiful game.