After four decades, George Bugeja is hanging up the clipboard and retiring as coach of West Panthers Football Club.
During his time at the club, he has made the Bugeja name synonymous with West Panthers, solidifying their status as the family club, leading from the front in that regard – with nary a single person in his family not having pulled on the iconic red and black jersey of West.
The Barrier Truth sat down with Bugeja to discuss his 40 year involvement in the game locally. Here is part one of our chat.
BARRIER TRUTH: Thanks for chatting with us George. Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about your younger days.
GEORGE BUGEJA: I was born and bred in Broken Hill. I lived here all my life. I studied at Sacred Heart and Central School. I left school at 14 years and nine months and got myself an apprenticeship as a carpenter. I followed through with that – I never really wanted to leave [Broken Hill]. I got a bad back injury in my mid 20’s that knocked me about pretty well and sport took over after that – it is what kept me going.
BT: And tell us about your family. When did you meet your wife Theresa?
GB: We met downtown one night, and we just went from there. It’ll be our 50th anniversary soon. Theresa has been behind everything I’ve done my whole life. We’ve got four kids. Linda, my eldest, George Junior, Chad, and Johnny. It was mainly because of them that I did everything I have in the soccer.
BT: So, the kids got you into it?
GB: It was a full-on family thing, mate. I had everybody playing. The in-laws, outlaws – everybody (laughs).
BT: And it has always been the West Soccer Club for you? Tell us how that relationship began.
GB: Theresa took our eldest son to sign him up with West, he went to Burke Ward – all the kids went to Burke Ward, and they were looking for coaches and I basically started coaching straight away.
Theresa would go on to run the club for 30 years, I did what I have for 40 years – that’s 70 years between us. And then each of my kids have done over 20 years’ service to the club.
Young George started it all off. And just the help and backing from all the kids has been absolutely fantastic – I couldn’t have asked for more from them.
BT: You’re clearly very proud of the kids following your legacy at the club. Your granddaughter kicked 51 goals for the women’s team this season. Is it nice to see that legacy continuing?
GB: Oh, it is. My grandson played as well before his work took him to Mildura. His Dad, Jason, played as well. Johnny’s wife played too… they didn’t have a choice! You got in the family, basically you had to play soccer. You were either in or you’re out, that’s the way it was. (laughs)
Theresa played for more than 30 years from when I started the girls team.
BT: You started the girls team?
GB: Yeah, I had a year off when my son Chad coached them because I had too many teams, then I had another year off when my other son, Johnny, coached them. I’m still coaching them now, the girl’s team has been going for more than 30 years now.
It has been especially good, when we started the girls, we didn’t have one girl who could play soccer. We used to get belted 20 nil.
BT: Things have changed a bit now; you just won a premiership with the women’s team.
GB: (smiles) We had a bit of dip in the middle stretch – but we have been pretty dominant all year.
Our chat with Mr West Panthers, George Bugeja continues over the next couple of editions.