When the Socceroos took to the field against Germany at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion in Kaiserslautern last March, there was one man inside the venue atop the Betzenberg that would have appreciated being at the match more than most.
That man wasn’t Alex Wilkinson, the Australia and Jeonbuk Hyundai defender lining up in the heart Ange Postecoglou’s backline. Nor was it Mile Jedinak, the Socceroos skipper and Crystal Palace midfielder who history will show scored a fantastic free kick during the exciting 2-2 draw.
In fact, the man to which I refer didn’t lace up a boot or kick a ball against the reigning World Champions at the impressive home of famed Bundesliga club 1. FC Kaiserslautern. But he does enjoy inextricable links to the aforementioned Wilkinson and Jedinak, having like those players honed his craft at one of the Hyundai A-League’s club of opportunities, the Central Coast Mariners. And he does enjoy a close connection to the famed Fritz-Walter, having nine years earlier been in the stands as a fan as Australia came from a goal down to defeat Japan 3-1 in its first FIFA World Cup match in 32 years.
I write about Ben Coonan – or ‘BJC’ for those of you who may have received an e-mail from Ben in the past. Ben was part of the Socceroos’ management team in Europe for the recent friendlies against Germany in Kaiserslautern as well as Macedonia in Skopje, handling media requests and crafting content, primarily of the video variety.
Indeed, Ben has been working closely with Australia’s national teams for the past 18 months or so, even travelling to Brazil as a key member of Football Federation Australia’s (FFA) internal media staff for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It’s a fair bet that if you’ve watched a video on Socceroos.com.au over the past while, it’s been conceived by, shot and cut by the boy from Budgewoi.
Ben is a humble hombre, and not one to pump up his own tyres. But I, like many, have a lot of time for the former Melbourne Heart team manager, and thought it might be time to share a slightly different view of the Socceroos, and how Ben has risen from modest Mariners media man to an important cog in FFA’s communication department.
When the Hyundai A-League commenced, Ben – a long time fan of the game and even “stats man” for Graham Arnold during his days coaching Northern Spirit – grasped the opportunity to get involved with his newly found local professional team, the Central Coast Mariners. A ‘Coastie’ himself, Ben’s passion for his local area ran – indeed, still runs – deep, so he gave his time complimentarily to the Lawrie McKinna coached side, and John McKay marshalled administration.
Speedily Ben’s commitment to his tasks, impressive daily output, genial nature, and desire to help see the Mariners succeed prompted Lyall Gorman, then the club’s Executive Chairman, to offer him a full-time role with the club. Indeed, Gorman asked Ben at the time what he thought his annual salary should be. Having never earned a salary before, Ben quickly surmised that $500 a week, or just $25,000 a year, would be adequate. Needless to say Gorman swiftly agreed, and the Mariners had a bargain on their hands working day in, day out to ensure that the unlikeliest of all eight foundation Hyundai A-League clubs would survive and thrive.
Five Hyundai A-League campaigns, countless press releases, videos, and media opportunities later, Ben decided it was time make tracks, but continue to make content. Departing on a free-spirited sojourn, Ben utilised his skills with words and vision to fashion features on Australian players abroad. His work was broadcast on SBS and Fox Sports, published in various football magazines including the now defunct Australian Football Weekly, and via wire agencies including Australian Associated Press (AAP). His journey saw him traverse Europe, then Asia, as he captured and cut yarns on Australian football luminaries including Harry Kewell in Istanbul, Josip Skoko in Split, James Holland in Alkmaar, and Mark Milligan in Chiba.
With the Hyundai A-League expanding to include a second Melbourne side in 2010, the freshly established Heart approached Ben to join them as a key member of their football department. Well regarded for his meticulousness, Ben was an ideal candidate to help the competition’s newest team in their organisational matters – his knowledge of the league, its rules and regulations, plus movers and shakers proving to be a valuable asset to the AAMI Park outfit.
In 2012 Ben departed Melbourne and began life as a freelancer again. With plenty of experience under his belt, this time Ben broadened his approach to include numerous pitches of his expertise to FFA and Hyundai A-League management. From these proposals, Ben joined the Socceroos and Matildas in camp and on tour, and crafted content for the Hyundai A-League Finals Series and Foxtel A-League All Stars teams. Most recently, Ben shot and produced a mini-documentary for Fox Sports tracking the life and career of Hyundai A-League stalwart John Hutchinson – a player he worked with from very early on in the Mariners’ existence. He continues to work closely with FFA, and will be one of the people charged with delivering unique insights to fans from Australia’s qualification path to Russia 2018 — a journey which includes trips to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Bangladesh, and Jordan.
For me, Ben Coonan is one of the largely unheralded behind the scenes maestros of Australian football. Still in his early 30s, Ben’s story is only beginning, yet the teachings of his career thus far are significant for those who may wish to emulate him. If you love what you do, continually seek to improve, and utilise your passion to help you build your network, you can achieve great things and leave a lasting legacy in your chosen field.