Bunbury look to become a force

Bunbury Forum Force are battling to match it with the WA NPL heavyweights but they are still confident a bright future lies ahead.

Central Coast Mariners' triumph over Western Sydney Wanderers in the 2013 Hyundai A-League Grand Final was a rare event in the history of football in Australia.

As John Hutchinson and Patrick Zwaanswijk hoisted the A-League championship trophy aloft, they not only marked the end of the Mariners' Grand Final curse but also put Central Coast on a short list of regional clubs to have won an Australian football title.

In the combined 36 seasons of the National Soccer League and the A-League, only three clubs based outside capital cities have been crowned champions for a total of four titles (Wollongong Wolves 2000 and 2001, Newcastle Jets 2008, Central Coast Mariners 2013).

A quick look at the top divisions in Australia's five biggest states and clearly, football is a sport where clubs from regional areas struggle to compete.

While the National Premier League (NPL) Queensland has five of 12 clubs outside of Brisbane, none of the top divisions in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia have more than two sides based outside the state's capital city.

In Western Australia, the Bunbury Forum Force are flying the flag as the sole club outside Perth in the Football West State Premier League.

The Force, who changed their name from the South West Phoenix just over three years ago, as part of a sponsorship agreement with local shopping centre Bunbury Forum, are struggling in the top tier after eight rounds with just one victory and two draws.

Combine those results with the fact that the Force have already lost two coaches this season and things do not look good for the club from the third-largest city in Western Australia, which lies just over 170 kilometres south of Perth.

But despite the early season turmoil, Bunbury's president Albert Nascimento believes the Force may have secured a rough diamond in new coach Matt Holland, who can lead the club into next season's NPL Western Australia.

"He's currently doing his (UEFA) A License and he sees himself as a career coach," Nascimento says.

"He's very ambitious, you know, wherever the game takes him throughout the world, that's where he's going to go.

"He's already spent time in Malaysia, coached the Malaysian Under 14 team at the last Asian championships."

The Force started the year with Micky Cairns at the helm, who quit before the season began due to work commitments, before Matt Lock took over as player-coach for the opening seven rounds.

Lock, an English defender with experience in England's Football Conference, decided at the start of this month to use the remaining time on his visa to travel around Australia.

Nascimento concedes it has been a frustrating start to the season but claims he holds no grudges regarding Cairns and Lock's departures, while hinting Holland, a 24-year-old Welshman, could be the best coach of the lot.

"He's not shy, he talks to a lot of people, he's as good a networker as I've ever seen in football," Nascimento says.

"He'll talk to anyone who he thinks is going to help him down the track with his career."

Holland, who at 22 years of age, was one of the youngest people in Britain to earn his UEFA B coaching licence, has been entrusted to develop the Force's young team in preparation for acceptance into the inaugural NPL Western Australia season in 2014.

The NPL's player points system will limit each club to just two imported players, meaning youth development will be key.

"Every year we probably lose a dozen or so kids that are potential league players for us that go up to Perth because of their studies and it's much easier for them just to go and play with a club up there...so we do work pretty hard on our development down here," Nascimento says.

Nascimento believes NPL football is vital for the Force as the club aims to provide a pathway for young footballers throughout the south west of Western Australia

Perth Glory's Josh Risdon played junior football in Bunbury, while Burnley youth player Callum Richardson came up through the Force's ranks and Nascimento is confident there is plenty more talent for Holland to work with over the next year or so.

"We're going to lose visa players next year because of the NPL, so (we have got) guys who are only one or two years from being regular starters in the first team," the president of Bunbury Forum Force says.

"So from an NPL perspective and being competitive, knowing that the clubs up in Perth are going to be in a similar boat where they can't have (more than two) visa players...I think we're sitting pretty well for the next few years." Image courtesy Bunbury Forum Force