Main Page

Quick Links

The Rest
   Club info
   Last Season
   Small Ads
   Unlikely Lads
   A-Z Index
Willie McFaul Interview

First appeared in the London Evening Standard Tue 23.01.01

His team had just gone 18-0 down and he thought it couldn't get any worse. Then, an Iranian striker rushed into the goal, grabbed the ball and started sprinting back towards the halfway line, eager to keep the massacre going. Willie McFaul took a deep breath, raging impotently at professionals taking the pee out of his boys who had suffered enough indignities already.

He had always known - from the day he turned up for his first training session as the national coach of Guam and only seven players strolled out to greet him - that this job was going to be, er, a bit different. But two years later, as he presided helplessly over the biggest defeat in World Cup history - 19-0, it ended - he realised how painful it could be too.


"Well, the whole experience wasn't too pleasant," recalls McFaul, a master of understatement, on his paradise isle. "Forty-eight hours and three stopovers to travel from the island to Iran, arrived at 8pm one night and played at 2.30pm the next day. I'd got a lot of young kids, some of whom had never even been off the island before. They'd certainly never seen the snow which you could see on the mountain peaks.

"In Guam, they're used to a tropical climate which doesn't get much below 80 all year round. In Tabriz, it was wet and freezing. I warned them about wearing gloves and long-sleeved undershirts but the only realistic aim was to keep the score below 20 against a team with so many top European-based pros." They succeeded and two days later they triumphed again. Only 16-0 this time, to mighty Tajikistan.

So it was that a hardened football man who thought he'd done everything in a career which had seen him keep goal for Northern Ireland and Newcastle, get beaten by Ronnie Radford's historic pearler for Hereford in 1972 and help develop Paul Gascoigne's gift in three years as manager at St James' Park, found himself overseeing the least successful team in World Cup history.

Back home, he could have been using his coaching expertise with the Irish FA or managing a useful youth side like Antrim's Cullybackey Blues as he had been before he was offered a FIFA-backed coaching job in Guam and was left spluttering "Where?". Life in Coleraine had to be more simple than running a south Pacific team which, under his two-year stewardship, has played five, lost five, scored none and conceded 67 - that's two 19-nils, one 16-0, one 11-0 and a 2-0.

Yet regrets? Too few to mention, reckons a 57-year-old, too battle-scarred in this game to worry how the stark figures might be interpreted 10,000 miles away. "Well, I'm sure people will look at our results and make their own judgments about how bad we must be and, sure, the locals here would probably like to see their team do better but, with all respect, people don't appreciate just how difficult the job is," he says.

In Guam, they are at least understanding. Nobody criticises McFaul; indeed, he'd only been in the seat three months when he was offered and accepted a three-year extension to his contract to run through to 2003. "So I must have been doing something right," he smiles. Even after the Tajikistan mauling late last year, the Guam FA offered unstinting support. Our Sven should be so lucky.

Anyway, how would Eriksson cope in a world where your national squad selection comes effectively from only three leading amateur clubs, where you have a star player one week who disappears to college in the US the next, where the islanders' shyness once made it difficult to persuade them even to turn out for training after work and where the game is ignored alongside basketball and baseball at the island's US air force and naval bases?

Howard Wilkinson marvelled: "How do you put up with it?" he enquired after hearing how McFaul's first game had ended Guam (population 150,000) nil, People's Republic of China (pop,1.2 billion) 19. Willie just responded: "When you commit yourself to something, you give it everything and don't walk away." Results weren't everything. The pleasure was in putting a development programme in place, preaching the footballing gospel at village schools and coaching new coaches. "There's real satisfaction working with the young people here," he says.

And, yes, being able to spend your days with wife Eileen in a neat apartment block which boasts a pool and views of the ocean from his front door has its attractions too, he smiles. The food is to die for and the equatorial weather so accommodating that, after catching the Champions' League on telly at 4.30am, he can nip off to play golf on some of the island's posh courses before it gets too warm.

"Lovely people, lovely island," he says, and you're tempted to think it sounds the perfect job - er, if it weren't for the football. FIFA rank Guam 199th of their 203 nations so somewhere out there, there are apparently four worse international teams. McFaul says, actually, they beat an island called Yap but I couldn't find it in my atlas.

Being an isolated speck in the ocean, there's no chance of regular international competition or of playing sides of similar fledgling stature in a development competition. Instead, McFaul got lumbered with a one-off "ridiculous" World Cup qualifying tournament where his only prayer was that his players wouldn't end up so deflated that they might just pack up.

Sometimes, the beatings do get to him a bit. After the Tajikistan game, he reckoned he was a bit hard on the lads, angry that they'd gifted their opponents five of the 16 goals - as if they needed any help. Then, after flying straight back to London for a winter break with his son's family, he was relieved to hear from his assistant back on the island that, don't worry, they were all back in training.

Then it dawned again that what keeps him going is that they keep going. His nine-to-five crew of enthusiastic students, bankers, teachers and insurance agents take fearful hidings but "never get the stuffing knocked out of them". Like those Asian Cup qualifiers where they lost 19-0 and 11-0 but then came back and lost only 2-0 to the Philippines - "and it was scoreless after 75 minutes," says McFaul with undisguised pride.

"What kept me going over the winter was knowing I'd made a promise to the Under-16 kids that I'd take their training when I got back," he reflects. "I wouldn't be a happy person if I didn't keep my word. I can't see myself not seeing out this job."

Now he's back and such perseverance from manager and team must get its reward. "They need a tournament with opposition where they might get a draw, or even a win," says McFaul.

The East Asian Games are coming up, so you never know. Some enchanted evening in the south Pacific....

Page last updated 25 June, 2009