HomeFootballExclusive: Luke Wilkshire On Bringing The Wollongong Wolves Into The A-League

Exclusive: Luke Wilkshire On Bringing The Wollongong Wolves Into The A-League

Exclusive: Luke Wilkshire On Bringing The Wollongong Wolves Into The A-League

In an exclusive interview, Wollongong Wolves head coach, Luke Wilkshire, spoke to Ministry of Sport about his side’s current partnership with A-League side, Wellington Phoenix, looking towards his target of getting his side into the professional league.

Discussing the importance of an allegiance with an A-League side, and with the Phoenix based on the South Coast for the season, Wilkshire said it was an opportunity the club could not afford to pass up.

“I think it has been positive for them and for us, and football in general, and it’s been a pleasure to work with them to try and improve things in the region for football,” Wilkshire told Ministry of Sport.

“Naturally, you need partnerships with these clubs because they control the league now with every club having a stake in the APL (Australian Professional Leagues).

“We have great relationships throughout stakeholders in football in general and definitely in the APL, so naturally that is important.

“Ufie [Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay] is a great guy and is always open and welcome.

“I look forward to seeing them do well for the remainder of the season, and then we will look to build into being the professional team in the region,” he said.

Wilkshire has enjoyed a quite successful coaching tenure, beginning in 2019, where he led the Wolves to a minor premiership and two top-two finishes in the league in the past two seasons.

The former Socceroos and Sydney FC player said the successful on-field results are crucial to giving the off-field product of the club a real chance against other state league teams pushing for professionalism.

“[The way] you get people involved in clubs and businesses alike is by being successful, people love a winner, that is human nature,” Wilkshire said.

“It’s important that we keep winning, it’s important that we keep improving, and we are busting our arses and working as hard as we can to make sure we are successful on the pitch.

“I think everyone in football around Australia would love to see Wollongong back in the top division, where I believe it belongs.

“A lot of work has to be done off the pitch, as well as on, but we hold that dream and we keep working towards it,” he said.

Despite the lucrative and nostalgic potential of the Wolves playing professionally, financial barriers have at times stood in the way of the club’s dream of being in the A-League, with the former National Soccer League (NSL) champions being eliminated from proceedings in favour of more recent acquisitions to the league, such as Western United and Macarthur FC.

Speaking on the barriers, Wilkshire said no side could possibly be successful in the A-League without a concrete financial backing, but a major test of the club’s capabilities is the growth of an active support within Wollongong.

“[In the past] I don’t think we were ready off the pitch and financially, and I think that was a lot of the reason behind it,” Wilkshire said.

“I think we’re a lot better now, we’re still building and we have a lot to do, but I feel we’re in a better space now.

“Naturally it is important that it can be financially stable, along with the support of the region, [which is] critical.

“That’s why now at this time while Wellington is here, although it’s not our team, it’s a possibility for us to get out and show how much we love football in this region.

“I guess it can be a showcase into what it would be like.

“The region needs a team to believe in and they follow, and become really passionate about it.

“We’ve shown we can get crowds when we played Sydney FC in a friendly a couple of years ago, where we got 4500 people into WIN Stadium, so it shows that there is that hunger there.

“When you’re playing Sydney derbies, and against the Wanderers and Macarthur and even a steel derby against Newcastle, I’ve got no doubt that there is enough there to really draw people out.

“Part of that is building a club that people are proud of and believe in, and feel a part of,” he said.

It is the grassroots section of the club which Wilkshire said provides less attention when talking about an A-League push, especially considering his current first team contains a number of Wolves’ juniors.

“That’s what it’s all about, the players, all the way down the grassroots all the way to the professional, we want that pathway and we want it here in our region,” Wilkshire said.

“We have talent in our region, the numbers are massive, and the participants as well, and we want to nurture that talent and keep it here and develop it.

“Hopefully we see more players go overseas and play in the top leagues in Europe and international football.

“I don’t want to go and be bringing people in, I’ll get the best players from Wollongong.

“I think that’s important in terms of creating a culture in the club that we have people from our region, which brings families and support,” he said.

Reflecting on the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilkshire said there were a number of sacrifices made in order to survive, with the main goal still the dream of A-League football in Wollongong.

“Obviously they [the players] sacrificed their salaries last year significantly when we did come back,” Wilkshire told Ministry of Sport.

“We were regularly on zoom sessions, and the moment we could get on the pitch, we were on the pitch.

“I think the most important thing is everyone at the club stayed connected.

“I think we have come out the other end stronger.

“I want to help the bring the club into the A-League, and that would be my main goal for the club at the moment.

“It’s something I’m really passionate about and I really believe in, and I would love to be a part of making that happen,” he told Ministry of Sport.

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