WHEN Grimsby Town played Notts County in the Football League Trophy in September, two Australian coaches were seated on the respective benches.
County manager Harry Kewell needs little introduction either in his country of birth or residence.
However, in the home dugout at Blundell Park was a somewhat lower profile assistant manager whose career path had taken him from his native Tasmania to one of the most cut-throat professions in world sport.
Unlike Kewell’s well-publicised journey to World Cup glory with the Socceroos and Champions League success with Liverpool, Anthony Limbrick has taken soccer’s backroads.
Overcoming multiple rejections and a broken leg as a player and the ignominy of the sack in his first job as manager, the 35-year-old has become one of the most qualified Australian coaches in the UK with a CV featuring Southampton, West Ham, Woking and England alongside a star-studded catalogue of colleagues.
💪 Assistant manager @ALimbrick1 says #GTFC are showing encouraging signs of progress, ahead of tomorrow's @SkyBetLeagueTwo clash with @buryfcofficial at Gigg Lane...— Grimsby Town FC (@officialgtfc) September 7, 2018
Watch the exclusive interview for free on iFollow Mariners 👉 https://t.co/RrFlDneeT4pic.twitter.com/CDTumC2lBP
Learning his trade alongside such distinguished names as Ronald Koeman, Mauricio Pochettino, Tony Popovic, David James and Nigel Clough, Limbrick has overcome, in his own words, a limited playing career and the impediment of being an Australian in an English-dominated environment.
Becoming one of the few Aussies to attain a UEFA pro licence, Limbrick is convinced his unconventional career path can be used to his advantage and remains determined to achieve his original dream of breaking into soccer’s top flight.
“It is an unstable profession but there are great opportunities out there,” he said.
“It’s exciting because you don’t know what is coming around the next corner.
“I want to coach at the highest level and that’s the Premier League but I would not rule out overseas opportunities or perhaps the A-League further down the line.”
Limbrick recalls his brief and curtailed career as a diminutive left-back with the dismissive statement: “Let’s not kid ourselves, I was not a very good player.”
But he believes his lack of on-field success has dictated his coaching style.
“When I took my UEFA A course, I was the youngest by far and there were not many non-playing coaches doing it. I knew that I had to be a better coach than them because I did not have playing experiences to fall back on. I had to go with cold, hard facts because I couldn’t talk about occasions when I played at Wembley.
“But I like to think that all my playing experiences led me to be the coach I am now.”
Listening to Limbrick reflect on his meandering career path is a conversation littered with hurdles faced, challenges embraced and the constant recollection “that was a great learning experience”.
Hobart-born, he went to school in the Huon Valley before moving to Launceston in year 7, going to Riverside High School and playing with Riverside Olympic Soccer Club.
“Really good memories,” he said, forming a mental image of Windsor Park from the opposite side of the planet in the East London suburb of South Woodford.
“Olympic were a great club with great people and they were really good to me.
“I remember coming in off the West Tamar Highway where you go past the cricket and football clubs. The clubhouse had just been built and there was this little stand in front of it and we did a lot of training on the back pitch.”
Making a state team took the teenager to Hobart before returning to Olympic.
“It was a hard time but a great time because Riverside really welcomed me back and looked after me. They were good people there - people like Jamie Colgrave, Andy Gray, Rob King, Mark Littlechild, Wayne Penfold and Peter Davidson who was coach at the time.
“I try and keep in touch with them as much as I can and I think Wayne even bought a Woking shirt when I was manager there.
“I mostly played juniors but the club showed good faith in me even though I was tiny. I remember as a 16-year-old getting a game in the reserves. I came on against Burnie and immediately got clattered. I think it was Rob King came over, looked at me and just said ‘Yeah, he’s OK’.”
Former Olympic player Tony Walmsley, who went on to coach Central Coast Mariners in the A-League and work with Sheffield United in England, invited Limbrick to join Bundaberg Waves in the Queensland State League and a stint with Brisbane-based rivals Rochedale Rovers followed.
“I wanted to try and make the step up and always wanted to go to the UK to be a footballer. I wanted to train hard and try and progress.
“That was a good introduction into more professional football but by then I had saved up some money and decided to go to the UK to try and get some trials.”
Limbrick said he had more trials than he can remember across England, Scotland and Wales but found the standard and physicality a substantial step up.
In addition, he said his nationality was working against him.
“It is such a business here and if a club has to choose between a player from England or a player from Australia they will always take the player from England and I was never that much better than the English players so found it very hard to compete.
“Not being able to get a contract was disappointing but another learning experience.”
A broken leg playing semi-pro football for Wingate and Finchley in North London ultimately determined Limbrick’s career path.
“I was still only 20 but was in the cast for a long time and it made me realise I was not going to be a footballer. So I started to think about what next and decided it would be coaching.
“People kept telling me to keep playing but I knew I could not dedicate myself to both at the level I wanted so I retired very early.
“I had already started to see games from a coaching perspective. I was always into tactics and how coaches got messages across. I had learned about diet, nutrition and gym work. I was already being a coach without realising it.
“And I was very determined not to go back to Australia - I think because I had not made it as a footballer.
“They were tough times. I was not earning a lot of money and, even with the broken leg, it was more of a mental struggle than physical.”
Limbrick’s coaching career literally started at the bottom, teaching basic skills to pre-school kids.
Beginning his progress through the Football Association and UEFA qualifications, he started coaching with Wingate and Finchley’s under-18s, reserves and seniors and progressed into academy work.
It’s not every day you get to kick a ball around with @officialgtfc Manager @michaeljolley07 & Assistant Manager @ALimbrick1 who turned up to support the @GTFCAcademy U8 Festival today! ⚽️👏🏼— GTFC Academy (@GTFCAcademy) August 16, 2018
A big thank you to @Bradley_FDC for their hospitality. ⚫️⚪️ pic.twitter.com/Ljb4oWfx0o
“I was getting a really good range of experiences. I could be coaching four-year-olds in the morning, 10-year-olds after school and then a 35-year-old ex-pro in the evening.”
At the age of 27, he completed his UEFA A licence alongside Popovic.
While the former Socceroos defender went on to take charge of Sydney, Western Sydney Wanderers and now Perth Glory in the A-League, Limbrick landed a job as under-14 coach at Southampton.
During his five years on the South Coast, the Saints enjoyed two promotions to reach the promised land of the Premier League.
Coaching assorted Saints youth teams, Limbrick worked under manager Nigel Adkins (now just across the Humber River at Hull City), the vastly experienced Dutch defender Koeman and former Argentinian international Pochettino (now in charge at Tottenham Hotspur) helping develop players like future England internationals Luke Shaw (now with Manchester United), Calum Chambers (Arsenal) and James Ward-Prowse (still at Southampton).
“It was a good education watching different types of managers. They were very different but all trying to get the same thing.
“Pochettino’s training sessions were very intense and he had a really good relationship with his players and trusted his young players. I would always pick his brains whenever I could and he is one of the best coaches I’ve seen at work.”
A part-time role as assistant coach with England under-17s and two seasons with West Ham United’s academy followed before Limbrick completed his pro coaching licence and landed his first managerial position at Woking in the National League - the highest level of non-league football in England.
A roller-coaster season saw the Surrey side reach as high as third and enjoy an FA Cup run which included beating Bury and taking fellow Football League side Peterborough to a replay.
However, needing to sell players to survive, the Cards struggled following a couple of lucrative transfers and Limbrick was sacked in April with the club just four points above the relegation zone.
“It was an experience,” he said of getting the axe. “You are so busy that you don’t see it coming but it was another great learning curve about first-team football.
“Every manager goes through that, even the best ones. You know you face the sack in football if the results aren’t right.
“It’s very different from working in academies where the focus is on development.”
After a month away with his wife, Limbrick jumped straight back in the deep end, assuming his first Football League role as assistant manager under Michael Jolley at Grimsby Town in the fourth-tier League Two.
“It’s been a good step up. The standard is better, the players easier to work with and the teams we play are all good tactical sides.
“It’s another good experience for me and I think I’m a better assistant manager because I have been a manager so I understand how hard it is for the gaffer.”
Three wins and a draw from their past four matches have seen the Mariners up to 19th place - five points above the relegation zone - and Limbrick, whose mum Libby White still lives in Launceston, said he is getting used to combining England’s chilly North Sea coast with his base in London.
“When I first arrived the beach at Cleethorpes looked beautiful,” he said.
“It is starting to get a bit cold now but life’s good. The people are very friendly. They live and breathe football here and their support is amazing.
“The team nearly got relegated last year so obviously we want to improve on that. It’s early days, but we’re finding our form.”
And as for the result of that Football League Trophy square-up with Sydney’s finest footballing product Kewell in front of 746 spectators?
Grimsby Town 2, Notts County 1.
Or, as Limbrick called it: “Tasmania 1, New South Wales 0.”