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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Magan

Steve Forshaw: Sitting on the bench of Canberra's fallen giant

In Canberra, only a few clubs have enjoyed the fame, success, and enduring legacy of Belconnen United. Coaching the Blue Devils comes with high expectations and the constant pressure of getting results. So sitting on the bench of such a club the season after they suffer their first-ever relegation is even more daunting. Yet, Steve Forshaw took it up with no hesitation. Front Page Football recently had the opportunity to meet him.

Steve Forshaw talking to his captain during the Australia Cup qualifying rounds. (Soccer Snaps by Sal)


Belconnen United FC, formerly known as Belconnen United Blue Devils, is a historic club in Canberra. Since its foundation in 1970, the club has won a solid 20 titles in the ACT. Some big names who went on to play in the A-League, such as Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Tom Rogic, played their earlier years at the club best known in the capital for its talent development.


In the early 2000s, Belconnen even joined the NSW Premier League for a short stint (six years). It was enough time to win one premiership and play in a Grand Final (where they lost to Bankstown City Lions at Marconi Stadium in 2004).


Since the inception of the National Premier Leagues in 2013, the Blue Devils have reached the Finals Series in Canberra six times and won two championships in 2014 and 2017. The 2014 Federation Cup completed its recent additions to the trophy cabinet.


Steve Forshaw is nothing short of a legend at the club. Manager of the Premier League side from 2008 to 2012 (Rogic’s one season was 2011/12), involved in its youth development in recent years; he is a life member of the club.


When Belconnen called him to take the reins of the first-grade team this summer, his answer was easy.


“It's a club close to my heart for a long time, so the decision to go back wasn't a difficult one. I think the real excitement about it is the size of the challenge,” Forshaw told FPF.

Forshaw (second row, first from the left) celebrated the championship with the club's U18s in 2017. (Belconnen United Blue Devils Facebook)


Two seasons ago, Canberra's NPL introduced promotion and relegation with its second tier, the Capital Premier League (CPL). Tuggeranong United was the first victim of the new structure, and Belconnen followed at the end of 2022.


“It's a club that you know had high expectations,” Forshaw explains.


“In terms of the local competition, I think it's better when Belconnen is playing at the highest level.


“Our expectation for this season is to emulate what Tuggeranong did last season and bounce straight back up. No doubt there are other teams that have similar ambitions to us, and they'll be doing their damnedest to make sure that they finish top of the pile.”


Tuggeranong United did show how to immediately return to the NPL, dominating the CPL in 2022. They may have illustrated to other CPL teams the level needed to finish on top, making things a little harder for the Blue Devils in 2023.


“I expected it to be hard anyway,” Forshaw admitted.


“Tuggeranong did really well to dominate the way they did; it's not going to happen automatically for any team that comes down.


“We have already faced difficult opponents in the qualifying rounds of the Australia Cup, and it’s going to be the same every week. But I have high hopes we can be successful.”


Belconnen United have started the season positively. Their two Australia Cup qualifying rounds in pre-season were tricky against other CPL teams. The Blue Devils managed to progress despite conceding first in both games (3-2 after extra time and 2-1).

 

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Dustin Wells is the 39-year-old leader of Belconnen United, and has been for over a decade. (Soccer Snaps by Sal)


They also succeeded in their first two CPL encounters (3-2 and 6-2), with two solid performances by a squad with many young players.


“It was part of the overall plan that we would have what I call a balanced mix of experience and youth,” Forshaw said.


“We're looking beyond this season with the youth. If we can get up, we don't want to get up and then go back down. We want to get into the NPL for 2024 and stay there. But we need to do that on the back of all players that will bring us through, from the developmental program to [the] more experienced players.”


One of those experienced players, 39-year-old Dustin Wells, formerly of Wollongong in the NSL and the A-League’s now-defunct New Zealand Knights, has donned a Belconnen jersey since 2008 (with a one-season break). With close to 150 goals in the ACT, his importance to the team cannot be overstated.


“Some of them are only 17, which is young to be playing against mature adults. They are very talented boys at the same time, so yes, it was always part of the plan to have a mix of older players that will lend their experience,” Forshaw added.


Belconnen producing young players is typical in the capital. Some from their new generation are starting to make waves away from Canberra. Harry Menham was picked up by the Central Coast Mariners Academy last year.

Maxx Green earned himself a month-long trial last April at La Liga club Rayo Vallecano after impressing international scout Morris Pagniello. Back in Canberra, he now shines for Gungahlin United, a potential National Second Tier (NST) club, with five goals in three games to start the season.

Maxx Green as a Blue Devil in 2022. (Soccer Snaps by Sal)


A topic being discussed more in football, at a development and professional level, is the new player-coach dynamic and the role coaches play in their players' lives today. Football does not just begin and end on the pitch anymore.


“It has now become a more rounded approach,” Forshaw said, agreeing with that sentiment.


“It really is about getting on the same level as your players, as individuals, and being able to get your messages across in a more inclusive way.


“There is no doubt that even the technical side of the game has changed. In terms of coaching, if you look at what the curriculum demands of coaches these days, it is problem-based solutions to coaching, where players are self-directed, doing a lot more off their own bat.”


One would expect criticism for a man who has been around football for the best part of 25 years. But not on the Belconnen bench. The historic club is in good hands, and this trip to Canberra's second tier could be the best thing for a club used to achieving success through its player development.


“If players have to adapt to be better, then coaches have to adapt to be better as well. If football is staying still, then it dies, so as long as it keeps changing for the better, I'm all for it,” Forshaw added.


Well said, indeed.


Round three CPL action sees Belconnen United take on Brindabella Blues on Saturday at 3 pm AEST at the Australian Institute of Sport.


Click here to read part one of our interview with Steve Forshaw, where he gave his thoughts on the A-League Men's potential Canberra expansion!

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