MICK JONES – THE UPS AND DOWNS OF A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL COACH.
In early 1969, Michael Aloysius (“Mick”) Jones arrived in Australia as a ” Ten Pound Pom” on the S.S. Canberra with his wife June, daughter Daryl Ann (10) and son Ricci (12), to take up a coaching position with Pan Hellenic in Sydney. At the time, Jones, with his English Football Association full coaching certificate, was one of the most credentialled football coaches to have worked in this country. Jones was a dapper, handsome, Yorkshireman with a thick north country accent and hair that was always immaculately coiffured, even when sitting on the sidelines of the most windswept of football grounds. Mick Jones fell in love with Australia and he was to spend the best part of 50 years in his adopted country until he passed away in March 2021.
The late Scottish football manager, Tommy Docherty famously quipped that he, Docherty, had had “more clubs than Jack Nicklaus”. By the end of Mick Jones’s coaching career however, “The Doc” may have needed to share that dubious honour with the erudite Yorkshireman. Docherty found many ways to end his employment, including having an affair with the wife of the physiotherapist at Manchester United and severely abusing a referee while on an end of season tour of the Caribbean with Chelsea.
No such indiscretions cost Mick Jones his coaching jobs but despite successful stints with a number of clubs, standing up for his football principles was often the Jones “crime”. These principles, which included promoting young local born players over imported footballing journeymen and denying selection interference from club committee members, did not always sit well within the boardrooms of Australian football clubs, where professionalism often gave way to cronyism. Coincidentally, both Mick Jones and Tommy Docherty included coaching Pan Hellenic (later Sydney Olympic) in their extensive coaching resumés and Mick Jones briefly served as an assistant to the exuberant Scotsman at Rotherham United in 1967.
Born on 20th October 1935 in Doncaster, Yorkshire, Mick Jones grew up surrounded by professional football clubs. Aside from his home town club, Doncaster Rovers, there was Rotherham United, the Sheffield clubs, Wednesday and United and Michael Parkinson’s beloved Barnsley only half an hour’s drive from his Doncaster home. A little further north you could find Leeds United, Huddersfield and the two Bradford Clubs and Scunthorpe United was not too far away. Being immersed in a football environment, it is not surprising that Jones should pursue a career in football.
Upon leaving school and before turning his full attention to football, Mick worked in the Bentley and Conisbrough coal mines where the threat of accident and injury were ever present. He later found less risky employment working for an insurance company before chasing his love of football. At school Mick was a talented footballer, being picked at the age of 16 to play for Yorkshire boys and subsequently being selected to trial for England schoolboys. Jones was offered and turned down an apprenticeship with Derby County, preferring to join the ground staff at Doncaster Rovers.
At the age of 18 Mick was conscripted into the army to carry out national service. Unfortunately, Jones contracted rheumatic fever whilst enlisted and he was forced to leave the army. The prognosis was not good and the combined effect of the rheumatic fever and a serious knee injury suffered on an icy football pitch, brought Jones’s promising football career to an early end.
Mick Jones was determined to forge a career in football and he took up refereeing, gaining a senior certificate at the age of 20 before turning his attention to coaching. In 1960, aged 25, Jones obtained his Football Association (“F.A.”) preliminary coaching certificate, advancing to his full badge in 1963 at Loughborough College. Among those graduating in Jones’s coaching group was the future Chelsea, Queens Park Rangers and Manchester United manager, Dave Sexton.
Keen to put his newly acquired coaching skills to practical use, Mick Jones was appointed trainer / coach of International Harvesters, a works team in the Doncaster senior league. Jones then coached Frickley Colliery in the Cheshire League Division 1, with whom he won two successive championships. In March 1966, Jones was appointed manager of Bridlington Trinity in the premier Yorkshire League competition. Again, Jones was successful winning the championship with Trinity in both seasons under his tenure, as well as taking out two cup competitions over that period.
Mick Jones continued his ties with the English Football Association, assisting with coaching courses at Loughborough College and it was through the connection with the F.A. in late 1968, that Pan Hellenic came knocking. At the North Stafford Hotel in Stoke on Trent, Jones agreed to terms with Alex Georgiou, then secretary – manager of Pan Hellenic to coach the Sydney based NSW Federation Division 1 club.
For those not familiar with post war Australian club football, Pan Hellenic, were the best supported club in the NSW Soccer Federation with fanatical, but at times, tempestuous supporters. Pan Hellenic were keen to have Jones get on the boat as soon as possible and within weeks of arriving in Sydney, he guided the Greek sponsored club to the final of the 1969 Ampol Cup. Mick Jones’s Australian honeymoon however came to an abrupt end only two months later. Pan Hellenic’s supporters were impatient for success and when committee members sought to influence Jones’s team selection and there were rumblings of players being trained too hard, Jones and Pan Hellenic parted company.
It is difficult at any time to lose one’s job, but having uprooted his family and travelled half way around the world to suffer this ignominy, was particularly challenging for Mick Jones. As much as there is always employment uncertainty in being a football coach, there are always opportunities and almost immediately, another migrant supported NSW Division 1 club, Yugal – Ryde hired Jones. At the time Yugal were languishing a distant last in the competition however Jones was able to perform a great Houdini act, allowing the club to stave off relegation. This was achieved despite Yugal having lost star Yugoslav import Roko Ille, who was suspended for 12 months after having kicked the flamboyant, Croatian born referee Tony Boskovic.
Yugal – Ryde were keen to renew Jones’s contract at the end of the 1969 season but he was snapped up by Hakoah Eastern Suburbs, also playing in the top level of New South Wales football. For Jones, the Hakoah job was a plum appointment as the Jewish backed club counted numerous Australian internationals in their squad, including Ray Baartz, Peter Fuzes, Willie Rutherford, Dennis Yaager, Danny Walsh and former national team captain Alan Marnoch.
In 1970 under Mick Jones, Hakoah set a blistering pace at the top the NSW Federation Division 1 scoring 27 goals in their first five matches. Hakoah ultimately topped the table winning the minor premiership and were firm favourites to do the double by taking out the Grand Final. To the surprise of most, Hakoah stumbled at the last hurdle and a humiliating 6-3 loss to South Sydney Croatia saw them eliminated from Grand Final contention. Nevertheless, Mick Jones had enjoyed a very successful season and a new contract with Hakoah seemed a formality.
To Jones’s and most observer’s amazement, Hakoah declined to offer Jones a new contract. Undaunted and growing accustomed to adversity, Jones continued to work as Assistant Coaching Director for the NSW Federation and in 1972, he took control of second division Manly Warringah. In his first season, Jones missed out by one point in securing promotion for the Seasiders. He followed this up the following year having a similar outcome with Melita Eagles, just failing by a slender points margin to gain promotion for that club.
In 1974 Jones took over coaching Granville in the NSW Federation second division and in his first season in charge, Granville won promotion to the first division. The club was surprised by the immediate success of the team and many officials openly admitted that they didn’t really want promotion at that stage. Whether this was a factor or not, Granville did not retain Jones’s services despite the Magpies having topped the table. Now, disillusioned by the uncertainty of continued coaching in Sydney, Mick Jones moved to Perth briefly, didn’t settle there and returned to England to again coach his former club, Bridlington Trinity and assist at Doncaster Rovers..
The sunshine and Sydney’s northern beaches drew Jones back to Australia for good in September 1977 and he was appointed coach of Ku-ring-gai in the NSW Federation Division 2 for the 1978 season. Yet again, Jones was immediately successful, with Kur-ing-gai topping the league and the club being promoted to the first division.
Always chasing new horizons, Mick Jones was signed by State League Division 1 club Toongabbie (to become Blacktown City) for the 1979 season. The club finished a creditable fourth in Jones’s first year and then Blacktown City were unexpectedly promoted to the Phillips (National) Soccer League at the expense of Sydney Olympic. Given little chance of survival, the national league newcomers under Jones, held their own with the 42 year old former Manchester United star Bobby Charlton making one guest appearance for Blacktown, contributing a goal in a 4-2 win against St. George.
The 1980 season concluded and Blacktown City’s committee advised Jones that they did not want a full time coach in 1981. They also notified Jones that they wished to have a say in the recruitment of players for the upcoming season. Unable to accept these terms, Jones once more packed his bags and signed with Manly Warringah for a second stint. During this period with Manly, the club hosted an exhibition match against the local Dee Why side, who included another former Manchester United superstar, 37 year old George Best, in their line up.
Jones remained at Manly until the close of the 1983 season and in 1984 he received an S.O.S. from National Soccer League club Sydney Croatia, following the sacking of Attila Abonyi, Croatia’s then coach. The challenge that Jones was to face at Croatia was exemplified by club president Tony Topic’s comment following the dismissal of Abonyi. Topic was quoted as saying that “Abonyi may have been a Yugoslav by birth (he was actually Hungarian) but he was not Croatian”. How then would an Englishman cope at a Croatian sponsored club? Jones’s second match in charge of Croatia saw their first win under his tutelage and president Topic jubilantly said after the game “I always knew English coaches were the best in the world”. The following week Mick Jones resigned as Sydney Croatia coach after beer bottles were hurled at him and his car tyres slashed by disgruntled club “supporters”. Is it any wonder that Jones was just one of six different coaches engaged by Sydney Croatia in the 1984 season?
Mick Jones made a triumphant return to (Parramatta) Melita Eagles in 1985, guiding the club to a 4-0 victory over Fairy Meadow in Melita’s first ever Grand Final success. Jones announced that he would be retiring from coaching after the Grand Final and inspired by two goals from the prolific goalscorer Barry Walker and one each from John Davies and Peter Hensman, Melita gave Mick Jones a deserving send off after a most eventful sixteen year, ten club Australian coaching career.
Mick Jones left the game quietly to enjoy retirement on his beloved Sydney northern beaches. He loved music and was a more than competent keyboard player and singer. As a football coach, Jones was not one to engage in histrionics nor melodrama or seek publicity. Among the very early ” tracksuit” managers, Mick Jones knew coaching, he knew football and he would never compromise his footballing principles. Jones enjoyed coaching success with many clubs both in Australia and England and will be remembered fondly by the football community. Mick Jones gained the respect of his players from the respect that he gave them and the manner in which he treated them. A footballer can ask for no more from their mentor.
In recent years I was fortunate to be able to chat with Mick and we both lamented the changes that modern football has brought, each of us longing for the return of “the good old days”. We both acknowledged though, that like the Yorkshire collieries, football as we knew it no longer existed but at least we still had wonderful memories of the Bobby Charltons and the George Bests – not as 42 year old or 37 year old football has beens on the superannuation circuit, but as enduring examples of the best that the our football has to offer.
David Jack © 2022