Fulham United’s new Juniors Coordinator, Michael Consalvo, spoke to The Inner Sanctum about his plan to make the club a desirable destination for Western suburb families.
Fulham United has been present in the Western suburbs of Adelaide since establishing itself as an amateur club in 1970, originally under the name “Western United.” The club joined South Australia’s women’s competition in 1997, with the men’s senior team gaining semi-professional status by joining the Football South Australia competitions in 2016, earning promotion to State League One in its second season where it finds itself today.
The club introduced its juniors’ program in 2007, and under the leadership of John Harpas, it became one of the most popular junior clubs in the Western suburbs of Adelaide. As the years went on, Fulham’s popularity slowly dwindled, and after Harpas stepped down from the position he occupied from the inception of the juniors’ program, Michael Consalvo, who has two of his own kids playing for the club, was tasked with filling his shoes.
Consalvo praised Harpas for his work growing the Juniors program but admitted his predecessor felt like it was time for a different set of eyes and a fresh perspective to have a go after an extensive spell of time spent under his leadership. Consalvo feels like he has been well prepared for the role, by observing and contributing to the Juniors’ Committee for the past six years.
Consalvo wants to make Fulham the premier club for junior development in the Western suburbs once again. To achieve that, he plans on improving the club’s retention rate of young players.
“I want the club to be the club of choice in the Western suburbs, I want Fulham United not to be viewed as an amateur club anymore,” Consalvo shared.
“I want us to be viewed as a professional club which is where you want to take your children to develop and receive an opportunity. I can list off at least a page, if not more, of players that commenced their journey at Fulham United and are playing at a higher level across Adelaide. If we had even half of those players playing with our senior group it would be a different story.”
Fulham remains a popular club when it comes to the Under 6 – Under 11 MiniRoos groups, but over the last few years it has lost players as they enter their crucial teenage stage of development, with the hard work of the club being capitalised and appreciated by local competitors.
“A lot of other clubs are really happy when they have Fulham players come to their trials because they know that they are good players. I have had comments from other clubs like, ‘We love the players that come from Fulham because they’ve been taught well.’”
Consalvo feels that players excelling at their current level need to be challenged for their own benefit. The extension the club provides them has to be a club-wide focus, but it could boost development, motivation, and commitment to the club which provides them with opportunities.
Fulham currently boasts one of the youngest Under 18 and Reserve squads in the competition, and that is no coincidence. Instead, it is an initiative from the club to ensure players are recognised for their talent, and then physically and mentally stimulated by pushing for opportunities at a higher level internally.
“The senior coaches watch and see what is happening in the Under 17s all the way down to the Under 15s, they may even have an Under 14s player in their squad at the moment as well! The boys need to see this, and they do see this, and it gives them something to aspire to.
“I am currently involved as a manager of the Under 14s squad because my youngest son is in that squad, and the message that the coach is giving to those boys is, ‘Guys, by the end of next year you are going to be watched by the Under 18s coaches because they are going to come and take the best players into their squads.’
“They won’t necessarily play there every week, but they’ll be in that type of squad and environment. That is how I think we are going to be able to retain our quality and then become more competitive as well. People are going to see that you are going to get an opportunity at Fulham.”
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Fulham is still only a few months into its overhaul, and despite early signs of success, Consalvo wants to ensure that everyone at the club is heading in the same direction, and that the benefit of the individual players’ development is considered ahead of self-interest.
To ensure the path is clear for a focus on football, Consalvo’s redrawing of the club structure has separated the Operations side of the club from the Football side, while also introducing Age Coordinators to support and mediate communication between coaches and parents, and ensure a smoother transition for the club’s players.
“The football side is the drive. I have tried to make it clear that we exist because of football, we don’t exist for the social component, that comes after. If our football side is good the social will follow, and the community will follow.
“The coordinators are the link to the rest of the coaches to ensure that we are all going in the same direction. We want to be successful as teams, but we want to develop those individuals. We will meet with those coordinators regularly and these are the types of things we will discuss.”
With the club expecting growth for both its male and female teams on the back of the Women’s World Cup, its focus turns to consolidating and building on that growth. That is where Consalvo believes the club can do a better job listening.
“Our intention is to meet with all the parent groups individually and to express this direction to them so they understand where we are headed, but to also seek their feedback on what their expectations are this year, then meet with them towards the end of the year and ask if we met those expectations and what we could do differently.
“These are things that the club has never really done before, we’ve got to be a little bit vulnerable and open up a little bit, but I think that to grow you need to hard truths sometimes, and you’ve got to take it constructively.”
He is still in the early days of his tenure as Juniors Coordinator, but Consalvo’s goal is to make parents feel like he felt when he signed his kids up to the club eight years ago.
“About eight years ago, when I came to Fulham for my children, the feeling about Fulham was that that was the place to be if you wanted your kid to develop, and it was. I am pretty sure that we had the most registration out of all the Western clubs, we may have actually had the most registrations out of any club, it was thriving especially on the boys’ side.”
A strong Fulham United would only benefit the junior development in a very busy catchment area in the Western side of Adelaide. Most importantly, just like Fulham feels the need to raise its game now, other clubs will be forced to act accordingly when the competition strengthens.
The winner of clubs having the self-awareness and vulnerability to make moves like this is the next generation of South Australian footballers that will come across a club that is willing to proactively provide them with opportunities for years to come.
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