These days, Eddie Wolecki-Black is enjoying a growing profile as the manager of Glasgow City Ladies’ Football Club. City are arguably the top woman’s side in the country and Wolecki has taken much of the credit for achieving success through a flowing, high tempo system. The approach is aimed at entertaining the fans, while the players are not afraid of making – and learning – from mistakes.
As City coach, Wolecki is an unashamed evangelist of the Barcelona method: building a core of players from the youngest levels, training them intensively with the ball, and building the full footballing skill-set from an early stage. By the time the players are in their late teens, they are ready for the first team and have developed a profound understanding of their own job and how it fits in to the broader team ethic.
Through the unprecedented recent television exposure for the women’s game (both in a fly-on-the-wall TV documentary of City’s run in the Champions League last season, and the GB womens’ team at the Olympics) and his role as a columnist with The Sun, this is a coach whose stature is rising and who will be in demand in the coming seasons.
However, the route Wolecki took to achieve his current position is littered with brief successes, false starts and wrong turns. During our two-hour conversation, he is unsparingly honest in his analysis of his own playing career in the SFL and Highland League and his subsequent development as both a youth team coach and a first team manager. Given his high profile in the women’s game, this is a story that is now often forgotten or overlooked, but is a tale that must be understood if one is to gain a rounded understanding of the man.
“I first became noticed at youth level and was invited to train with the S forms at Dundee United when Jim McLean was the first team manager,” explains Wolecki. “I enjoyed my sessions there. However, the club decided I wasn’t up to the standard at the time.
“Of course, I tried to pretend it was OK, but deep down I was gutted and I turned my back on the game for a couple of years. But looking back on it now, I actually agree with the decision. I just wasn’t up to the standard of the players that were already there.”
The young Eddie Wolecki slowly worked his way back into the game after a short absence. He was invited by a friend to play in the Dundee amateurs, then by joining his uncle, Charlie Fairfield, at Dundee St Josephs, a now-defunct junior side.
“Charlie invited me there and I did well for him, scoring a fair few goals,” he recalls. “I began enjoying myself again playing football, and after a couple of decent seasons I went to Lochee Harp. They were the top junior side in the city at that time. From the Harp, I was asked to go to Brechin City, and I spent six months there but I couldn’t get near the first team. Brechin were in the First Division, managed by John Ritchie, and they had an established front pair in Gordon Lees and Paul Ritchie.
“I was in the reserves, playing alongside Ian Paterson, who went on to become a top scorer for City in the nineties. I enjoyed it, keeping myself fit and scoring a lot for the reserves, but Brechin ended up being relegated that season [1990-91] and the deal that was on the table for me to sign was withdrawn as the club now had a smaller budget for the Second Division. So I went back to the Joeys and helped them finish their season.
“Around this time Montrose came in for me,” Wolecki continues. “I had a trial match against the Brechin reserves, believe it or not, and I scored a hat-trick. Montrose signed me, as they had just won promotion to Division One.
“I had a great pre-season that year and was on a really hot streak – I got hat-tricks in pre-season and was man of the match for the first game in Division One at Links Park, against Hamilton Academical. Although I picked up a knock early that season, I was a regular in that side under Doug Rougvie and Chic McLelland, the co-managers.
“You have to remember that Montrose were a part-time team then too, and there were three other fully part-time sides in the league at that time in Forfar Athletic, Meadowbank Thistle, and Stirling Albion. At Christmas, I was injured again but we were top of that league of three or four part-time teams, and well clear of the relegation places. That really was success for us.”
However, ambitious Montrose chairman Bryan Keith, an Aberdeen-based double-glazing tycoon, saw things differently. He had invested heavily in Montrose and felt the club should be challenging for promotion to the Premier Division instead of being content with steering clear of the relegation places. Whilst Wolecki was recovering from his injury niggle, the co-managers were suddenly dismissed and replaced by the high-profile Jim Leishman.