Home » John Hutchinson on the best and worst of Australian football

John Hutchinson on the best and worst of Australian football

He started his professional career as a 16 yo in Morwell after being identified by Frank Arok, became a legend at the Mariners and is now enjoying a successful coaching career overseas.

Hutcho has seen the best and the worst of Australian football. He was part of the Northern Spirit team at the death of the old NSL that survived on creative grocery shopping and Lawrie McKinna’s barbeques.

He was part of the Mariners’ very successful years under Lawrie and then Arnie.

He’s played Asian Champions League and a couple of internationals for Malta.

He’s done the rounds of Australia, America and Japan as a coach and is starting to really find his feet under Harry Kewell at Yokohama F Marinos. It’s a long way from the dark days at Spirit when he very nearly gave professional football away.

According to Lawrie McKinna, Hutcho had had a gutful of trying to make a living in Australian football and had to be convinced to join the Mariners in their inaugural season. He wound up staying ten years and remains many fans’ favourite ever Mariner.

The following story exemplifies how much Hutcho gave to the Mariners and (probably) why he was so revered.

A couple of games into the Championship season (Arnie’s second in charge) Hutch (the captain) felt something wrong in his groin. He spoke with Andrew Nealon (physio) and eventually learned that he had a condition called Osteitis Pubis which could only be fixed with surgery – meaning his season was over. Or, he could just keep playing through the pain, knowing the condition was a ticking timebomb.

He elected to keep playing and the condition got worse and worse over the course of the season – somehow enabled by large doses of anti-inflammatories. Incredibly, at the start, Arnie was not informed of the problem but eventually found out. By this time the Mariners were navigating the semi finals and Asian Champions League group stages so he had no option but to keep going. It was agony.

To make matters significantly worse, he injured his ankle very badly in a training game the day before the Grand Final. While lying on the ground – in front of hordes of media – Arnie told him to get up and at least stay on his feet until the media pack could be cleared out. This he (somehow) managed to do and when he got home his ankle was the size of a football and an interesting shade of purple.

Andrew Clark (fitness guru and trainer) told him there was no way he was playing, but Hutch said: “I am captain and I’m definitely playing. I’ll have two painkilling injections before the game … strap it up. Then have another painkiller at halftime. I’ll just play as long as I can.”

He played the whole game with an injured groin and an ankle held together with sticky tape, but the Mariners won their first ever Grand Final and Hutch was able to celebrate the win. The day after arriving home from round 16 of the ACL he underwent a bilateral groin reconstruction with double hernia surgery.

At the end of his playing days he was offered a coaching role under Tony Walmsley, then after Walmsley departed – Hutch chatted with Shaun about the top job.

At that point, coaching the Mariners was his dream job, but he felt he wasn’t ready so turned it down thinking he would be kept on as an assistant. Paul Okon, however, had other ideas and Hutch was sacked without Okon ever speaking a word to him. (He was caretaker manager at the time and his Mariners team was undefeated in pre-season.)

Coaching was in his blood, however, so he jetted off to take up an offer at Seattle in the MLS. From there he was invited back to Australia to be one of Marko Rudan’s assistants in Western United’s first season.

Seattle beckoned again after getting an opportunity with the 1st team as assistant, but shortly after arriving in Jan 2020 Covid hit and the MLS season was a bit of a write off.

Mid 2020 he reached out to Ange for some advice and was told to stick it out overseas as long as he could, then in October of 2020 Ange called back.

No-one says no to Ange Postecoglou so (despite Covid) Hutch found himself in Japan at Yokohama F Marinos – a successful club under one of the world’s great managers. It was a learning curve.

After Ange left for Celtic, Kevin Muscat took over and despite finishing 2nd that year, Muscat relieved John of his duties which then led him to head coach/manager at El Paso in the American second division.

It was quite a change going from the pressure cooker environment at Yokohama to the much more laid back situation in El Paso, and while he and his family thoroughly enjoyed Western Texas it wasn’t where he could see his future for different reasons.

He was soon back in Japan at Yokohama FC with an all Japanese coaching staff which was challenging but a great adventure.

Then Marinos called. They wanted him back.

It was an easy decision to accept their offer to come back to Marinos – and this time he didn’t even have to move house or change schools for the kids.

Hutch is thoroughly enjoying his Head Coach role under Harry Kewell’s management and says that Harry is a wonderful bloke – very driven – with a clear philosophy on how football should be played. At time of writing they are 2 – 1 up after the first leg of the ACL final. Winning the ACL would be a massive achievement for Harry and Hutch – especially given they both require translators to get their message across.

I asked Hutch whether he could ever see himself back at the Mariners – where he is still loved – and his response was sobering for A League fans.

Whenever there is a vacancy for a manager in the A League, he can expect a call, but the A league and J league are worlds apart for coaches. His team plays in front of tens of thousands of rabid fans every week and they play up to 55 games a year.

The quality of the league (and the facilities) are so far beyond the A League that any Australian manager would jump at the chance to be in Hutcho’s shoes.

I asked if he could ever see Australia catching up and he was pessimistic. The APL seems to be in a bit of a shambles at the moment and the AFL and NRL get so much money from government and so much media support despite the disproportion of people involved in football in Australia compared with the other codes.

Until the football community unites and mobilises to lobby government (and others) for a decent share of the sports funding pie, we will be struggling.

Not Hutcho though. One of Australian football’s true nice guys has very much landed on his feet and many of us will continue to follow his journey with interest.

 

Adrian’s books can be purchased at any good bookstore or through ebook alchemy. His first sci-fi novel (Asparagus Grass) was published by Hague Publishing in July 2023. The ebook can be purchased here and the paperback can be ordered here or at your local store.