NEW: JACK BRAZIL INTERVIEW!
Jack Brazil, who’s 20, spent the summer as head coach of the Mongolian Premier League side Bayangol FC. He is about to start the second year of a sports science degree at Coventry University. Here, he talks about life in Ulan Bator – and the glare of the Mongolian media…
When I walked through arrivals at the airport in Mongolia, it was a real “wow” moment”. Mongolian TV is doing a reality show about the team, and so when I arrived, there was a camera crew in my face. I’d only been in the country 20 minutes, and I’m being interviewed by the telly. Later, I did an hour-long interview for them. It was full-on.
Coaching in the national stadium was another experience. We were playing FC Ulaanbataar in a friendly. I thought: “Hang on, I’m in a national stadium, managing against a FIFA-affiliated team…how did this happen?” And we came very close to beating them – we were 3-0 down, pulled it back to 3-2, and came very, very close in the last ten minutes.
Last summer, before I started uni, I was supposed to go to the Turks and Caicos to work with their FA. I’d emailed their technical director, and he said there was a coach transfer programme. But it fell through at the last minute. I ended up working in a restaurant and doing kids coaching. I thought: “I don’t want to do this next summer.”
I emailed every FA in the world. I sent them my CV, explained what I wanted to do, and told them I was passionate. And then I read an article about Paul Watson, who’d gone to coach Pohnpei in Micronesia, and wrote a book about it. Below the article was a comment from Enkhjin Bastumber – a Mongolian guy who wanted to get in touch with Paul.
Enkhjin wanted to revolutionise Mongolian football. He wanted to set up a new league that allowed everyone to play, rather than those that paid the right amount. So the Mongolian Premier League, which has 16 teams, is separate to the Mongolian Football Federation’s league, which has seven teams. I added Enkhjin on Facebook and sent him a message.
Enkhjin brought Paul Watson out to Mongolia in the winter to set up Bayangol FC. He was doing trials, doing the futsal training, but he left earlier this year. So Enkhjin got in touch with me, and said: “The vacancy is there, would you be interested?”
When Enkhjin put the money in my account to fly out, I was excited – and very nervous. I knew I couldn’t speak the language, and not many people speak English. And the weather is a challenge – one minute it’s hot, the next it’s dropped 15 celsius and you’re standing around in five degrees. But I didn’t want to keep myself in my comfort zone, like I had last summer. I wasn’t paid, but I was offered flights, food, and accommodation.
We flew into Mongolia over the steppe. I see little gers, little huts, and I think: “What have I thrown myself into?” Enkhjin sorted me an apartment five minutes from the main square in Ulan Bator, but when I moved in I was like: “What is this?” I was sleeping on a camp bed with a sun lounger mattress on. Luckily, there was an English guy making a documentary over there, and for the first week he lived with me. He showed me the sights, showed me a few bars, places I could make friends. He was a really good guy.
There isn’t much to do in Ulan Bator. There are several cinemas, bowling, an amusement park, but not much else. So you either stay in and put a film on, or you go out and meet your local friends. The problem is, the locals drink a lot. If I’m training at 7.30 in the morning, I can’t really join in with that. A few times I went out and sat there with a glass of water.
When I came out, they wanted to train three times a week. But for me, if you want to create a professional footballer, you have to step it up. So I started a five-day programme – three football sessions, a recovery session, a fitness session, then a game every week. The league started this weekend, but sadly I had to come home early, as my granddad’s not well.
We played two friendlies against teams from the Football Federation’s league. We lost one 3-2 (against FC Ulaanbataar) and lost another 6-2. We also played in a tournament that was indicative of the state of Mongolian football. It was advertised as 8-a-side on a large pitch, and it was actually 9-a-side on what was – in British terms – a 7-a-side pitch.
The culture in Mongolia is completely different. You’d call training for 7.30am, and there’d be people turning up at 8.30 or 9. It’s a laid-back, relaxed way of life – nothing like England. The standard isn’t bad – there’s some technically very good players, and they understand the game – but there isn’t the physicality. And their lifestyles aren’t great.
After one training session, I wanted to see how hydrated the players were. So I gave them water bottles, told them to go off and wee in them, and see what colour it was. The majority came back the colour of coffee. They weren’t hydrated at all. It really opened my eyes. Some of the players had jobs; others just lived at home with their parents.
Because of my dad’s role in football, I’ve always been interested in coaching (Gary Brazil is a former pro who managed Notts County and Nottingham Forest). Since I was young I’ve been inside football clubs. I’ve been very, very lucky to watch really good managers and coaches, and I did a year as a sports science intern at Nottingham Forest before uni. I knew by the age of 13 or 14 that I wasn’t going to be a player, so I decided to coach.
My dad is really, really supportive. He always said: “Do what you want to do.” If that’s play, play; if that’s coach, coach; if that’s go into business, do that. But he wanted me to get my degree first. It’s an unforgiving industry – you can be in and out of a job within six months, which my dad knows only too well. So you need something to fall back on.
If I go back to Mongolia next year, I don’t want to do the same as before. I want to progress. So I might take my uni team on a tour there, as well as coaching Bayangol. I want to show the Mongolian players a higher standard. There has never been a professional Mongolian footballer in Europe – there’s been one in the Thai second division – so Enkhjin wants to create Mongolian pros for Asian and European teams. That’s the dream.
I’d love to coach abroad again. It’s got a real pull for me. England would be lovely, it’s where the big boys are, but realistically, the opportunity isn’t there for a 20-year-old coach. I’ve also realised that coaches need a second language – Enkhjin translated for me in Mongolia, but if you want to work abroad, you need at least one other language.
This year, I’ve been given the head football activator role at Coventry University. That involves encouraging players at all levels, and coaching the seconds or the thirds. Last year I coached the fourth team – working alongside a manager, as they didn’t want a fresher running a team on his own. So yeah, Coventry Uni fourths to Mongolian Premier League was a big leap.