When John Illand was appointed manager of “Town” Under-12 team in 1986 nobody could have foreseen the impact his appointment would have on club affairs. He brought an enthusiasm and commitment to the task and half an hour spent in his company leaves one feeling enthused, fired up and wondering what one can do to help him achieve his objectives. This article was originally published in 1995.
Although his charges have won the Under 12 league on four occasions John has never been a ‘pot-hunter’. He has always considered that the game was never introduced with the intention of producing a ‘win at all costs’ mentality or satisfying the egos of parents or coaches.
He is deeply concerned that an over-emphasis on competitions for children, where winning becomes the goal rather than the development of skills, is killing their enjoyment of the game. He believes that it is in the formative years that the initial love of soccer should be engendered, early skills developed and the fundamentals of good sportsmanship inculcated.
His pioneering of the mini-soccer concept, where players of all abilities can display their talents, has led to the restructure of the Club’s approach to underage football. Today the club caters for in excess of 200 boys whose ages range from 5 to 14 and a considerable part of John’s spare time is devoted to his involvement with these young players instilling disciplines and skills. He talks of them with the same warm enthusiasm, noting their development with an almost paternal interest.
John is a shrewd man whose thinking is based on a firm grasp of reality. He appreciates that in soccer change takes place constantly. New ideas, tactics and attitudes are always being embraced. Theose who fail to adapt or come to terms with different times and conditions are left behind. With John at the helm there is little chance of “Town” being left behind.
What were your biggest thrills in the game?
Celtic winning the European Cup in 1967. The team of home Scots assembled by Jock Stein took on the might of Inter Milan and played them off the park. The quality and style with which they played is now legendary. On a local level my biggest thrills were “Town’s” Irish Junior Cup win and seeing our Colts turn out for the first time in the Celtic hoops.
What was your biggest disappointment in the game?
Celtic losing the European Cup Final in 1970.
What are your favourite grounds?
Celtic Park, Glasgow and Celtic Park Enniskillen!!
Who is your favourite “Town” player of the past?
My favourite “Town” player of the past is Gerard Connolly. He tells me every week just how good he was!!!
Which present day players do you most admire?
Barry Corrigan who has the potential to be “Town’s” best ever. If he can achieve the consistency lacking in previous years the scouts will be queuing up. Of the younger players Mark Connolly who has the potential to be another Gary Beckett. Ronan McCabe, at present on the fringes, will be our future jewel in the crown.
What was the best goal you have ever seen scored?
Billy McNeill’s winner versus Vojuodina in the European cup quarter final at Celtic Park in 1967. He had tried the same move three times but each time he was blocked by the opposing centre-half. With one minute to go and the scores level he again came forward but it was pushed out by the centre-half and turned as if to go upfield. As the corner came across he made a late run and powered a header high into the net. The referee blew for full time, the crown erupted and cheered for 20 minutes until the team came back onto the field.
What other sports do you enjoy?
Golf – I’ll take it up seriously when I get older – a long time from now. Badminton – it’s a bit too strenuous for me now. I enjoy watching most sports.
What are your hopes for next season?
For “Town” to achieve the consistency necessary to win the league and to see the Youth members on the team or its fringes make the breakthrough.
What are your long term ambitions?
To have a “Town” player sign for Celtic, to win the Irish Youth Cup and to try to improve the quality of coaching for the Colts.