Exclusive: Celebrated former Melbourne Victory and Newcastle Jets A-League coach Ernie Merrick says he is not ready to retire just yet and is open to a return to coaching in professional football.
Merrick, who has been coaching down under for more than 40 years and won two A-League premierships and two grand finals with Melbourne Victory, has been without a job since leaving Newcastle Jets in early 2020.
The 68-year-old has coached in both the NSL and the A-League, and has been named A-League coach of the year twice. And he insists he is not ready to put away the clipboard just yet.
“It would be nice to be back in coaching but I’m not in charge of that kind of thing,” Merrick told FTBL.
“It’s a case of if an opportunity comes along, not necessarily as a head coach, I wouldn’t mind helping out other coaches. I‘m doing that with Football Coaches Australia at the moment.
“I’m sort of their technical advisor-cum ambassador and I’ve been running some webinars. I’ve been just trying to help other coaches develop and grow, and so if a job comes up, it comes up. That’s just how it is.
“But I can’t really complain because I’ve been coaching full-time for a long time – 13 years at the VIS, two NSL clubs prior to that, and then Victory and 384 games later in the A-League.
“[However] I don’t see the point in putting on the slippers, buying a dressing gown and a pipe. I’m too active for that sort of nonsense.”
Apart from helping Football Australia Coaches Australia, Merrick has spent his time away from football 4WD driving across the outback and recently joined the Twitterverse.
“I joined Twitter because someone asked me if I was retired, and I said you’re about the fourth person who’s asked me that,” he admitted.
“I said I’m too young to retire, I haven’t even peaked yet, why would I retire? I’m too full of energy, I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve been in lockdown and it’s been pretty difficult for me, but a lot more difficult for many others than myself.
"But I’m pretty keen to keep working. It would be nice to stay in Melbourne but if I got an opportunity to go somewhere would probably look closely at it and have to convince my wife to go on another sojourn.
"I quite like the idea of helping other coaches.”
Merrick has been based in Australia since he left Scotland in 1975 to play for Frankston City. He went on to coach Preston Lions, Sunshine George Cross, at the VIS and then at Victory when the A-League launched in 2005.
Merrick then coached the national team of Hong Kong before spells with Wellington Phoenix and most recently Newcastle.
“I arrived in Australia in 1975 when I was 22 when I realised I was never going to play for Rangers or Celtic,” he said.
“I never looked back. I love the country. Six years I was at Victory, which is a unique club. That was terrific and we played in three grand finals. Then you get sacked, but it was a sort of a mutual termination.
“I walked about from Hong Kong because there was no real opportunity to develop the team, there was too many restrictions placed on me by board members.
“Phoenix was great, to take a club that was struggling and to take them up to third and score more goals and get more points then they’d ever had before. That was great fun as well.
“But after three and a half years I had to walk out because it’s a team that’s always going to struggle because all the players that do well go to bigger clubs, and the travelling is just horrendous.
“So that affects your results and the worst thing is when there’s an international of course as I would lose up to eight players with the Kiwis. One game I lost eight players to go and play for New Zealand. So I thought this is too difficult.
"But I really enjoyed my time there, but it was time to go.”
Merrick was appointed to the Jets and took them to a second place finish and a spot in the grand final in 2019, which they controversially lost to Victory because of a VAR error.
With the club suffering severe financial difficulties, he was sacked in January last year.
Merrick concedes his exit from Newcastle has left a “bad taste” in his mouth.
“Newcastle came up and they’d been at the bottom of the table for eight years I think,” he said.
“And the first year I took over we got to the grand final and finished second in the league, and you know what happened in the grand final with the VAR. But it was a good year, we played really well.
“And then in the next 12 month period seven of the starting XI left the club for one reason or another. It was either a transfer for money or someone who wanted to go back home.
"We even lost Andrew Nabbout in the January window to Urawa Reds, and he was our top goalscorer.
“So 12 months later without more than half the team, and most of them were strikers – Joey Champness, Roy O’Donovan left and then came after I left, Ronny Vargas. I thought Riley McGree was a huge miss, our goalkeeper Jack Duncan.
“Then you struggle, then you get injuries and before you know it you haven’t got a team. So 12 months later after another season when we’re finished just outside the finals, we did really well to finish seventh.
“And then the next year we were struggling at the start of the season and I get sacked and you just go – well, you’ve just got to accept it as a coach and just get on with it. But I think Newcastle has got tremendous potential.
“It’s a real football and league town. Everyone’s so supportive, the crowd’s were fantastic, the people were great and I felt nothing but support from the fans. I got on really well with the chairman.
“He had trouble because of the new laws in China in getting out to the club but I thought he was a really positive influence on the club, I won’t say who I was disappointed by. But I think there was five coaches in five years over a period of time.
“So they went from second in the league, playing in a grand final, to just missing out on the finals and finishing seventh, and all the players were going left right and centre and there was no money and it all fell apart. And the coach is the first to go.
“I found that really disappointing… Newcastle’s a bad taste in your mind kind of club. You go away thinking what happened there? But I’m pretty resilient. I think you have to be as a coach."