Former Welsh Premier League goalkeeper thrilled with Latvian managerial experience
Tony McMullen might well be a name familiar to a few in Welsh domestic football.
However, few will know the whereabouts of the ex TNS goalkeeper now, who has since taken an unconventional path within the game.
After a spell in Wales and North West of England Tony McMullen took up an opportunity in Riga, Latvia, where the goalkeeper ended up playing and coaching.
The goalkeeper turned out in the second division and coaches the ladies side, but the former TNS, Porthmadog, Mold and Buckley thoroughly enjoyed his time in Wales.
“I enjoyed playing in Wales; I spent most of my career playing in the Welsh system. I only left to play in England when I thought an opportunity was too big to turn down, like when I went to play for clubs like Winsford Northwich and Alsager.”
The keeper’s start in Welsh football when he was handed a week long trial with current JD Welsh Premier League champions TNS back in 2005, at the same time the club were expecting to find out their Champions League opponents.
However being second choice goalkeeper for the club restricted the keeper to limited minutes.
“I was at TNS in 2005 when I attended a weeks trial, initially, which turned into me staying until the next year. I was on trial when we drew Liverpool in the Champions League.
We were actually training on the Vauxhall Motors pitch when the draw was being made. John Lawless was getting treatment for an injury, I think, but he must’ve been following the draw. I will always remember him running out onto the pitch, screaming that we had just drawn Liverpool (he’s a big red). Being involved with the club at that time, with all the media was both very special and surreal. Unfortunately for me, I had Ged Doherty in front of me which meant my chances were limited at TNS.”
However, the keeper has enjoyed greater stints in the first team at various clubs. The keeper highlights the work of former Conwy Borough manger Gareth Thomas, Halkyn’s Dave Abraham and TNS’ Ken McKenna but he insists every manager and coach has their strengths and weaknesses.
“I’ve played for some great and not so great coaches. I couldn’t single anyone out really, it would be unfair. Every coach has strengths and weaknesses and over the years I have taken that experience to use for my own development as a coach.
I’ve played under coaches like Pez (Gareth Thomas) for different clubs, Sedgy. I had a great time playing under Dave Abraham at Halkyn and Stan, Gaz and Gav and Penycae.
Ken McKenna at TNS was obviously a big character who was great to play for. Andy Cale was doing most of the coaching and he was technically very good and knowledgeable, ahead of the time really. We never even had a GK coach, instead, having to go to Wrexham once or twice a week.”
McMullen can’t see himself returning back to the UK anytime soon however, despite his stints in both England and Wales.
The shot stopper even turned down an opportunity to go to a Scottish Championship club last season.
“I wouldn’t return back to the UK to be honest. That’s just from a personal point of view and lifestyle choice. I had an opportunity to go to a Scottish league club last season as 1st team GK Coach. Even that wasn’t enough to turn my head to return to the UK.”
Despite the desire to remain within Latvia, McMullen believes the system is not that different to Wales and believes the quality is quite even between the two nations.
“I would say the pyramid systems in Wales and Latvia are fairly similar. Although I’m sure there will be more teams in Wales. I also think the standard is fairly similar. The top teams in wales would be a match for the top teams in Latvia. I could also probably say that for the top 3 pyramid tiers.”
Moving to Riga three years has been crucial in his career and his personal life, and it has been an experience he has enjoyed.
“Yes, moving to Latvia has turned out to be a great decision for me, both professionally and personally. Justin Walley gave me the opportunity to come over and help him with Riga United Ladies team, who play in the top division here. That led me into taking over from Justin and trying to continue the hard work that had been put in.
Women’s football is different to men’s football and you have to be open enough to adapt and change coaching styles. It was certainly challenging, but I enjoyed my time coaching the ladies and remain friends with most of them since I departed the club. I would be more than willing to work in the women’s game, yes. I just see footballers when I’m coaching, not gender.”
The experience has offered him the potential to grow and progress as a coach, and Walley has even gone on to coach internationally.
“Justin actually went on to Coach Matabelend (Western Zimbabwe) and took them to the CONIFA World Football in London last year. He has a book published about his journey, “One Football, No Nets””
But McMullen has had his own coaching experiences he can now boast about as he currently manages FK Aliance in the second tier.
“Yes, currently I’m Head Coach of FK Aliance in the Latvian second league. We narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season, having actually been 2nd before our last game. We lost that game, despite dominating, results went against us and we missed out on a play-off place.
It’s a short season and a tight league. Ultimately, we had too many draws during the season. My objective was to get into the play-offs and so the season as seen by me, as a failure. Having said that, I feel the group has improved and the club are improving all the time off the pitch. I have high hopes for next season.”
But, he has aspirations to continue to improve and to coach at the final level, and he believes that will be more likely given that opportunity he took up those years ago when he decided to leave the UK.
“Personally I want to coach to the highest level I can get to. It’s exactly the same as when I was playing – go as high as you can. I will more than likely achieve that goal as a GK Coach. That is where my experience lies and ultimately, my passion. I have proven I am willing to travel and am a better coach for experiencing a different country, culture and lifestyle.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Jānis Kleperis