“The most exciting part is having a blank canvas”.
Craig Lees prior to commencing at the Coburg Lions as the new General Manager was wary of the tough road ahead, nevertheless, was excited to start his journey as this new chapter was full of thrilling potential.
Craig definitely has a successful repertoire in regards to his career with football. Like many young boys, Craig stared playing at a young age, but interestingly enough rather than playing, Craig had more enjoyment in coaching and ultimately being intrustmental in helping young aspiring footballers reach their full potential with football.
At 16, Craig was coaching and concluded early on that coaching and mentoring young boys was his perfect fit
“As a kid I loved watching others improve rather than playing the actual game. I love the fact that you can see a kid develop through the season and see where they are from the beginning to the end of season, it’s really rewarding and essentially the way footy began for me”.
Before commencing as the new general manager at the Coburg Lions, Craig spent time at the Eastern Rangers, Casey Scorpions, St Kilda and lastly Melbourne Football Club where he spent the last five years taking on the role as a player development manager, which proved to be extremely fitting and enjoyable.
Craig enjoys assisting the players in perfecting their role as a football player.
“I like seeing how the boys transition into the game, as well as working closely to maintain their life balance from footy to their networks. My job was to essentially help them find their pace with footy and everything else around them”.
Soon after finishing with Melbourne, good friend Peter German who was already appointed as senior coach for the new stand alone Lions was adamant in securing Craig as the new general manager as they previously spent time together at Casey and built a strong relationship.
The exciting aspect was both Craig and Germo had the same vision to make the new version of Coburg Lions nothing but successful.
“Germo and I have a strong relationship and he’s the reason I’m here. He had the vision that together we could create something special and I think we have”.
Being a club that is essentially re-building their brand, both Craig and Peter take pride in creating their own culture and brand that is fitting for the Lions.
“Having a blank canvas is exciting as well as having a playing group that is eager to play the highest possible level, they want to be professional footballers which is exciting.
Coburg has definitely exceeded everyone’s expectations, being only in their first year as a stand alone club and having Lech Featherstone play for Victoria as well as Daniel Venditti nominated and both Adam Saad and Michael Hartley being invited to the draft combine are all achievements Craig, Germo and the Lions take pride in; it’s a definite indication that Coburg can in fact be a pathway to elite footy.
Re-building a football club, the challenges will remain the same; to maintain our wonderful sponsors, maintain our income and to continue to grow.
Being only year one, the growth has been outstanding and that’s largely based on re-creating the Lions as not just a club to the players and coaching staff but especially to family members, friends and sponsors.
“The growth of members is huge, from 100 to 500 and that’s what I’ve been able to do. Sell the vision; sell the dream of obviously being a stand alone footy club that generally cares. From that point of view it’s really exciting to generate interest and love into this footy club as well as the importance to continue to grow and move forward”.
Coburg has definitely proved to be potential contenders in the coming years, already winning four games, potentially five this week, having the same win/loss ratio record as last year without AFL players and continuing to develop, as a team is terrific. The playing groups are all focused on building the Coburg brand and culture in hopes of making the Lions a success, as is Craig.
“Germo is doing a great job, the development seen in the boys is great. When you’re well coached and have a playing group that buys into the culture, which obviously we do, it’s enabled us to fast track where we would be in year one. Our model is key and I guess we can’t get comfortable in where we are, always challenge and maintain that excellency we’ve created this year”.
Coburg has many aspects that make it so special, being a stand alone club, having a great relationships with our various sponsors, creating that bond everyone speaks highly of, having a great relationship with Calder Cannons to allow the younger players to view Coburg as a pathway to elite football, and being the most diverse football club within the VFL are all attributes that continuously assist Coburg in being successful.
“Peter and I wanted to be seen as a united and professional club. We want everyone to feel that the club is united and strong, it’s about being your club and everyone’s club. We wanted to rearrange past players as Coburg has a lot of history and we want to support and celebrate it.”
Craig also expresses the importance of being a club that provides the opportunity for the Calder boys to play for the Lions and view our club as an exciting pathway to elite football.
“Calder was a huge focus of mine, to build a really strong relationship with Cannons. We are a pathway and both Germo and I wanted to make sure this was a club choice. We’ll make sure that they know there is a pathway at Coburg and we want to give an opportunity for the younger boys to develop”.
It comes as no surprise that both Craig and Germo are highly praised for turning Coburg around and shaping it into a club that prides themselves in having a strong culture, brand and unit.
Craig takes pride in all the praise he receives and ultimately aims on making the Lions unstoppable in all aspects.
“We’ve been able to create this mentality, us versus this competition, and it’s year one, it is a grind and it’s going to take three to five years. I guess all the messages we spoke about with professionalism, culture, family, belonging and the values, I think the playing group has really bought into and they’re united. We’re really committed to one another and want to work in unity”.
Coburg has a tough road ahead in achieving that goal of being unstoppable and successful. It’s quiet evident that both Craig and Peter make a strong team and have created a united team.
Yes, we have to maintain our sponsors, maintain the business aspects but it’s exciting as Coburg has done so well in it’s first year as a stand alone club, the future is looking extremely bright for the lions and Craig couldn’t be more excited.
“We’d love to see the boys play finals next year potentially, for me it’s to set up a really strong football department led by Peter and to make sure we’re in a really good position to challenge the competition. From day one my message was pretty simple, you either play for a footy club or you belong to a footy club”.
Craig Lees is definitely the shining light in making our club so special and the future for the Lions looks extremely bright.