'You were prepared to run through brick walls for him': Socceroos pay emotional tributes to Frank Arok

Throughout his long coaching career, Frank Arok changed the lives of a countless number of individuals within the Australian footballing community. 

Wednesday would have marked the legendary Socceroo boss' 89th birthday and saw some emotional tributes continue to emerge following his passing last week.

Scott Ollerenshaw, Andy Harper, Archie Thompson, Paul Wade and Manny Gelagotis all provided poignant reflections on exactly how Arok impacted their careers for the better. 

READ: Vale Frank Arok
READ: Australian football community send tributes to Frank Arok

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Ollerenshaw played 14 full internationals for the Socceroos and readily admits that he has his coach to thank for it all. The winger recalls exactly how Arok mentored him at youth, club and international level. 

“I would go as far as saying that for me personally, if it is not for Frank Arok I don't have a career in professional football - so for that Mr. Arok, I am eternally grateful," Ollerenshaw reflected. 

“I remember as a 16-year-old kid, I was going through the system at St George from under 11s, 12s all the way to 16s.

"I had a training session one day outside St George Stadium and Frank came down. That was my first time meeting Frank and I remember being mesmerised by this very eccentric loud man who had this very unusual way of coaching which I had never experienced before." 

Ollerenshaw naturally expressed his gratitude to Arok as he celebrated every key milestone throughout his career. 

"Frank was the one who saw something in me, I'm not sure what, but he saw something in me and he promoted me to the St George first team. I scored on debut against Canterbury Marrickville from 30 yards and ran straight to Frank Arok, because that was the type of guy he was.

"You didn't want to let Frank down; you were prepared to run through brick walls for him and I believe that in terms of his man management of his players he was ahead of his time.

"I enjoyed a good three or four years at St George under Frank and then he promoted me to the Australian National Team. I remember we played in the 1997 Grand Final at Parramatta Stadium, Frank came up to me and said that he was thinking about the national team and today was the day that I showed I was good enough.

"I scored in that game and the following day he announced his squad for the Olympic qualifiers and I was in that squad. All of his players will actually say the same thing, that he made them feel that they were ten-feet high, you felt like with Frank that you could achieve anything."

Frank Arok

Andy Harper feels he is one of many who contribute to football in this nation to this day as a result of Arok's efforts. 

“I owe you a deep debt of gratitude for giving me a chance when there weren't many chances on offer as a player,” he reflected. 

“I've been able to make a life out of football and that wouldn't have happened without your input Frank and your encouragement, you're an amazing man.

“There's a lot of people in the game who owe careers to you and the people you did influence through your coaching career and your mentorship have gone on to forge their own significant careers in many different ways and they take that legacy of Frank Arok with you.

“For all the fans of Frank of whom there are many that might not have a platform to say a farewell like this, on their behalf I say thank you to you also Frank." 

Harper often remembers "one really lucid moment" that  "was pretty life turning" for his fortunes as a player.

“Playing at Lambert Park, the home of the famous APIA Leichhardt on one pretty nondescript day, in a game I can't otherwise remember, of all the points you made in that halftime talk one was directed at me.

"In your way you made it very clear to me that ‘Jesus Christ son, one good game, one crap game – get yourself sorted!'

"There was not a lot of technical input or a lot of tactical nous in that, but it hit me to the core and I remember that as a significant turning point. After which, I can only thank you, Frank, we will remember you forever." 

Archie Thompson was given his first professional contract by Frank Arok and similarly recalls some memorable moments that are a testament to Frank's infectious personality. 

“I was really grateful and appreciative of the opportunity to be able to work with Frank," the former Socceroos forward said. 

“He was uniquely quirky, but most importantly, he was a beautiful soul that will be sorely missed throughout the football community and through friends and family.

“One funny story was with me and John Hutchinson, driving to Melbourne. With Frank everyone told us about how bad of a driver he was, but until you're in the back seat you actually don't really know until it happens to you!

“There are some more great stories about him, like weeding the football pitch at five or six o'clock in the morning at Falcons Park just so that we can have a better pitch to play on." 

Paul Wade was also handed his full international debut under Arok. 

The former Socceroos captain vividly recalls the coach's expertise in inspirationally motivating his players. 

“The thing that he left me with was, ‘you can do anything in this game. It doesn't matter whether you're in at a million dollars or five dollars, whether you're a full-time footballer or not. If you have the right mindset, it is amazing what you can do.

“And you could tell that it came through in his pre-match talks, he always had his watch in his hand pacing up and down, sweating like you would not believe and boy did he get his message across quickly and spot on.

“It was just his passion, it was so infectious. You sometimes wondered about his tactics but you would never ever question his motive.

“I don't know any other coach who can be so intense and focused on football and his a team than he was. It was an absolute pleasure to see how the pros do it." 

Frank Arok

Wade believes that without Arok pulling the strings in his tough-love manner, the immense balancing act of international football and working lives would have been a far tougher prospect for the Socceroos during the 1980s. 

“If you look at the workload we had, you just think 'how can we ever get through that?' But he got into our minds – we could have beaten Brazil in the World Cup final in our minds," he said. 

“He just had a way, leading us to do all that work that we just put in. So it wasn't arrogance, it was confidence and it was all built up because of him.”

Following his time with the Socceroos and St George, Arok coached at Victorian NSL clubs Port Melbourne and Gippsland Falcons. 

It was at the former that he met defender Manny Gelagotis and the two developed a lifelong bond.

"Frank was like a father and I was like a son to him, I was very privileged to have known him and spend quality time with him," Gelagotis said. 

"To all the players in Australia, whether you were a Socceroo or just a player under him in general, he taught us all so much.

Gelagotis is grateful for how he has remained in contact with Arok and his family over the years as the coach spent his twilight years back in Serbia. 

"I can always remember I'd always ring Frank every month and say, 'Frank, how are you? He'd say ‘Hey, how are you my son, I'm still alive!' And it was just amazing to hear how he'd always answer in the same way.

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“His vocabulary was always special, he had a relentless application to succeed and to teach his pupils lifelong lessons not to lie down, to be tough, strong and to motivate us to play. He was something special, in a different world, a different class.”