Frank Arok once gave former Gippsland Falcons defender Manny Gelagotis a piece of advice he would never forget.
‘’If you’re in a bad spot or not sure what to do just pretend I’m in the corner looking at you…’’ and those who knew Arok understand this is all the reassurance one would need.
An ‘’infectious’’ and times scary personality, Frank Arok is remembered as a revolutionary figure within the game and a reminder of football’s unbridled potential in Australia.
One only has to look at how he got the job as coach of the national team.
Filling in for then manager Les Scheinflung – who was coaching an Australian youth side in World Cup qualifiers – Arok promised and delivering two draws out of three in a friendly series against England, after receiving instructions to ‘keep it under 6-0’ by the Australian Soccer Federation.
Behind the passionate coach sat an equally passionate man whose unwavering belief in his soldiers breathed life and courage into them ahead of battle.
‘’He was the brain trust behind a lot of the ideas and concepts…he was a revolutionary person,’’ Gelagotis told FNR.
‘’Sharing a lot of time with him in change rooms and outside you learned so much off him, his passion was unquestioned and he certainly changed the lives of a lot of people.
‘’He was always in the drivers seat he refused to lie down and his never say die attitude was infectious.
‘’He gave you a chance, that’s what I remember about Frank. He just believed in what you were trying to achieve and he treated you with the upmost respect and he demanded that respect back, or else there was going to be trouble.’’
Arok was very much of a father-figure to Gelagotis.
The two met at Port Melbourne where Arok moved to after he was replaced at South Melbourne by the up-and-coming Ange Postecoglou. It did not take Arok long to transform a dysfunctional Port outfit which went from one win in 12 to unbeaten in 14 of the last 15 matches of the 1996 season.
‘’I can recall I was taken off after 25 minutes in my first game at Port Melbourne,’’ Gelagotis said.
‘’It wasn’t a pleasurable experience but as I was walking off Frank pulled me into the coaches box and went on to tell me the beauties of the game and in amongst about 20 elbows to the ribs I never turned back. From there the friendship grew from on the field to this day.’’
Arok and Gelagotis formed an unshakable bond which would take them to Gippsland in the National Soccer League the following season and beyond.
‘’He became a father figure to me. We would talk monthly and on his visits back to Australia he’d stay with me for a week and I treasure all those times. I lost my father eight years ago and Frank was someone I saw in that fold it was more of a respect thing and it became much more than that.
‘’I felt privileged we spent a lot of time together. I played 110 games and 110 games more than I should have played and it’s because of his belief in me. I know what he did for a lot of people and he is to be celebrated.’’
But Gelagotis would be the first tell you things were ”not always rosy” with Arok.
Whether it was sending players home early from training or even as they were preparing to kick-off on matchday, Arok knew what it took to motivate each of his players.
”I was extremely scared of Frank…not in a bad way but it was more out of a huge respect and a fear that if you forgot your shin-pads you were sent home. It always war, you were fighting for your spot.”
It was the type of fear kids have of bringing home a bad report to their parents which perhaps best describes this aspect of Arok’s relationship with his players.
And why Arok’s advice will always ring in the ears of Gelagotis and players alike when faced with a sticky situation.
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