Vale Len McKendry

Football Victoria is saddened to learn of the passing of former State Director of Coaching, State Team Head Coach, NSL Championship Winning Coach and NSL Coach of the Year, Len McKendry.    

Born in London 1940, Len McKendry began his life in football as a fifteen-year-old apprentice with Watford Football Club, but quickly became disillusioned with the game and its reluctance to promote young talent. He turned his eye to coaching and moved to the West Midlands, where he obtained his FA Coaching License. After a stint coaching the Southern England Schoolboys squad in Nottingham, he moved to Sydney in 1975 under the Rothmans Sports Foundation scheme following the advice of Australia’s National Team Head Coach Brian Green.

McKendry impressed in his two seasons with the largely amateur Marrickville in the New South Wales Second Division before an opportunity to take up the State Director of Coaching role vacated by Ron Smith at the Victorian Soccer Federation (VSF) beckoned in 1978. He worked closely with Ken Lyon, the Secretary of the Victorian Coaches’ Federation, who was involved with Prahran Slavia at the time. McKendry’s influence on Victorian players and aspiring young coaches was immediately felt, with Slavia’s Jamie Paton, Steve Short and John Yzendoorn enrolling in the first of his coaching courses.

Len McKendry (pictured standing far left) with the Victorian State Team in 1979.

McKendry’s role with the VSF incorporated the position of State Head Coach, and his debut match in charge resulted in a commendable 1-0 loss to Poland’s Wisla Krakow in February 1979. After defeats to South Australia at Hindmarsh Stadium and Norwich City at Olympic Park, a first win in Victorian colours came at the same venue against Partizan Belgrade (1-0) in June. One of Victoria’s finest ever performances followed in August, as the Vics hammered AEK Athens 4-0, thanks in large part to a Gary Cole hat-trick. The final match of the year was an enthralling encounter with the star-studded New York Cosmos in front of 28,000 at Olympic Park – the 3-2 scoreline indicative of the closeness of the match if not the quality of the opposition.

In a measure of McKendry’s influence, John Yzendoorn, Yakka Banovic, Alan Davidson, Tommy Cumming, Jamie Paton, Jimmy Campbell, and George Christopoulos all went on to play for the Socceroos after making their state team debut under his tutelage. In all, McKendry would coach 13 matches for Victoria, with a win against Red Star Belgrade and draw against Dinamo Zagreb the best results in his remaining time at the helm.

McKendry and the victorious Top 4 winning Heidelberg team of 1980.
McKendry and the victorious Top 4 winning Heidelberg United team of 1980.

At club level, McKendry achieved his greatest success with Heidelberg United and South Melbourne. In his first season with the Bergers in 1980, he guided the club to second place in the NSL Championship, missing out on the title to Sydney City by the narrowest of margins. The Bergers turned the table on their rivals with a 4-0 win in the Top 4 Final Series but lost 3-0 in a replay of the NSL Cup Final to Marconi. Another Top 4 Finish and NSL Cup Final appearance followed in 1982 before he was appointed to the Head Coach role of Green Gully for the 1983 State League season.

That proved a short-lived affair, as South Melbourne swooped for McKendry’s services midway through the 1983 NSL season, the club having failed to win any national honours during its six-and-a-half seasons in the National Soccer League. However, McKendry would deliver the ultimate success in 1984. South Melbourne stormed to the Southern Conference Premiership, then defeated Melbourne Croatia and Heidelberg United in the Conference Finals before dispatching Southern Conference champions Sydney Olympic 4-2 on aggregate. McKendry’s midas touch was recognised with NSL Coach of the Year honours. Quite possibly his greatest legacy from that successful season was handing a senior debut to a young Ange Postecoglou.

South Melbourne's first NSL Championship in 1984, featured McKendry as Head Coach and Postecoglou in his debut season.

McKendry would leave the club for reigning NSL champions Brunswick Juventus in 1986, winning the Southern Conference Premiership again in his first season with the club, before a mid-table finish in 1987 was followed by a mid-season dismissal in 1988. A return to where it all started followed in 1989, with McKendry taking the reins of the now relegated Heidelberg United. Success followed with a State League Championship in 1990 along promotion back to the NSL via a tense playoff series, which McKendry himself noted as his greatest coaching achievement.

Including cup matches at national and state league level, McKendry coached in over 400 official matches across two decades between 1976 and 1997, but his influence as a coach and mentor to many in the Victorian playing and coaching ranks will be where his true legacy is felt.

Len McKendry passed away on the weekend, aged 83.

The FV Board of Directors, executives and staff send our sincere condolences to McKendry’s family and friends.