REMINISCING ROYALS | Mick Giacomi

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As we look forward to our 60th Anniversary Gala Dinner at Hyatt Place Essendon Fields next month, we took the opportunity to have a chat with some of the Essendon Royals greats.

Many of our club’s legends meet on a weekly basis at the Trieste Social Club in Essendon and we rounded up a whole bunch of them to talk all about their time at the Royals for a series of videos and features on EssendonRoyals.com.au to demonstrate what this club means to so many different people in our community.

From the club’s birth in 1959, right through to the renaissance of our senior team we talk to the people who helped shape the club to what it is today.

Next up, Mick Giacomi - the Royals resident promotion artist.

Giacomi has served the club as a senior player, captain, best-and-fairest winner, before becoming senior coach and then later, an assistant coach. His history with the club spans over 40 years and he continues to coach our under-16s today.

Giacomi talks to us about his memories of the club as a youngster, the roller-coaster ride of senior football and what’s next for our great club.

“If you cut me up, I’ll bleed Royals,” says Mick Giacomi.

Since arriving at the club as a member of a famous under-13 team which arrived from Juventus, these days known as Moreland Zebras, Giacomi has worn many hats for the Royals over the years.

Then known as Triestina or Essendon City, Giacomi would eventually go on to play senior football for the club over two periods between 1978 and 1994, captaining the club between 1992 and 1994.

A best-and-fairest winner in 1985, Giacomi would eventually become a senior coach in 1997 and would oversee a remarkable rise to the Victorian Premier League, before eventually returning as an assistant coach in 2005 and then against in 2015, where he returned to work with former senior coach Michael Curcija.

With Curicja, Giacomi would prove a crucial part of the Essendon Royals renaissance which has seen the club rise back to State League 1, while building one of the state’s biggest junior football programs.

In his time he has been a part of nine different promotion-winning teams, making his contribution a huge part of the magnificent history our great club will celebrate at Hyatt Place Essendon Fields on August 17 for our 60th Anniversary celebration.

Of course, Giacomi remains an important part of the club’s present and future too! At the moment, he is working with the next generation of Royals stars in our under-16 team.

In our latest edition of Reminiscing Royals, Giacomi tells the story of his arrival at the club, his memories of the club during the 70s, his flirtation with the National Soccer League and his journey as a senior player, captain and coach.

Humble Beginnings

“I come over from Juventus with our coach at the time. He took the whole under-13 squad after he had a run-in with Juventus, so he bought us down to Essendon City, or Triestina, as it was known then.

“We all came on as an under-14 team in 1974 and that’s where I started at the club and fell in love with the club. I’ve been here going on 45 years on and off.

“We had a good team, which helped because everyone was up and about and we had players make the Vic side, some made the Australian side, which wasn’t like the Joey's side they have now, but was still a great achievement.”

Giacomi remembers a crazy environment at the club back in the days.

The social side of the club was thriving and people would flock to Ormond Park to watch Essendon City play.

“I learned to drive in the car park at the club because my Dad would always be in the dressing rooms, we had this little shed call La Barraca it was literally a four-by-four meter shed,” he said. 

“Everyone would drink in there so I’d be outside driving my old man’s car. It was crazy! 

“But it was real, there was no money it was all passion. I remember days where we would be playing a game against Bulleen and there would have been 3000 people there lining up around the ground. There was just a rope going around the ground and it would three or four people deep the whole way around.

“It was unbelievable.”

At 16, Giacomi was offered a fantastic opportunity to trial with National Soccer League outfit Footscray J.U.S.T.

“When I was 16 I got picked up by Footscray J.U.S.T. to play with them in what was the second year of the NSL. I was training with them as a 16-year-old, but the club asked me to come back and play a cup game because we’d made the final that year.

“So I ended up playing that game but I broke my leg in the last minute of the game, so there was my NSL career done.

“It took me out of the game for 18 months. I was a bit shy about coming back to the game, but I eventually did.”

Giacomi would go on to make subsequent senior teams and enjoyed some great years at the club before leaving for stints with Fawkner and Coburg.

But no matter where Giacomi went, he would always find his way back to Triestina.

“Even recalling those days there, what makes it for me is how good the environment was around the club. It still is,” he said.

“I’m still seeing people I sued to see back then. It’s a great legacy because of the good people involved. Everyone has different roles now but it’s the same people, even if they’re just at the games to support us.”

A Stand-Out Senior

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Giacomi played just under 15 years of senior football for Essendon over the years.

Those years presented highs and lows for Giacomi and the club, but one thing he never lost at Essendon was his love of playing the game.

“I did leave, but because all my mates were still playing here it was always easy to come back when the opportunity came up,” he said.

“It’s like a family, I feel part of the family and that’s what kept drawing me back.

“The last time I came back we had really a good few years under Billy Vojtek with some good players, so going to training and playing games was something you just hung out for, and once you’d played that game you’d be hanging out for training

“The week couldn’t go quick enough.

“Everything we did was to get the club’s name over the line and we shared that common thread. We felt like we had an extra player on the field because we were all playing for the same cause and it didn’t matter if we were 3-0 up or 3-0 down we’d be working hard for each other.”

Royals Rise to Victorian Premier League

After retiring in 1994, Giacomi had a brief stint as an assistant coach in 1995, Giacomi took over the senior reins in 1997 replacing David Breslin who had fallen ill.

By then, the club was known as Essendon Brunswick Royals and had settled into the State League Division Two.

The Royals finished 10th in Giacomi’s first season in charge but were slowly plotting a path which would eventually take them all the way to the Victorian Premier League. 

In 1998, the Royals finished seventh, picking up 11 more points than the season prior and in 1999, the club, now simply Essendon Royals, finished second to earn promotion to State League Division 1.

Robert Spence scored goals for fun in 1999 but promotion was as much attributable to the Royals’ rearguard as it was its attackers. The Royals conceded the least goals in the league and scored the second most.

“The club said they wanted to make a push to get up the leagues so we brought in a few players and we managed to get Dean Hennessy across as well,” Giacomi recalled.

“We got along together really well and we started to climb the ladder.”

The 1999 promotion was backed up with a promotion to the Victorian Premier League in 2000.

The Royals finished second in State League Division 1 courtesy of a brilliant defensive record, which saw Essendon concede just 17 goals all season.

That feat was made even more remarkable by the fact that five of those goals came in one game against eventual champions South Dandenong.

At the other end, Spence continued to put the ball in the back of the net with brilliant reliability and was often joined on the scoresheet by a young Matthew Collina - who would eventually return to the club in 2011 to play a crucial role in another promotion-winning season.

“I reckon I’ve been involved in eight or nine promotions here, but it’s never been as the league champion, which I’ll take to my grave I think,” he said.

“But that climb taught me a lot. You constantly have to be preparing for the next year before you even get there - and that can be difficult to do - because if you are successful you need to have things in place.”

The Royals’ stint in the Victorian Premier League was short and the club was relegated after one season back into State League Division 1.

“When we got up to the Premier League we had to change everything, we had to change grounds to satisfy the league, we had to get security for games, we needed a press secretary for media requests … it was a whole new ball game,” he said.

“We came from a place where we had one guy putting up the nets in the morning and doing the canteen for the game, it was a huge expectation.

“Maybe we grew too quick, but you can’t stop it. You can’t sit there and say, oh, we want to sit in the second or third division, especially when the momentum is going your way.”

Giacomi left the club 11 games into the 2001 season having drawn 1 and lost 10, but he’d be back to contribute to the next Royals renaissance soon enough.

“They say you’re not a coach until you get sacked, so I felt like a coach then,” he laughed.

“But overall it was still a very successful time and it was a pleasure to be part of it.”

Assisting Curcija - The Road back to State League 1

After some time away from the club, Giacomi, returned to the club four years ago as an assistant coach to Michael Curcija, who he would work under during the Royals rapid rise up to State League 1.

While Giacomi was away, the senior team had merged with Bulleen to form the Bulleen Royals, before the clubs split again. The Royals kept their junior teams but had to restart its senior operation from the Provisional Leagues in 2010.

Following the appointment of Curcija in 2013, Giacomi was appointed by his former player and current committee member David Minalla to return to the club as an assistant.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“About four years ago, Dave called me and asked me if I’d come back as an assistant and it didn’t take much of a hint to get back in the door,” he said.

“I had actually coached Michael before and so I knew him well and we had a phone call and I think for me it was important he knew I wasn’t there for his job, I was just happy to be back as part of the cub and assist him with how the club works and all that sort of stuff.

“It was an amazing time. We jelled really well we had a great four years together and we managed to get the team back to State League 1.

“We got promoted from State League 2 in 2016 and again we didn’t win it that year. We had chances to, but it was good. We didn’t have a team that people would look at and think they’re getting promoted this year.

“They just played for each other and gave it everything. If you can build a team with players who play for each other, it’s an amazing thing.

“That team did everything for the team. It was a young team with players tasting senior football for the first time and some players who had played juniors at the club and had been along for all or parts of the ride from even the provisional leagues.”

Players like Alistair Dunlop, Martin Strasser, Phil Lloyd and current senior player Albert Zorzanello were all examples of players who had played juniors and the club and been involved in the rise of the club through the senior ranks over the years and Giacomi said that was a tribute to the brilliant environment created by the junior arm of the club.

“I think we’ve got one of, if not the, biggest junior operation in the state,” he said.

“Deep down, the club just has the right people that when people come to the club with their kids, it’s run-in in a genuine sense. It’s not about money-grabbing, it’s about creating a great environment.

“With our club being at the lower levels in the seniors and having disappeared for a few years in terms of seniors and then with the inception of the NPL, sometimes kids want to go and try and play at an NPL club and that can be hard.

“Our club is heading in that direction and hopefully one day we’ll get there, but it’s about being ready and having the foundation in place.”

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