Jimmy Brennan is no stranger to life – or soccer – in York Region.
The newly-named York 9 FC head coach has plenty of experience playing for and running soccer clubs in the area, whether as the executive director of Aurora FC, or as a young upstart donning the shirts of youth clubs in the Toronto area.
Now, he’s hoping to bring the lessons learned from his playing career in England, coupled with his time as an assistant coach at Toronto FC, to a brand-new club uniting the nine municipalities of York Region.
As one one of the owners of York 9 FC, alongside Carlo Baldassarra, Chairman and CEO of Greenpark Group, and Preben Ganzhorn, President of York Sports and Entertainment, Brennan and the rest of the organization began their search for the club’s first-ever head coach. They quickly realized that Brennan’s previous coaching experience would be a valuable asset for the team in its formative years.
It’s a challenge and a responsibility Brennan has wholeheartedly embraced.
“I love this sport in all aspects,” Brennan told the CPL. “I love the business side of it. I love the technical and tactical side of the game. You’ve always got to continue to educate yourself about this game.
“The more you educate yourself and build up your portfolio, you kind of gravitate toward one thing that you enjoy,” he added. “We all agreed, well, maybe I should be the guy who starts off as a head coach at York 9 FC. I grew up in the region. I played my local soccer in the region. I’m back home now with my family. My wife, my kids, my brothers, my friends, we all live in the region, so I think it was the right fit, to be the head coach of this team to start off.”
Brennan credits a number of his former managers in Europe as inspirations for his current role, including Bristol City boss Joe Jordan, and Nigel Worthington of Norwich City. But his biggest influence was Nottingham Forest manager Paul Hart, who Brennan says brought on a “fantastic” brand of football.
“It was on the deck, a lot of movement, a lot of possession, but with a purpose,” Brennan said of Hart’s method.
“The style of play he had was tremendous, but all the coaches I’ve worked with, I have a great deal of respect for, and I learned an awful lot off of them. They all taught me something.”
Those lessons helped shape Brennan’s own style, though the 41-year-old says he will continue to learn and grow as he experiences more soccer on the sidelines during the inaugural Canadian Premier League campaign in 2019.
“As a coach, you’re always growing, and you’re always trying to find your identity as a coach,” Brennan said. “It’s not something you pick overnight and say ‘You know what? This is going to be me as a coach and this is who I am.’ I’m a product of all the coaches that I’ve had over the years, players that I’ve played with, and I’ve learned a little bit from everything, what I’ve liked as a player and a coach working with people, what I didn’t like.
“I’m still trying to find my identity as a coach, but I know a style of play I want to play: I want to play attractive, attack-minded football,” he added. “It’s now about getting that message out to the team and onto the field. One thing we want to do as a club is be entertaining. We want the fans to be off their seat every time we get the ball and be creative – and not take that creativeness away from the players by being too structured. We want to have that creative identity where the guys have a rhythm when they’re playing and can play with a smile on their face, really enjoy their football.
“It’s going to be a lot of work but as we go along, you’ll start to see the identity of our club and who I am as a coach.”
Brennan’s professional career saw him play overseas with Bristol City, Nottingham Forest, Huddersfield Town, Norwich City, and Southampton, before returning to the area as Toronto FC’s first player signing.
During his youth soccer days, Brennan played all over York Region, first at Newmarket and, later, with Woodbridge in Vaughan, where his family moved.
It was his mother who first enrolled Brennan in youth soccer, and as far back as he can remember, Brennan says he and his brothers would kick the ball around, the result of growing up in a family with Scottish and Irish roots. Sports also played a big role in Brennan’s family history, as his grandfather was a welterweight champion boxer, and his father played hockey.
Brennan continued to play and grow in York Region, before getting involved in the national team set-up. It didn’t take long before his life changed completely.
“I went to the Under-17 World Cup, came back home and before I knew it, I was on a flight to Europe trying to make a living from the game,” Brennan said, of his days signing first for Bristol City.
Fitting, then, that his soccer adventure has come full circle. Brennan has one of the deepest connections to his community and his club, and York Region retains, as ever, an important place in his heart too.
“It was a fun journey, a lot of hard work behind the scenes to make it as a professional, but I’m enjoying this journey, and my path in life,” Brennan said. “I started in York Region, fulfilled a dream of going to Europe, and I’ve come back to be involved with a group that’s bringing professional soccer to York Region, for the next group of kids who are going to hopefully put on that York 9 jersey, and fulfill their dream.”
York 9 FC is a proud member of the Canadian Premier League, which will begin play in April of 2019. Membership deposits can be made at York9Football.Club. Fans will be able to put down a $50 deposit to secure their place in line to become a founding member of York 9 FC.