JOHN Birighitti, who coached Bobby Charlton when the Manchester United star was a guest player with Perth Azzurri in 1980, has died. He passed away at the age of 76 on January 20 following a courageous battle with cancer.
John was an influential coach in Western Australia for over 40 years – winning many titles at club level – and helped establish the WA Coaches Association.
He was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame WA’s Hall of Recognition in 2012.
Born in Italy (in the northern province of Sondrio), John arrived in WA at the age of 15 and such was his impact on the football field that he was soon named captain of Perth Azzurri’s under-18 team.
The dashing forward made his first team debut for Azzurri at the age of 19 and then went on to play for Athena before turning his hand to coaching at 23.
He established Azzurri’s influential junior set-up, aiding the development of players like Gary Marocchi, Alf De Bono and countless other talented performers.
Birighitti joined Bayswater United as senior coach and led them from the third division to the first division, twice winning the coach of the year award in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
He also coached Inglewood Kiev before returning to Azzurri as the club’s technical director and, at one stage, first team coach, which coincided with Bobby Charlton’s guest spell with the club.
John also enjoyed a kick-about with the Perth Entertainers in the social leagues until he was nearly 70.
Bob Brown was Birighitti’s assistant coach at Bayswater. “He really transformed the club and was instrumental in a huge turnaround in the team’s fortunes – of course going on to win several titles,” said Brown.
“He was a great believer in getting the most out of coaching and, along with myself and Frank Schaper, we put together the State’s first coaches association and we managed to arrange for top coaches to come over from the Eastern States and pass on their knowledge in Perth with a series of clinics.”
The Perth Soccer Club paid tribute to Birighitti, saying:
“The Perth Soccer Club honour the contribution that Johnny made to the development of their juniors in the early Azzurri days.
“Forever grateful for his dedication, knowledge and technical direction which inspired a generation of players to play with passion and skill.
“Sincere sympathy to Lucy, Paul, Eric and all Birighitti families.”
The Perth Entertainers also posted a tribute:
“A life well lived. Memories that will last forever. Your friends, The Perth Entertainers.”
David Andrews, the former soccer writer of The West Australian newspaper, had fond memories of John. He said: “John was one of those passionate football men who lived for the game. He was a clever player and in the 60s he got a lot of stick from his own Azzurri supporters because of the style of his play. The truth was that he was way ahead in ability and thinking than many round him on the field. His strength was in developing youth and I’m sure players like Gary Marocchi gained much from his teachings and ideas.
“John and I had some meaningful discussions about the game and I’m certain that at times he thought I didn’t know what I was talking about. But for the most we enjoyed each others company. He will be sorely missed.”
PIC ONE: A delighted John Birighitti receives his Hall of Recognition award from Sports Minister Mick Murray. PIC TWO: John with Bobby Charlton in 1980. PIC THREE: John (top right) with the 1980 Azzurri team. Bobby Charlton is left on middle row.