Interview with Scott Ollerenshaw

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In their post-professional careers, some ex-footballers have been known to unexpectedly disappear to distant destinations, be it deepest, darkest Africa, somewhere in South America or the jungles of Borneo.

Scott Ollerenshaw, footballer turned the businessman working on another deal in his Malaysian sports tourism company.

But in the case of former Australia international Scott Ollerenshaw, his move from the mainstream didn't mean he went off the rails or was running away from his former life: it was a calculated business decision.
On the island of Borneo - in the East Malaysian state of Sabah - the former star striker has his own sports' tourism company that runs a yearly football tournament and he also owns a successful futsal centre. It's a long way from Sydney's southwestern suburbs where Ollerenshaw made a name for himself at clubs like St George and Sydney Olympic - or Walsall in England's West Midlands where he spent a season in the early 1990s.
Ollerenshaw arrived in Malaysia in 1994 to play with local side Sabah and, barring a few months here and there, has never really left. He married former Malaysian karate champion Michelle Koh and the couple now have two children, Jordan, 11 and three-year-old Alicia.
On an international level, Ollerenshaw's best days came in his late teens and early 20's when he earned 18 caps - including 14 full internationals - between 1987 and 1989. During an era in which foreign-based players like Frank Farina, Graham Arnold and David Mitchell were the nucleus of Australia's strike-force, Ollerenshaw was a lively left-winger, known for his easy-to-catch, red mullet hairstyle.
National coach Frank Arok was a big fan of the youngster, whom he'd coached at successful National Soccer League (NSL) club, St George.
Ollerenshaw's finest moments came in the 1988 Gold Cup in Sydney - which marked Australia's bicentennial celebrations - where he was a member of the Socceroo side that stunned then world champions Argentina 4-1. Later, he was man of the match in a losing cause in the final against a Brazilian side that included legendary striker, Romario.
A YouTube clip of the final at the Sydney Football Stadium in July 1988 shows Brazil's Jorginho rugby-tackling Ollerenshaw to stop the Aussie breaking into the clear and getting a one-on-one with goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel. With Brazil leading 1-0, Jorginho was red-carded but Australia couldn't make their advantage count and ended up losing by two goals.
Despite undergoing an appendix operation less than a month before the opening ceremony, Ollerenshaw also played in the 1988 Seoul Olympics where Australia made the quarter-finals.
His move to Asia in the mid-1990s, when he converted from winger to specialist striker, effectively ended his Socceroo chances, even though he was in the best form of his career. In Malaysia, he twice won the league's golden boot and scored against visiting Manchester United in 1996.
In 106 games for Sabah, Ollerenshaw produced a stunning 110 goals in five seasons, during a period in which Malaysian football was flushed with talented foreigners (today, overseas imports are banned in the M-League).
Then Australia coach, Eddie Thomson, was reluctant to pick players from Asia for his national squads, despite the likes of Ollerenshaw, Abbas Saad and Alistair Edwards being amongst the biggest names in the region.
At the end of his Malaysia stint, he belatedly returned to Australia to play with NSL club, Northern Spirit, only for injury to cut his career short. He'd soon return to Borneo - the third largest island in the world that is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei - for his post-football life.
Ollerenshaw, who organises the Borneo Cup each October with seven different categories including juniors and masters, spoke to ESPN Soccernet in Kuala Lumpur where he'd just watched Manchester United's two tour matches against a Malaysia XI. The brace from Malaysia forward Mohd Amri Yahyah in the opening game on July 18th were the first goals scored against Manchester United on Malaysian soil since 'Ollie' beat Peter Schmeichel 13 years ago.
Q: Scott, how did you end up in such a remote place like Borneo?
A: In the mid-1990s, there were a lot of Australian players coming over to Asia including Alan Davidson, Abbas Saad and Alistair Edwards. I'd been to England a couple of years before and, with the success of those players, I thought it was time to come over. I trialled for a team called KL who were coached by the former England and Chelsea player Ken Shellito. I scored two goals but that wasn't good enough for Ken because he wanted a defender. I hopped on the plane back to Sydney but 24 hours later I got a telephone call to come back for a trial with a team in East Malaysia called Sabah. I scored a goal in the trial and the rest is history, as they say.
Q: You've been in Malaysia for around 15 years now. What's your life like now?
A: The first five years were all about football. I played five successful seasons for the Sabah team. We won the FA Cup and the Premier League and I met my lovely wife. After that, I had one year with another Malaysian team, Negeri Sembilan. Then I went back to Sydney for six months and signed with Northern Spirit but never kicked a ball for them after developing osteoarthritis, having to retire from the game at the age of 31.
Since then, I've been doing business. I was a shareholder in a company called Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. I sold out of that to start up my own indoor soccer centre. I also have a sports tourism business, which is my little baby and I'm trying to grow.
Q: How did you end up with the Malaysia karate champion as your wife?
A: In 1994, I met this lovely little lady whom I thought was very friendly until I found out that she was a black belt in karate. At that stage, she was the national champion, 10 years in a row. She also came fifth in the world and second in Asia, three or four times. As you can hear from that, it's not in my best interests to come home late from the pub!
Q: Now that you're working in tourism in Malaysia how does that tie in with your love of football?
A: With my own sports tourism company, we're trying to develop international events for amateur people that combine with the incredible holiday stuff that we have here. The place where I stay - Kota Kinabalu in Sabah - has everything. It's got islands, resorts, night golf, beautiful hotels, unspoiled jungles, the famous Mount Kinabalu. It's also got Sepadan, which is one of the top dive spots in the world. For me, Sabah has everything.
Q: What are your best memories of representing your country?
A: Playing for the Socceroos, I'd have to say that the highlight was beating Argentina 4-1 in the 1988 Gold Cup in Sydney. The speech that our coach Frank Arok gave us that night, telling us that we were the pioneers, the ones who had a chance to change it for the next generation, was inspiring stuff. They were the world champions at that stage.
Q: Did you ever imagine that Australian football would develop the way it has, with a successful professional league and the Socceroos qualifying for two consecutive World Cups?
A: To be honest with you, yes. I think Australian players, whatever sport it is, have that win-at-all-costs mentality. Craig Johnston was the guy who set the whole thing off by his feats at Liverpool in the 1980s. He showed that as Australian players, we could compete on the world stage. Since then, it's just gone on and on with more Aussies succeeding in Europe. Australian soccer is still developing and I think we can only get better.
Q: You're having the time of your life in Borneo but when are we likely to see you back in Australia?
A: My son turns 13 in 2011 and the plan is to get him and the family back to Australia then. He'll go to high school back in Australia and play football as much as he wants. There's a lot better infrastructure in Australia in terms of youth development and I will split my time between Australia and Sabah as I continue my business there.

*interview by Jason Dasey (
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