* NT AT HEART celebrates the volunteers who are at the core of our club. Here we will tell the stories of the special individuals who help to enrich the soccer lives of those around them. In our latest feature we talk to a big-hearted coach from the Recreational section of our club.
ALLAN BROWN: MORE THAN A COACH
Recreational volunteer tells us his Nitros story
RAINI.NG CHAMPION...Allan with NT player Sonia Wojnicki after fun in the mud, daughter Sienna is in the pink socks
FROM recognising that every kid is wired differently to painstakingly preparing special snacks for a player with severe food allergies.
Allan Brown has become more than a coach to so many girls in North Toronto Soccer Club’s recreational section.
He’s the one who makes sure they leave every training session or game with a smile on their faces.
Allan has watched his daughters Sienna and Victoria flourish and develop their love for the Beautiful Game since a drive past Eglinton Park made him want to see his children included in the NT fun.
His decision to become a volunteer coach - and now a trusted member of the Recreational Soccer Committee - has been one that has never once been a source of regret to him.
Allan recalled: “You know, I would drive by the park and see all those kids playing soccer and it was like a little soccer community.
“It looked like a lot of fun and I knew my girls would want to be a part of that experience.
"So Sienna started in 2012 and I have been coaching her teams since then and Victoria started three years ago.”
The Browns are now a committed Nitros family, a part of the fabric of the club in a thriving section that now also encompasses the popular Select program as well as the long-established House League.
Allan knew the club always needs and welcomes volunteer coaches but when Sienna first joined NTSC he was tentative about taking the plunge.
He reasoned: “It was our first experience as parents with her playing any sport that parents could get involved in and I wasn’t sure if I had enough experience to coach. After the first session I started helping out the coach because I realised you didn’t need coaching experience but rather an interest in helping kids LEARN.
"Coaching as a volunteer is fairly simple – the more you put into it the more the girls and yourself get out of it.”
That journey has given Allan so much back as each soccer day he lives up to a maxim that always runs true in the club’s technical staff coaching room.
Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Allan Brown cares a LOT.
That shines through as he smiles: “You soon realise how differently all the kids are wired. Different things interest them. Some are born competitive and are very focused on winning or scoring. Some are more defensive by nature or like to share the ball. Some are more tentative and need more coaching or encouragement.
"Some just like being there with other girls or want to tell you what happened to them at school. It’s a microcosm of life. You know what I learned really early? Don’t forget the snack because ALL of them are into that.
“One season we had a girl on the team with severe food allergies who had never taken part in the team snack. I decided that my daughter and I would prepare the team snack for the season.
“We kept a knife and cutting board in a sealed bag at home and would cut up oranges, watermelon, and other fruit so that she would be able to enjoy all aspects of the experience with the team. Small effort but a big smile.”
Those smiles are how you should measure the impact you are making as a coach in youth soccer.
For Allan that was hammered home when Sienna was diagnosed with a rare nerve condition in her foot called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) back in 2016.
Seeing your child suffer trying to play the sports they love is harrowing for any parent.
Yet Allan watched with pride as Sienna battled through it and learned to cope and he said: “She loves playing all types of sports but after a minor injury to her foot playing hockey she developed this unusual pain in her stronger foot for soccer and it increased in intensity.
“Finally Sick Kids Hospital identified the actual cause. Despite severe pain she has continued to play soccer and competitive hockey and with years of therapy at the Sick Kids Pain Clinic she is much better.
“She still has flare-ups but has learned to play through the pain and to continue to enjoy sport. Many times kids who have CRPS stop playing sport completely and try to avoid any contact with the foot or hand that is in pain.
“With Sienna continuing to play soccer and other sports has made her therapy much more successful and she loves to play soccer no matter how her foot is feeling that day.
“It has given her a much higher level of perseverance.”
HAVING A BALL...Allan with daughter Sienna after another enjoyable day playing in the NTSC colours
At NT part of our constant drive to continue to develop this club is the recognition that we have our flaws and there are areas we must always try to improve upon.
Yet Allan admires initiatives like the well-funded - and little-publicised - assistance program that means players who might otherwise not be able to afford to play are given the financial aid to do so.
He stressed: “I fully understand why NT doesn’t make a big noise about sponsoring lower income families to have their kids play but it is an admirable aspect of this soccer club.
“I think this is really important and I have talked to my daughters and told them that this is part of our fees.
“I think it teaches them the value of caring about others and inclusiveness from an early age.”
From the Festivals to fun games played in the rain and the mud Allan now carries a coaching bag full of rewarding memories from his time with the club.
He laughs when he thinks of parents sheltering under their umbrellas as the kids roar around on gluepot pitches having a ball.
And he grinned: “The girls and I have been soaked in the rain doing our warm-up and then playing the game and loving it.
“For me it was great to see the pure joy in their faces, the innocence of youth and a reminder of what is important to them at that age. It transcends sport.
“I still love seeing how the girls improve over a season and then seeing them play in subsequent years.
“You see how much they have grown as players and people. We had a girl on our team last spring who had never played organised soccer and improved so much over our season she was able to play on her school team this Fall.
“My daughter was playing against her and I was really proud of both of them. That’s the real reward in coaching, to help make a difference in someone’s life.”
The Browns first aim for their daughters when they joined NT was to encourage them to have a love of the game and develop a healthy lifestyle.
In time they have learned about so much more than that.
Allan reflected: “I want them to have that burning love for sport, the challenges, the sore muscles, the joy of a good game, scoring a goal and celebrating, playing well as a team.
“You don’t always win even if you try your best. Fair play and teamwork, recognising everyone has different skills they bring to the team.
“And finally friendship. These are all life lessons that can be used in school, groups and eventually when they are adults. Powerful stuff. Also as a parent I feel fortunate to meet so many other parents who care about their kids and coaching with other invested volunteers. Some of these have become lasting family friendships. ”
Seven years from now Allan will be a wide-eyed fan cheering on Canada as the World Cup comes to Toronto in 2026.
It’s a tournament that will always resonate with him. When Sienna and Victoria were just a twinkle in his eye Allan set out on an epic solo three-month adventure backpacking through Africa.
A world away from Eglinton Park he savoured the drama of America ’94 as it unfolded.
The climax would come in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on July 17, 1994.
Italian legends Franco Baresi and Roberto Baggio both missed penalties in the Final shootout as Brazil grabbed the glory.
Allan recalled: “I was in the Congo and Uganda during the semi-finals and finals.
“I watched the Final in a small hut with a contingent of aid workers, soldiers, and medical professionals who were helping in Rwanda.
“Despite all that was going on at the time they had one night to cheer on their home countries or country of choice.
“Now our family and my daughters will have that chance.
“Toronto is already full of energy during the World Cup so I can only imagine how electric the city will be in 2026.
“One of the greatest things about living in Toronto is our diversity so it will be great to have some home country pride as well and wave some Canadian flags on our cars for once!
“As for any boy playing soccer they are dreaming right now of playing for Canada in 2026.
“We have gone to several of the women’s national team games with my daughters and it has been a great inspiration to watch them play and follow their successes over the years.
“It has helped fuel their love for the game and that love all started with North Toronto Soccer Club.”
NAIM KULLOJKA: HE'S GOT NT AT HEART
07s Boys parent coach tells us his Nitros story
PART OF THE GREEN MACHINE...Naim (second from right back row) before an exhibition with Ottawa Futuro
NAIM KULLOJKA fell in love with The Beautiful Game on the tough pitches of his childhood in Albania…now he has found a new soccer home in North Toronto.
Parent coach Naim is a hugely popular figure within our gifted 07s boys squad as he helps the technical staff week in, week out at training sessions and matches.
Dedicated Naim’s son, midfielder Grant, has been a part of the set up for five years now and his dad has never once regretted the decision to choose NT as their club.
Naim reflected: “We were looking for a club would offer the best soccer experience. After we tried different places like recreation and academy set-ups, we decided that NT is the place and the club to be at.”
Big-hearted Naim is a volunteer without an agenda, he is a well-loved figure throughout Head Coach Andy King’s U12 Boys group because of his genuine concern for the welfare of EVERY player within it.
But what first attracted him to the thought of becoming a Nitros parent coach?
He stressed: “At first it was simply the love for soccer. I had grown up back home playing soccer in the street or on small fields, improvising here and there just so that we could play without any adult supervision or help.
“When we started with NT and saw how hard the coaches were working, I decided to step in and help.
“I believe in giving back to the community and making even the smallest impact on young players’ lives was what drove me to become a volunteer.”
Naim has helped a string of the club’s Technical Staff to rear a richly talented 07s group that will graduate to the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL) Central Soccer League (CSL) in November of next year.
From son Grant’s original group of Nitros both keeper Ryan Tiltack and defender Jack Hayeems this summer signed for Toronto FC’s Academy to underline the quality that has been nurtured in this age group.
Naim is a big believer in the staff now assembled at NT and he reasoned: “Seeing those boys growing up in the right soccer environment has shown me that every child can succeed given the support and the chance.
“I have enjoyed so much having the chance to meet up with the technical coaches because in every coaching session you always learn something new.
“I feel that being there for being there for almost all practices and games, you get to see first-hand the efforts of everyone involved to make this the best experience.
“In the modern world it is easy to be cynical but I know how much everyone at NT tries to create memorable moments for the boys that will last them for many years to come.
“The coaches here genuinely care about the players and give their best to make every day the best one possible.”
Naim, who works for car giants BMW in his day job and even finds time to also coach the BMW Group Canada team, knows only too well that every soccer club has its flaws.
After all, he is a Manchester United fan and this season that’s not an easy job!
On a serious note, ntsoccer.com asked the 07s parent coach what he felt the club gets RIGHT in its approach to the development of players.
Naim said: “In my opinion one of the biggest aspects that NT gets right is the way that they create the right environment for every child to improve, participate and have a positive learning experience where everyone is welcomed and no one is judged.
“This is one of the core aspects that guides us all at the club.”
When the chance came up to travel to America for Grant’s first major tournament on the road with Nitros, Naim was a big driving force in the 07s party.
Three squads took part in this summer’s Lakefront Classic in Rochester under the guidance of former Head Coach Iain King who has now moved into the OPDL ranks at the club.
The trip was to produce a memory Naim will always treasure and he smiled: “Grant was a part of the White Team who won their division in the tournament without losing a game and there were some dramatic matches.
“We all supported each other’s squads on what was a very hot weekend and there was a great club feeling.
“The medal ceremony that we had when we returned home to Toronto at practice was the cherry on the top.”
ROCKIN' IT IN ROCHESTER...Naim and fellow parent coach Aleco Borba helped the 07s Boys win the Lakefront Classic
As respected new Head Coach Andy and the highly-experienced Octavian Ghidanac mastermind a key stage of the 07s development Naim is looking forward to the next chapter of his Nitros story.
He remains steeped in the game as an influential member of St Andrew’s Soccer Club, an over-35s League which operates at the lush Sunnybrook Park in the summer.
And he wants to see Grant, with the help of NT, retain the same lifelong love of soccer his dad has.
Naim admitted: “I would like Grant to continue playing with the club for as long as possible and be an active member of the club for many years to come.
“We have seen the benefits of NT OFF the field in different aspects too. Those moments of arranging for carpools and taking care of each other’s kids before and after the practice and games.
“We have made so many friends, kids have got to socialise more and have fun. Going to eat together after the game, celebrating someone's birthday or enjoying a chat with other parents while the boys enjoyed swimming in the pool parties are memories that are going to last for me.”
Naim’s own journey from Albania to settling and raising his family in Canada is one he feels is mirrored by so many in our multi-cultural community.
Now with the World Cup coming in 2026, and Canada being part of the successful three nation bid to host alongside the USA and Mexico, he sees a unique chance for the game to grow even further here.
He insisted: “The fact that we are so diverse as a country should not be seen as and obstacle but a great opportunity for soccer to develop and I hope those who matter now invest in the future of it.
“The World Cup coming to our homeland is a great inspiration. This is the most important soccer event in the world and it’s happening in our backyard.
“It does raise the bar for soccer in Canada and especially in my eyes for the Nitros to be ready. I would like to see Canada do well and why can we not have some Nitros players make the national team?
“I guess my ultimate dream would be sitting at the stadium watching the game and maybe telling the story to a guy next next to me of how I used to be a parent coach for that player out there playing for Canada!”