Scott Fletcher, Coaching Director of Tuncurry Forster Football Club, talks to us about soccer in the Manning-Great Lakes …
Please give us a brief history of Soccer in the Manning-Great Lakes area?
Soccer or ‘football’ – it’s now the politically correct name – started in the area approximately 40 years ago. I’m told a fellow named Barry Melville started things off at the Manning-Great Lakes after moving here from Sydney, where his boys played soccer. He found that soccer wasn’t being played in our area and subsequently started an association 1973. The competition was formed with 22 junior teams that year, with the senior teams commencing in 1974.
Great debate surround the sports name … Do residents of the Manning-Great Lakes generally refer to the game as soccer or football, and why?
The majority of Australians refer to the sports name as soccer. I am sure this is also the case in our area. While playing soccer growing up, it was referred to by people supporting other football codes, as a variety of names – none of which were particularly complimentary!
But I think the game is rightly called football, and it is slowly catching on here. It was easier to call it soccer, because the other codes were already calling their game footy or football.
The round ball game arguably has the most amount of players and participants in the region … does this also reflect in spectator support?
I’d say that this football doesn’t end up with the crowd sizes that say Rugby League does, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Sunday afternoon at the Rugby League has always been a bit of a tradition, and it is a time when little other sport is played.
Our football has mainly been a Saturday sport, when most people are actually playing. Secondly, because there are so many men and ladies playing this football, there are so many games being played in several locations at the same time. This also spreads the spectator base.
Most towns can field teams from U8s through to 1st Grade and often multiple teams within divisions … what do you see as the reason for the success of the code?
I think this football has long been considered a safer sport to play. Obviously injuries occur, but the constant contact isn’t there. It is more skills-based, with enough contact to satisfy those looking to release some aggression as well. It is a sport that is very popular with females, which has added big numbers to the player base of the sport.
Tell us about the dives … do these happen in local derbies, or are they just too un-Australian and reserved for highly-paid TV super stars?
Diving or milking a penalty is something that happens in all forms of team sports. Unfortunately, in this football code it was something that was exploited in the professional ranks, due to the high stakes and massive amounts of money involved.
It looks terrible, and cheating always robs a contest of its true spectacle. If it happens locally, I think even team mates would bag that person out.
Has any local talent made it into the international arena?
As yet, nobody has gone on to an international level. While there has been some outstanding talent, our area offers too many other things to distract anyone from devoting their heart and soul to just one sport.
There are pathways in place and more opportunities for kids these days to pursue a career in football.
What comes after playing local club soccer, and how can committed players set their sights on playing professionally?
Young players can represent the area in representative football from 9 years and up; although, the really committed players have to look at larger population areas like Newcastle and Sydney to pursue a professional career.
Certainly the A League is opening up more opportunities, as well as Asian countries. Traditionally though, England and Europe seems to be the pinnacle to aim for, but representing Australia in our football is gaining the recognition it deserves.
6-a-side has quite a big following in our region. Generally speaking, do the vast majority of ‘soccer tragics’ support this variation of the game, or does the purist only accept 11-a-side?
6-a-side is very popular, particularly as a summer sport. It’s very fast and attacking and is popular with players who normally play other sports in winter – a bit like touch footy. It certainly has a place, but most people can’t wait for the real stuff to start again in winter.
Tell us about the local ladies competition?
The ladies competition is gaining in popularity all the time. So many ladies have now grown up playing this sport, that it has raised the skill level immensely. There are also representative pathways for the girls, with the Matildas a very successful national team. Locally there are reps for girls in 12s, 14s and 16s, as well as a ladies premier league team competing in the Newcastle area.
There is a ‘battle of the billionaires’ currently at play between FFA chairman Frank Lowy and mining entrepreneur and enthusiastic soccer backer, Clive Palmer, over the administration of the game … what’s all this about, and how nasty do you think it will get?
The battle of the billionaires comes down to a battle between Lowy, a lifelong supporter of football (soccer) in Australia and Palmer, the former licensee of Gold Coast United.
While Palmer makes some valid points about the lack of input from the owners into the running of the game, he loses a lot of credibility by turning the whole affair into a circus. Lowy will still be involved in soccer long after Palmer moves onto his next flight of fancy.
Diego Maradona and the ‘hand of God’ – what’s your take on this and on Maradona generally?
Maradona is undoubtedly one of the greats of the past 50 years of world football. The ‘hand of God’ against England at the 1986 World Cup sadly overshadowed a magnificent solo goal that he scored in the game, where he dribbled the ball some 60 metres from inside his own half through the might of the England defence to score the goal of the century.
Maradona sadly, like numerous other elite sports people, allowed the celebrity lifestyle to grab the headlines more than his prowess on the field.
In terms of a being a role model for the sport, what’s your view on David Beckham?
Beckham is a role model for his generation – an immensely talented footballer with a family the paparazzi love to follow. He has done more to lift the profile of football in the USA in the last 20 years than any other player.
Les Murray is an institution to the sport … how would you rate him as Australia’s ‘face of football’?
Les is a great spokesman for football in Australia. He does at times polarise the views of football fans in Australia with some of his comments; however, when Les talks football, fans listen!
Story by Karen Farrell.