There was a time when Chris Turner didn’t think his son would get the chance to grow up, let alone play football.
“Honestly I didn’t think he’d be here today. We were advised he wasn’t going to make 12 months. Now he’s 13 and playing football. It puts things into perspective,” Turner said.
Turner’s son, Charlie, was diagnosed with Noonan syndrome, a genetic condition that affects many areas of the body that occurs in between 1 in 1000 to 1 in 2500 people. NS is characterised by mildly unusual facial features, short stature, heart defects, bleeding problems and skeletal malformations among other symptoms.
“Charlie was at the time the longest serving intensive care patient at John Hunter. He spent 247 days in ICU. [And] a bit over a year in hospital,” Turner said.
“I was coaching reserve grade at [Broadmeadow] Magic at that time and that kept me sane. Usually they either spend a few days in ICU and come out. Or they don’t make it. It’s extremely rare that they spend all that time in there and come out.
“It was incredibly draining. Our two daughters were at an impressionable age as well, about five and seven. And seeing their little brother in hospital full-time with one of us with him the whole time wasn’t easy. Bed 10 in ICU was like the fourth bedroom of our house. We got to know the people in there particularly well. The staff, the nurses, the doctors. They were keeping our baby alive.”
About four years ago, Turner took Charlie along to the Arnett’s Program, an inclusive football-based program which provides children with special needs the opportunity to learn to love the ‘beautiful game’ as much as everyone else.
Edgeworth FC originally hosted the program before the need to expand saw it shift to New Lambton FC.
Arnett’s, which means ‘little eagle’, was founded by Mark and Mel Midson who recruited volunteer coaches and workers. Turner says it changed his son’s life.
“We started taking Charlie along to have a bit of a look. The numbers at the time were small but the enthusiasm was really high,” Turner said.
“I didn’t really see anywhere else that could fit him in. Soccer is my passion and certainly he couldn’t have played mainstream. It wouldn’t work. So it was a really good avenue to get him out of the house.
“Different kids do different things but kids with special needs and certainly in Charlie’s case he’s very happy to sit inside and watch tv and just do what likes doing. So it was a really good way to get him out and active and other parents were doing the same thing. So we came back a second and third time and now we’ve been there ever since.”
Many in Newcastle football will know Turner as a former State League player with West Wallsend and NPL coach with Lake Macquarie and Maitland. But now, he gets his enjoyment from football as a volunteer as one of the dads at Arnett’s who run around holding hands with their child, watching as the smiles on their faces melt the stoniest of hearts.
Northern NSW Football (NNSWF) is thanking its 8,000 dedicated, hard-working volunteers that make playing football in our region possible this week as part of National Volunteer Week 2020.
National Volunteer Week, from 18 to 24 May, is an annual celebration which acknowledges the generous contribution of our nation’s volunteers. This year the theme is “Changing Communities. Changing Lives.”
“I’m literally just one of the dads that just turn up on a Sunday morning. You help set up the goals and pack them away. You might cook on the odd barbecue. You see a whole range of people coming together from all over the place with the one common factor being their children,” Turner said.
“It doesn’t matter how old they are, boy or girl, what their condition is. You just want to let your children run around and play in a safe, friendly, caring environment. Some groups play while holding hands with their parents, some play on their own against each other.
“Charlie and I will turn up in our Arnett’s uniforms and hold hands and get out on the field and play. All the kids get a chance to score goals, dribble the ball. That’s what it’s about, having a go.
“Then everyone will pack up and put everything away together. There is a real sense of community. As parents start to know each other you quickly realise it was more than just about the kids. It gives the parents a real outlet to communicate with other people who often are facing similar challenges. That interaction becomes more and more, just chatting in a non-judgemental environment. Which is a really strong point which I hadn’t considered when we started.
“It almost chokes you up a little bit. You put so many years of your own life into football since you were a little boy. Playing juniors, travelling away, your whole senior career then a coaching career. I just didn’t think he’d have that. The fact he has that avenue and seeing the look and joy on his face, it’s the biggest thrill. More than anything I had when I was playing. It’s a great thing to watch and the enjoyment he gets. It’s very deep and it makes me quite emotional.
“That’s why giving back to the local community and volunteering especially with Bar TV has given me so much, I think it gave me this sort of relentless commitment to give something back. Football was the easiest way to do that because it’s my passion and I’ve been around the game and the area for almost my whole life. I have a lot of fun doing it and it makes a lot of people happy as well.”
While Turner does what he can to help out at Arnett’s Program, his main focus as a volunteer is with BarTV as a pundit and commentator. It is where he dedicates most of his volunteer time and what he is best known for.
Working alongside Ben Homer and great mate Damien Smith, Turner has been able to keep a smile on his face while keeping in touch with the local game, covering the NNSW NPL first grade competition.
“Damien and I do it voluntarily. What I enjoy the most is that we’re both coaches and ex-players and now we’re finished it’s definitely a way to keep involved in the football community,” Turner said.
“We purposely have an opinion and often debate things and enjoy keeping in tune with player developments and who is playing what formation. It’s really healthy from a retired player-coach point of view.
“We do our best to be who we are without being something we’re not. I think that has worked. We don’t pretend to know or make stuff up. We are who we are.
“Every club is so accommodating to us being there, the coaches especially. We just try and explain what’s happening on the park and how we see it.
“When we banter or argue we start seeing the screen light up, Damien says I’ve got no clue or I’ll say he’s got no idea. We’re close mates outside this so it’s a lot of fun and laughs.”