Suspension of Football One Year On – An open letter from NNSWF Chair and CEO

March 17th, 2021

This time last year Northern NSW Football was preparing for our biggest ever season.

The long summer break was over. Players and coaches were preparing on the pitch. While off the pitch our army of volunteers were gearing their clubs up for another huge season.

Competition administrators from every echelon were finalising field allocations and draws. Parents were doing their best to harness their children’s excitement as they prepared to step out onto the pitch, some for the first time.

Then, the world changed.

Football Australia announced on 17 March 2020 that all sanctioned football had been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was a stance Northern NSW Football fully supported. We quickly shifted our focus to keeping the football community positive, informed and safe during a truly unknown and unprecedented situation.

As of Monday, the pandemic has claimed the lives of 909 Australians and 2,656,822 people globally. There have been more than 29,000 cases across Australia and an astonishing 119 million recorded cases across the world.

It has been a difficult year for many. Some have lost loved ones, while others have endured financial hardship.

Northern NSW Football was not immune from the financial impact of the coronavirus. The suspension of football forced 19 staff to be stood down for an extended period and a third of our team ultimately departed the governing body.

It has been an incredibly difficult year. But we are pleased to report that your governing body has largely weathered the storm and maintained the game’s financial stability. The financial stimulus afforded directly to sport by the NSW government was sorely needed and appreciated. NNSWF’s appreciation is extended to NSW Minister for Sport Geoff Lee, The Office of Sport, Sport NSW and Football Australia for their advocacy throughout 2020.

The NNSWF Board and Management responded to the huge decline in revenue by dramatically reducing expenditure. The can hasn’t been kicked down the road for future generations. We did our best to tangibly assist clubs who lost sponsors and couldn’t conduct their traditional fundraising activities through the provision of concessions totalling almost $600,000.

The staff at NNSWF were incredible. Like all good teams do, they responded brilliantly to adversity. They remained strong, focused and committed to helping get players and clubs back on the park. The football community was their priority, and we thank them wholeheartedly for their efforts.

Getting back on the pitch when it was safe to do so with the approval of relevant health authorities was paramount. The game’s response was nothing short of inspiring. The willingness of volunteers to absorb and implement the constant changes to ensure the health and safety of their members and communities exceeded our expectations.

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COVID-19 response

Our primary objective was to keep the football community informed through transparent and honest communication. We did our absolute best to pass on pertinent information in a timely manner through our website and social media channels.

This included the development of a COVID-19 portal which provided resources for clubs and information to players, coaches, volunteers and parents. NNSWF’s appreciation is extended to the Member Zones for their cooperation and contribution towards the myriad of resources and correspondence which enabled the game to proceed. We also take this time to acknowledge our colleagues at Football Australia and Football NSW for their willingness to share their expertise.

We moved the Newcastle Permanent Coaching Masterclass Series online to help keep coaches engaged. The sessions featured a number of high-profile guests including Stuart Jones (Blackburn Rovers Academy), Mark Jones (former Newcastle Jets coach) and Tom Sermanni (New Zealand Women head coach, former Matildas coach).

We launched the inaugural Newcastle Permanent Volunteer Masterclass Series online to help volunteers improve their skills. The sessions featured more high-profile guests included Kaine Sheppard (Newcastle Jets) and Ben O’Neill (Football Australia).

We rolled out 10,500 free footballs to entry-level players along with our major community football partner Newcastle Permanent. This took our contribution to more than 100,000 footballs to players aged seven and under since 2008. Newcastle Permanent’s willingness to work through the challenges associated with delivering community football in 2020 was also greatly appreciated.

The Newcastle Permanent Community Awards returned in 2020 despite the suspension of football. We continued to celebrate the contribution of community clubs, volunteers, referees and coaches who ensure our game continues to thrive.

As did our ever-popular Newcastle Permanent Skill of the Week series, which attracted plenty of support online.

We launched an online series helping players to remain fit during the lockdown and suspension of football that included interviews with former A-League physiotherapist Murray Leyland and NNSWF chief medical officer Dr Ross Cairns.

We continued to shine a light on our premier competitions with a series of features on personalities from the NPL NNSW, Herald Women’s Premier League and Northern League One competitions including Ben Kennedy, Rhali Dobson, Damien Zane, Michael Bolch, Ellie Hayes, Rhys Tippett, Luke Virgili and Robbie Turnbull.

We also produced a number of other features including an ANZAC Day piece on ‘soccer soldier’ Peter George Coppock, announcement of life membership for Neil Jones and a Q&A with our very own Matilda, Emily van Egmond.

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Women & Girls

It was a big year for women and girls in football across northern NSW.

June 26 provided perhaps the brightest day of 2020, with FIFA awarding hosting rights to Australia and New Zealand for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, with Newcastle named as a potential host city.

Further, Cessnock City Council was also awarded hosting rights for the 2022 AFC under-17s Women’s Championship round one qualifiers to be played in September.

We awarded five more Northern NSW Football C-Licence Coaching Scholarships for Women, adding to the inaugural 13 recipients from 2019.

We also saw the return of Kick-On for Women, our introductory football program designed specifically for women who have never played football before, or have not played for a long time, to fit exercise and time for themselves into their busy lives while juggling work, study, family and social commitments.

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Operation Unite

Northern NSW Football assumed direct responsibility for the administration, growth, development and promotion of the game throughout the Northern Inland.

Representatives from NNSWF, Football Australia, Newcastle Jets and Northern Inland Academy of Sport were on hand at the final meeting of Northern Inland Football Incorporated in January as Member clubs formally approved the NIF Board’s motion to wind up NIF Inc and establish a new, unincorporated body.

NNSWF have already hit the ground running in Northern Inland, launching a new, centralised MiniRoos hub at Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Armidale and an exciting partnership with NIAS to deliver Player Development Programs aligned to the NNSWF Talented Player Pathway.

NNSWF are also on the cusp of appointing a MiniRoos Development Officer in the Northern Inland region to promote the game and assist volunteer coaches, with a MiniRoos Coaching Certificate and Game Leader Course also scheduled.

Former NIF Competitions Administrator Toby McVey remained on board as NNSWF’s Northern Inland Regional Coordinator.

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Infrastructure Strategy

We launched a state-wide Infrastructure Strategy, along with Football NSW, designed to address the need for significant investment in facilities over the next 10 years in October.

The strategy is focused on upgrading crucial infrastructure across the state including lighting, pitches and changing facilities.

The launch coincided with a visit from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who opened stage two of the Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility.

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Premier Competitions

A number of NNSW NPL clubs have recognised the importance of women’s football, entering teams in the Herald Women’s Premier League.

Following on from Broadmeadow Magic and Newcastle Olympic, Maitland FC and Charlestown Azzurri will enter the competition in 2021 after acquiring licences from Thornton FC and Merewether United respectively.

It was a difficult year for our Operations team with the ever-changing COVID-19 situation providing countless challenges.

Despite those challenges, the 2020 regular season and finals series’ across NNSW NPL, Herald Women’s Premier League and Northern League One were completed.

We were even able to attract a new naming rights sponsor for the Northern League One competition, with HIT FM coming on board for the 2021 season.

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Funding

There was also good news on the funding front.

Young girls aspiring to play for the Matildas will benefit from a $750,000 NSW government-funded talent identification and youth development program over the next three years to ensure players from regional NSW have the opportunity to reach their potential regardless of where they live.

NNSWF also welcomed the announcement that sports facilities across regional NSW will benefit from new and improved women’s changerooms and amenities thanks to $50 million in funding from the NSW government’s $2 billion Regional Growth Fund.

While a new $100 million Greater Cities and Regional Sports Facility Fund announced in the 2020-21 NSW budget will stimulate local economies, boost employment and promote healthy lifestyles across the state. The November announcement was timely, coinciding with the NSW Football Infrastructure Strategy.

Five northern NSW community football clubs also received almost $220,000 in funding for significant infrastructure projects to improve club facilities thanks to Northern NSW Football’s Facilities Fund.

Thirty-four NNSWF clubs shared in $145,000 thanks to the NSW government Office of Sport’s 2019-20 Local Sport Grant Program. And more than 180 Northern NSW Football Clubs shared in $181,000 thanks to the NSW Government’s Grassroots Sports Fund.

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Community

We launched Female Football Week 2020 from 8 to 15 March, celebrated NAIDOC Week 2020 8 to 15 November and acknowledged our annual Newcastle Permanent Referee Recognition Week, allowing the football community to express their gratitude and appreciation for the hard work of match officials with a series of profiles and social media posts.

We also held our inaugural Mental Health Awareness Round alongside Newcastle Netball Association. Initially announced in March and scheduled for July, Mental Health Awareness Round was eventually held in September to help break down the stigma of mental illness.

We celebrated National Volunteer Week from 18 to 24 May and acknowledged the generous contribution of volunteers across our region under the theme “Changing Communities. Changing Lives.”

The week saw us again shine the light on our football community and produce a series of features on Con Gounis (Newcastle Olympic), Laura Ranger (Mayfield United), Tabatha Ellem (Grafton City), Chris Turner (Arnett’s Program), Steve Mitchell (North Companions FC), Susan Woodward (Jesmond FC), Garry Horner (Bellbird JFC) and Loren Cooney (Southern Lakes FC).

Ranger and Stephen Lubke were also nominated for honours at the 2020 NSW Community Sports Awards in November.

NNSWF nominated the pair for the awards with Lubke presented with a Distinguished Long Service award for more than 25 years of dedication to Northern Inland Football club Narrabri FC. Ranger, president of Newcastle Football club Mayfield United, was one of four finalists nominated for the Community Sport Administrator award.

We encouraged the football community to identify their Member Protection Information Officer to help them understand what they do to make football clubs as safe as possible.

We also encouraged clubs to take part in the National Club Development Program with a number of clubs already achieving five stars thanks to the help and support from the Northern NSW Football team including Thornton Junior FC, Weston JFC, Broadmeadow Magic Youth FC and Southern Lakes United FC.

We have also welcomed a dedicated PlayFootball Support Coordinator to provide training and support to clubs and member zones around the registration system.

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We have overcome many challenges over the last 12 months and we will continue to do our absolute best to provide football to the entire community, regardless of your age, gender or playing experience. All you need is a love for the beautiful game, and we will have somewhere for you to play in 2021.

Just last month we were able to offer a taste of football to more than 750 primary school-aged children when we hosted two school gala days.

Football across northern NSW has defied the odds and bounced back to record player numbers despite the disruption of the global pandemic with player registrations equal to or above numbers for the same time in 2019 across five of our seven Member Zones.

Our role as the member federation during the COVID-19 crisis was as important as ever as we endeavoured to be a strong voice for our members and clubs.

We advocated for them with state government and its agencies, local government, Football Australia, summer sports and media. And we will continue to do so.

Football is the most popular sport on the planet and the number one club-based sport in Australia. Football can also boast the strongest, finest traditions throughout northern NSW.

The game endured the Great Depression of the 1930s as well as two world wars. Football survived and played on. Relationships with key stakeholders have been strengthened through adversity and our game is bouncing back stronger than ever before. Getting back on the pitch in 2020 was critical and was only achieved thanks to the dedication and commitment of our wonderful club volunteers.

Our registration numbers being, incredibly, back on par with our record 2019 numbers further highlights the dedication and love of the game that the northern NSW football community have for our sport.

And we hope you’ll join us in 2021, a season we anticipate being our biggest yet.

 

NNSWF Chair Helene O’Neill

NNSWF CEO David Eland

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