There’s a perfect storm brewing in the world of professional sport and the A-League has been one of the first competitions in Australia to feel the full effect.
2017 was a significant year for Geelong football in so many ways but most importantly it was the year when the world game finally came of age in the seaside town.
On and off the field football is booming in the region and the possibilities are infinite. From players, coaches, volunteers, clubs and now crucially politicians, it seems everyone is hopping on for the ride, and what a journey it promises to be.
Who knows how far we can go? Teams in the A-League and W-League? A purpose-built football stadium where marquee games will be played? Improved facilities especially for women? More future Socceroos and Matildas?
As we head into the 2018 season all of the above prospects have football fans in Geelong salivating and so it should! It is about time a region that produced the likes of Josip Skoko, Matthew Spiranovic, Steve Horvat, Joey Didulica et al received the acknowledgement it rightly deserves for the round ball game.
The cream on the cake this year will be when the increasingly popular Australian women’s team the Matildas play an international game against China on Sunday November 26 at Kardinia Park.
Seeing the likes of Lisa De Vanna and Sam Kerr strutting around on our turf will be wonderful for local fans.
Women’s football is thriving in the town with around 25 per cent of the regions 4,000 registered players being female.
There were no less than 71 female only teams in Geelong this year spread across the GRFC clubs, state league and WNPL which is remarkable compared to where we were ten years ago.
Geelong Galaxy United made their second consecutive WNPL grand final this year showing they have been one of the top performing female clubs in the state.
On a national level, Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City are making inroads into the region through playing games, holding clinics, running beach football tournaments, giving match day opportunities for locals and providing discounted memberships for Geelong based fans etc.
Heck the Victoria Patriots working group has been formed to put in a strong case for the town to have its very own A league team within the next five years.
On the field locally there has been major goals kicked by the region. We have two new clubs in the local GRFC competition, FC Leopold and Armstrong United, who will help cover two growing areas in Geelong.
As mentioned before for the first time ever we have cracked 4,000 registered participants in the local competition which is a major boom!
We have eight men’s state league teams and one women’s. There is every chance that Barwon and Drysdale will join the state league ranks in the next year or two as well.
In the NPL, North Geelong Warriors will compete in NPL2 next year and Geelong SC are a strong chance of obtaining an NPL licence sooner rather than later. As mentioned already, Galaxy United have made headlines for women’s football in the region at the WNPL level.
In terms of our juniors, North Geelong Warriors under 20s NPL team finished second this year, a wonderful effort considering the bulk of the boys are from Geelong and have been part of the Warriors youth program for a number of years.
Also the Galaxy under 15s girls team made the finals after coming last the previous year.
At the recent regional championships in Morwell in June, Geelong juniors gave a wonderful account of themselves. The under 15s who won their final while the under 12s, under 13s and under 14s all made their respective finals as well.
In the under 11s we had two Geelong teams playing against each other. The under 16s narrowly missed out on the final on goal difference. We also had two junior girls teams in the under 12s and under 16s with both teams recording wins during the tournament, which should serve as inspiration for all junior girls playing football in Geelong.
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Off the field significantly, there has been a large amount of money spent on upgrading football facilities in the region showing how seriously people, especially politicians, are taking the growth of the sport.
In the past two years the Geelong football community has reaped the benefit from over $17 million worth of sports facilities being built or enhanced.
Examples of this include:
– Geelong SC spent $750,000 to open up a new pavilion at Stead Park complete with new change rooms including female friendly ones.
– North Geelong Warriors spent $500,000 upgrading their change rooms and facilities at Elcho Park catering for women as well. The City of Greater Geelong contributed $133,000 and the state government $150,000.
– Surfside Waves were the beneficiary of a $6 million multi purpose sporting facility built in Ocean Grove with $3.5 million coming from the Federal Government and $2.5 million coming from the City of Greater Geelong.
– Golden Plains spent $750,000 on building a new facility at Bannockburn complete with change rooms, dining and kitchen facilities. $100,000 came from the state government, $100,000 from Sport and Recreation Victoria and $550,000 from Golden Plains Shire.
– Lara United unveiled new change rooms and kitchen facilities worth $450,000 with the money coming from the City of Greater Geelong and the state government.
– Drysdale SC will have a new $3.5 million multi purpose facility in the near future. $2M synthetic football facility to be built in Norlane with $600,000 coming from the state government.
– New club Armstrong United will benefit from a $3-million multi-purpose sports facility built in Armstrong Creek.
While all of the above shows things are going well for Geelong, we need to make sure the region does not get complacent and continues the momentum. In other words there are many things that still need to be done. It is difficult to prioritise as everyone has their view on what should come first however difficult decisions need to be made.
Surely the major focus at the moment should be taking advantage of the increasing popularity of women’s soccer. It has been great to see clubs consider female only change rooms when upgrading their facilities.
Showing females they are just as important as men is vital to growing the sport and adding more credibility to Geelong’s football pedigree. After all women make up 51 per cent of the population!
There also needs to be more invested in technical programs for females which includes investing more in female specific coaching resources in relation to playing, coaching and also refereeing. Deakin Ducks, Lara United, Barwon SC and Drysdale are leading the way with this.
Geelong SC are coming on board, as should everyone else.
Galaxy United and Melbourne Victory star Laura Spiranovic and her sister Amelia have started a female football apparel brand called NTRL GRND, which is designed to provide uniforms specifically designed for women.
Local clubs need to start providing comfortable gear for females to play in which will only enhance their experience and encourage them to play more.
Speaking of Galaxy United, the club needs to be given a permanent home with elite facilities if they are to continue the amazing work they do in the community for females which goes well beyond the football field.
The club currently plays at Banyul Warri Reserve in Torquay but shares it with local club Surf Coast who have a lot of players and teams. The club deserves their own home with purpose built facilities.
A women’s pre-season cup would also be a fantastic investment. Allowing women to play in an exciting knockout tournament will be a great way to lead into the new football season and it will give the local female game more coverage too.
Apart from female soccer, Geelong football fans also need to hear from the Victoria Patriots working group.
While plenty of work is being done behind the scenes it needs to be announced publicly so the people know something is happening and progress is being made in getting Geelong an A league licence.
There also needs to be more noises about a W-League team coming from the group as well as a potential A-League team.
While the funding already provided for improved facilities has been great we simply need more! There are a lot of clubs in Geelong still with antiquated facilities which need to be modernised.
We also need more pitches! A major complex with a number of fields that caters for the ever growing mini roos program should be a priority as well.
The last thing we need is for kids to drop off because there is no room to play. If we build, more will come.
Geelong is a football town now, make no mistake about it, the world is at their feet. Bring on 2018!