It's a scene that plays out every weekend around the world during the football season. People flock to their local community clubs to watch, play, coach and volunteer. On this episode we explore why grassroots football is the lifeblood of the game.
> EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
James: I'm James Parkinson and this is By Association, a show about football and the connection we all share with the beautiful game.
James: Do you want to explain what we’re doing here?
Luke: So we’re just turning these unmarked parklands into six football pitches. We’re just going old school, we’re getting the string lines out and got our corner points and then I just walk in a straight line.
James: It's a scene that plays out every weekend around the world during the football season. People flock to their local community clubs to watch, play, coach and volunteer. This is grassroots football.
James: For many years now I’ve been coming to my local club in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Whitehorse United, where my friend Luke Marrone plays….
James: And how many years have you been at Whitehorse?
Luke: Twenty four. Twenty four years. It’s a little bit of time, considering I’m only 29.
James: When you think about it that way, yeah.
Luke: Yeah, so I’ve been here for a while and it’s just us cousins doing the ground and you know, his Dad coaches the little kids on Saturday and my Mum’s in the canteen and Dad’s running the club and you know... Now we just gotta get our other cousin down because he’s like the good player. He doesn’t play here so we need to get him back and then we’ll be all good on the park as well.
James: So not just a community club, it’s kind of a family club as well?
Luke: For us. It’s kind of always been like that.
James: Luke’s cousin Liam has also grown up around the club. They both play in the senior team….
Liam: Started when I was six. Had a couple of years away. How old am I now? Twenty four. So that’s, yeah a long time. Seventeenth yeah, I think? I don’t know, but yeah - [Luke: amateur] Amateur, yeah haha. Been an absolute journey.
James: What keeps you coming back?
Liam: I don’t know, just that culture, the vibe around the club. I’m also involved with coaching the juniors. Yeah, there’s probably a handful of them, six or seven who come every week, home and away. And yeah, it’s good to see a smile on their faces when you step out and represent the club so… I’ve coached the same team for five years now. And yeah, you can see them, not just developing as footballers but into grown men too. Yeah, under 14’s now, so yeah I guess I sort of want to set an example as a role model for them. Hopefully, one day they can step up and play senior football, maybe with me. I don’t know how they’re gonna go with that, but yeah they’re not too far off. So maybe in a few years it’ll be good to be out there with a few of them.
James: Just to give people the picture, what kind of level is Whitehorse, the seniors?
Liam: So it’s State Four which is not the greatest league on paper. However, it is a very fierce and sometimes frustrating competition. There’s probably eight or nine that could comfortably play a higher level but yeah, it’s all about enjoying it I guess and we enjoy and are quite competitive so it’s good.
James: From juniors experiencing football for the first time to those looking to progress their game further, grassroots clubs provide the foundation for a wide range of player development.
Luke: We’re kinda one of the little guys, I think. Like, in our area we’re kinda surrounded by these top tier junior clubs and then there’s us kinda plonked in the middle. So in terms of recruiting good junior kids, it’s a little bit difficult but that’s just how it is. You know, we’re a community club and we get community type kids. I mean, we’ve got guys playing in the Under 15s that are playing for the first time ever. And we’ve got our Saturday program which Liam’s Dad, he’s running. They’ve got 50 kids this year, they’re gonna run around. They’ve got a couple of kids that are only three and a half and so they’re gonna start having a run around on a Saturday. So yeah, we’ve really gotta try and build from that age and sort of show them what the clubs about. And I think for most people that are here - and I’m sure it’s not everyone and there’s people that’ve got horror stories because their kid didn’t make the team or whatever it is. But I think most people that are here kind of get it, I hope people get it and they understand what’s going on.
We’re not very likely to see the next Messi coming out of Whitehorse but you know, we have produced a lot of good players that are playing in the top league in Victoria. I mean, five, six, seven guys, probably, playing up there. Which, like I said, for a club that shouldn’t really attract that level of kid, we’re pretty happy with. And then we’ve got tons more playing at other high levels, but yeah, five or six would be right up there. We haven’t quite had an A-League player yet. We got close. We had a couple on the bench once or twice, but yeah not quite. That’ll be a good day, I think everyone from the Horse will get excited when one of the boys turns out in the A-League or one of the women in the W-League.
Luke: We get people ringing up and they got their kid who’s - and I think this happens a lot in Australia in particular - the parent will ring up and say, “I have no idea about soccer at all, in any way, I’ve never played, I’ve never watched a single game but my kid really wants to play, you know, how does it work?”. You just want to get them involved and then they’re the kind of people that at the end of the first season they’re like “that was amazing, I can’t believe my kid could do that, you know I can’t believe they could pass like that or they can’t believe they scored a goal”. And like that’s the kind of stuff that keeps you going, you know if everyone was complaining all the time I don’t know how many of us would continue to do it. But yeah, it’s just good, it’s just good to be involved in the community.
Kim: Well my history is I’ve been watching football since my brother was about six and he’s now in his mid fifties so I’ve grown up in soccer culture from Europe, moving here, still hanging onto it. I met my husband through the soccer.
Kim: I’m Kim Marrone and I actually was one of the founders of the club. And that was in 1993. So we have been here a long time. Long, long time. I am presently the club registrar. Over the years I’ve been president, I’ve been secretary. Yeah, pretty well tried to help wherever I could.
James: And what are you doing right now?
Kim: What I’m doing right now, I’m doing the Thursday night meal for the senior group. We’re having penne pasta, bolognese. So this afternoon I made the sauce and I went and bought the shopping. And our idea of this is just so that the players hang around, keep up the bond between club and players.
I wouldn’t say we go down the professional line but we try to put as much in place so that the people who join our club have a pleasant experience.
Me personally, it’s a very social club. We’ve made lifelong friends at the club. I don’t know whether it’s my nature or what but I like to provide a good service for people, whether it’s community or higher level. But over the years we’ve always had good parents, good players, good kids. And they’ve all commented that it’s got a good feel about it. So I think we just keep coming back because it’s a good place to be.
Kim: I think it’s paramount that we have community groups. My personal opinion, the elite academies and all that, very good for players that are identified as skillful and believe that they’re going to make a career out of it. But for a child to experience the game to get to that level, they need to play and have fun and learn the skills as they’re enjoying their football, without the stress of three nights training -- stress that I don’t think kids need, even young adults need.
So for me, the community clubs are the stepping stone for those that feel they have the talent to move up, to enjoy their football first and then if it’s something that is their passion, then move towards the higher levels. But definitely for me, community clubs is most important.
Sean: So my name’s Sean Coulter and I’m the Miniroos Kickoff coordinator at our club. So the Miniroos Kickoff program is, it’s pretty much an introduction to soccer for young kids, boys and girls. The program, ideally is suited to kids four to nine years of age and it’s generally a Saturday morning session.
Yeah, and it gives them an insight into the game and look, hopefully from that one year they spend in the program they sort of continue on at our club and playing in our Under 8s and 9s and so on.
James: No matter how they first fall in love with the game, for many, being involved in grassroots clubs is where that love is nurtured.
James: So you really notice that enthusiasm and that kind of love of the game growing as the kids come through and move on to other teams within the club?
Sean: Absolutely. I mean last year we had something like 37 registered kids. This year, at this stage we’re at about 56 kids. So there’s a massive interest. Our Under 8s from this year, we have two teams and 95% of those kids have come through the kickoff program. So yeah, the kids love it. It’s all about fun. We want our kids to love our game and drag Mum and Dad out of bed at the ungodly hours that we start.
We play games, we play hide-and-seek and peek-a-boo and they’re all actually soccer related but you talk to the kids at that level and they’re engaged and they’re very excited. Very much so.
We’re here from the crack of dawn till the sun goes down, you know, we just love it. We’re very passionate about it so yeah, it’s an obsession. It’s a real obsession. But you know, I think team sports for kids, wow, it’s fantastic. And I’ve seen kids that have come here very introverted and they’ve come out of their shell, purely through the game.
James: By Association is produced by me, James Parkinson. And thanks to Luke and everyone at Whitehorse United.
Support for By Association comes from listeners just like you. By joining the community you’ll get access to behind the scenes content and exclusive previews of new episodes before anyone else. Pledges start at just $1 a month. Full details on the website, byassociation.audio/support.
You can find the show on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr at byassociationfc - and if social media isn’t your thing sign up to The Programme, the official By Association newsletter for monthly updates about the podcast. Just click ‘newsletter’ on our website.
Music featured in this episode comes from Podington Bear and Kai Engel, under creative commons. Thank you for listening thanks to our parent site, 3nilfc.com, where we always love the game.
Luke: At our club we have like a, you know, we’re horse themed. Of course, you need a theme at the club. Ours is horses. Which, now that I have to say into a microphone, it a bit ridiculous! But we set up our grandstand, which is just a $50 marquee that people stand under. But you know, we call it ‘The Stable’. And then we’ve got the bar and that’s the trough and yeah, there’s not too many more horse puns but we get the most out of it I think.