Wednesday, 21 August 2013 3:36 PM
The A-League pre-season returns to Lismore this weekend with Brisbane Roar hosting Melbourne Heart as part of the league’s concerted effort to bring football to regional areas across the country.
It will be the second consecutive season Heart have ventured to the northern NSW community, following their successful week-long training camp there last year that culminated in their clash with a relatively unknown Wanderers side.
According to Lismore’s homegrown talent and former Socceroo Craig Foster, the area has a rich football history, with participation levels dwarfing that of other codes. While in the past this hasn’t necessarily translated into political support and widespread media coverage, Foster feels the tide is turning.
“It’s easy for people to forget that football is not only played in the capital cities around the country,” said Foster. “Every child has a right to see players and games live and this is what inspires them and drives participation.”
Having only returned to his hometown community last week, Foster applauded the efforts of regional councils like Lismore in devoting local investment in bringing A-League teams to town. He was impressed by the excitement of kids in the area and said the match would help galvanise the football community.
“With the growth of the A-League, football in this country is riding high and making huge strides in terms of its development,” said Foster. “As such we’re seeing the level of professionalism in administration in regional areas rise, with a cultural change from volunteer to professional management and this will help make the game stronger.”
Steve Mackney, who is the General Manager of Football Far North Coast said preparations for this weekend’s trial match were travelling along nicely and he was hoping for a crowd in excess of 5,000 – with one Harry Kewell being the big draw card.
“We’ve been blessed with some good weather after the wet season and the playing surface has nice grass coverage,” said Mackney. “From a regional perspective we applaud the effort of A-League clubs to get to more remote areas as it’s absolutely vital for locals to see the players live.
“For many of these kids the chance to see the likes of Harry Kewell is a once in a lifetime opportunity and will help motivate kids to play the game.
“Being a regional location we will continue to pursue every opportunity in terms of player development, coach education and pathways for match officials, which is helped greatly by matches such as this one.”
In terms of participation Lismore boasts nearly 6,200 registered players in its regional zone, with a further 2,000 in the Tweed catchment area playing for Football Queensland. With Lismore’s town motto being “Come to the Heart” John Aloisi’s side have developed a strong support base from the time they have already spent there.
A vital component of the match is the fact that the sides will not just fly in and fly out either side of the weekend fixture, with both sides staging training camps in the area. The Heart arrive in Lismore on Saturday evening and will stay until Wednesday, incorporating open training sessions and school visits as part of their trip. Meanwhile Roar will travel from their week-long camp in nearby Kingscliff where they are doing their own engagement with the community there.
Both Foster and Mackney agreed that while it was great to see the likes of Sydney FC travelling abroad and growing the A-League brand internationally, the importance of bringing the game to communities such as Lismore could not be underestimated.
Foster summed up this sentiment by saying; “It’s vital A-League clubs continue to visit regional areas and never forget the heart of the game, which is the kids in regional areas.”
Brisbane Roar play Melbourne Heart at Oakes Oval in Lismore on Sunday 25 August 2013. The game kicks off at 2.30pm and you can buy tickets to the match by clicking here.