Australian Football Skool Director Rolando Navas on the impact of floods in Shepparton

Shepparton

Over the years, the Shepparton Cup has been a staple in the football calendar. It is an event which has plenty to offer, not only for young girls and boys but for the community as well.

The town of Shepparton receives enormous economic injection through the tournament and is an ideal weekend getaway for families of all sizes.

The event provides an opportunity for rising stars of the game to participate, with the overall quality of the tournament improving every year. A very successful Goulburn Valley Suns team won back-to-back Cups in the U16 division during 2018 and 2019, which at the time featured Socceroo Garang Kuol, his brother Teng Kuol and Melbourne City goalkeeper James Nieuwenhuizen.

Australian Football Skool (AFS) has been organising events like the Shepparton Cup since 2007 and has seen tens of thousands of great players participate in these events.

Another key Socceroo in Ajdin Hrustic participated in the 2007 and 2008 editions of the tournament, winning all accolades as an outstanding junior player who showed he had the x-factor, even at the tender age of 12.

Unfortunately, due to the unprecedented flooding which had a significant impact in Melbourne and regional Victoria, the Shepparton Cup had to be cancelled for a third year in a row as the facilities and the entire surroundings had been severely damaged.

In an exclusive chat with Soccerscene, Rolando Navas, the founder and a member of the board of directors for AFS, shared some insights from the family-owned business who have been organising the Shepparton Cup for many years now.

He also touched upon their commitment and ways of helping the Shepparton community during this difficult moment in time.

Since the event was cancelled the AFS has partnered with Greater Shepparton Foundation, how did this come together?

Rolando Navas:  The AFS has been hosting the competition in Shepparton for over 10 years now. It started with 40 teams and the highest we have had is 287 teams. We haven’t been able to host the event for a couple of years now due to Covid and the floods earlier this year, so we collaborated with the Greater Shepparton Foundation along with other partners to help the people affected by the floods.

The Shepparton Cup is more than just a sporting event for the community. We teamed up with the foundation in assisting the town to navigate through this unprecedented time and help spread some positivity. This is the biggest football tournament in Victoria, and it means a lot to us.

You mentioned that the Shepparton Cup is more than just a sporting event for the community. What impact does the cup have?

Rolando Navas: It’s massive for the community with respect to attracting over 10,000 people over a weekend. Local accommodations are boosted during the cup weekend, as well as other various local businesses such as sporting outlets, food markets and the surrounding towns of Shepparton due to this influx of people over the course of the event. Grassroots soccer clubs and associations also benefit as they often organise catering for the teams involved and the local food truck businesses also receives a massive boost during the event.

The atmosphere we want to create is more of a carnival type and not just a sporting event. We had planned to have a local expo this year to encourage families who aren’t involved with soccer to showcase their artwork and handicrafts. The cup also provides councils an ideal platform to market themselves and the tourism sectors of Shepparton and its neighbouring flourishes along with creating employment for local contractors, referees and many more to help stage this carnival.

The Shepparton Cup is massive, and we hope to see it return in the near future. What are the things to look out for during next year’s event?

Rolando Navas: There is a massive appetite for the event. I always get asked about it and we continuously look for ways to grow and expand. It is one of AFS’s marquee events and we are working towards getting teams from not just other states but also international teams from New Zealand and Asia to grow the cup into the biggest – not just in the state but also the country. We are also working closely with the council to cater for the demand and have added another venue in Mooroopna which is an eight minute drive from Shepparton. We also want to add more accommodation options for the expected influx of guests for the cup as well. We intend to raise awareness through our other events that run throughout the year and tentatively plan to host the Shepparton Cup in October 2023.  Additionally, we have organised an indoor flood relief futsal event in February 2023 to help the town and bring positivity to the community. Shepparton is our flagship event and we are constantly looking to evolve this further.

AFS also partnered with Shout For Good, how did this come along?

Rolando Navas: They are a great platform to fundraise which doesn’t charge any fee and collects funds sophisticatedly along with being tax beneficial for all donors.  We reached out to them and we plan to work with them for future events. In addition, we introduced them to the Greater Shepparton Foundation which is a charity themselves and all three organisations decided to collaborate to help provide relief for the town.  All the funds being donated go directly to the people who are in need and are recovering from the floods.

You can make a donation via the Greater Shepparton Foundation, which will provide valuable assistance towards the Shepparton Cup and local community.

To donate, please click here.

Nick Galatas on addressing the link between National Second Tier with promotion and relegation

The National Second Tier (NST) competition is building towards its expected start date of March/April 2025, but its final structure has not been settled.

While eight teams were initially announced with representation from Victoria and New South Wales, we are still yet to find out who will make up the rest of the ‘national’ component.

We will at least have an update on this around June 2024, as the Request for Proposal (RFP), Assessment & Review and Completion Phases are all completed.

Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) Chairman Nick Galatas has been a vocal advocate and involved in establishing the NST from its inception, but despite the previously announced foundation clubs, there is still work to do to ensure the NST starts in the best possible shape.

At this stage, eight foundation clubs have been confirmed, but there is a push to increase the number to at least 12.

Despite 26 clubs advancing to the RFP phase, only 8 foundation clubs proved to be a major drop off from what appeared a healthy pool of teams to choose from.

“There were 26 clubs that looked to be in a great position to be selected to start in the new NST,” Galatas told Soccerscene.

“From those, it would be expected to get 12 for a kick-off in 2024 but didn’t pan out that way.”

A lack of structure around how promotion and relegation will work with the NPL does leave some uncertainty for the clubs left out of the NST. Many clubs remain eager to be part of the expected four additional teams to be added for the competition’s commencement early in 2025.

For Football Australia, consistency will need to be applied across the board about how clubs go up and down between the NST and NPL when promotion and relegation commences. Football Queensland has made rules that a Queensland coming into the NST will revert to the competition it was in before it joined the NST. That is inconsistent with the approach of other member federations.

For example, with Preston Lions FC competing in Victoria Premier League 1 in 2024 prior to the commencement of NST, if they get relegated is it one step below to NPL Victoria or the original league they are in now?

Galatas outlined how everyone must be on the same page to form a unified system.

“As a scenario, we can think ahead to, say, 2027 and it’s the third year of competition, which is may also have expanded by then and include Queensland teams,” he said.

“For example, if, say, Preston Lions from Victoria and Sunshine Coast Fire FC from Queensland are relegation candidates in that season, it’s untenable that those teams would face different predicaments if relegated with Preston to the NPL and Sunshine Coast to oblivion.

“Hypothetically if we talk about relegation, everyone agrees that a Victorian-based club would be relegated to NPL Victoria even if originally from a lower league.

“However, when you compare it to a Queensland club, getting relegated means that they go into oblivion, which doesn’t add up. It’s fundamental and accepted practice that a relegated team goes down one rung and it has the chance to come up again.

“Football Australia needs to discuss a relegation scenario with all of the member federations and ensure there is a consistent approach. It will run the competition and must ensure the member federations work together with it and the clubs to achieve this outcome.”

Galatas outlined what he hopes to see out of the upcoming application process, moving one step closer to an Australia-wide competition.

“Instead of the eight confirmed teams we see now, it should be 12 teams from hopefully at least four states or territories to achieve the best competition,” he said.

“I would have liked to have seen a 2024 start date with 12 teams and have all the big players ready to go, but instead we’ve had a delay. But so long as we use the additional time to start strongly, the extra year to wait is not important in the overall picture.

“Having Queensland plus at least one of South Australia, Tasmania and Canberra to include four states from the get-go is the ideal platform to build on.

“Then we can look at Western Australia and the remaining areas as we build – we are just starting. We can grow the competition without rushing into it too much from a logistical point of view.”

The story of Kamal Ibrahim: An inspiration to young migrants

The founder of One Ball, Kamal Ibrahim, understands that football is a beacon of light for him and the people that experience adversity and hardship in their countries.

Along with his family, Ibrahim migrated from Ethiopia in 2003 for a new life in Australia at the age of 12 to flee the civil war.

By not understanding a word of English along with the difficulties of settling into the cultural ways of life in Australia, that’s when he turned his passion for football as a form of expressing himself and communicating with his new community.

His football career began for his local team, Port Melbourne Soccer Club, the noble act from the NPL club to pay for his membership, providing him with his uniform and most significantly making him feel welcome instantly the moment that he had arrived was an admirable act of generosity.

Looking back on his playing career, Ibrahim talked about the life skills football gave him, not only on the pitch but also off it.

“Through football I learnt skills that helped me on and off the field. I looked forward to my games each week, my team was my ‘family’, I had a sense of acceptance and a way of communicating without having to speak, I learnt how to work as a team, improve myself as an individual, I was supported in a fun and safe environment.

“Football has given me opportunities that I never expected. Football gave me the opportunity to represent Australia and Victoria on a national level and I was given the opportunity to travel the world. It gave me that sense of encouragement to do more with my life and that with hard work anything can be achieved.”

He has gone on to make appearances for Melbourne Heart (now known as Melbourne City) in 2010-2012 and representing the youth team of Australia, but his career was at an all-time high when playing for Port Melbourne Sharks, which is where he won the 2015 NPL’s best and fairest award.

Now Ibrahim has decided to show his admiration for the sport, by starting a program designed for children and adolescences between the ages of 5-17 year olds.

The program is open to all people, especially those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) nationalities from all over Melbourne to play football in a social and friendly environment, no matter their religion, culture or gender.

The mission of this program is to encourage children to be fit and active, as well as supporting their physical and psychological health and well-being, One Ball also aims to guide and empower young individuals to develop personal qualities such as cooperation, self-control, respect and integrity by playing football with others along with the mentoring they receive from their coaches.

Ibrahim explains why he started One Ball.

“I started One Ball trying to not only help the best players, but the overall community. Kids who have never played soccer before, kids who have the passion but they can’t play for a soccer club because they will be told they aren’t good forward or who aren’t good enough to play for an NPL club or a community club, so One Ball was established for that reason,” he said.

“As human beings when we realise belong in the community, we feel a part of the society, then we can achieve things. Every kid who comes to our program gets a uniform just like they are part of their soccer club, they feel like they can belong at that club.”

The PFA’s Footballers Trust supports One Ball and other similar organisations, giving an opportunity for players to give back to their communities in a positive and impactful way.

It was established by former footballer Mark Milligan prior to the 2019 Asian Cup, ever since then it has grown remarkably to the extent where they have partnered with over 10 various player-driven charity initiatives.

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