Pararoos captain Ben Roche: “Football has the ability to start important conversations”

Ben Roche has played 54 times for the Pararoos – Australia’s only national team for people with cerebral palsy – and captained the team around the world. He spoke to Soccerscene about what the Pararoos have done for him, the future of the team after the exclusion of the sport from the Paralympic Games, and how the footballing community can further embrace the squad. 

Q: How has the exclusion of 7-aside football from the Paralympic games impacted the Pararoos?

Ben Roche: For us, it almost instantly had an impact. Obviously, for the young kids pushing to want to play for the Pararoos, their attention has turned to other sports, and for Pararoos players who are in the program who had the ambition to be Paralympians have chosen other paths, which means you can lose key players and things like that. We’ve had to work hard to grow the game and we are probably in a stronger position than we’ve ever been in, in ensuring that we qualify for the World Cup.


Q: Funding has been an issue for the Pararoos, where does most of it come from?

Ben Roche: We don’t actually receive government funding anymore, we used to get a little bit from the Australian Sports Commission, which was cut in 2015 because of their winning edge policy, which means if they don’t think you’ll win a medal funding will be cut or limited. Since then we have survived off donations through the Australian Sports Foundation. With the work of Football Australia, they set a fundraising page and we try to raise $200,000 plus each year to go towards getting a team to a tournament, a couple of camps, and hopefully a national championship to identify the next generation. Unfortunately, there isn’t really any sustainability for us, we are always pushing to raise those funds and take the program to the next level. 

Q: It is a pretty horrific way to fund Paralympic sport, isn’t it?

Ben Roche: Yeah, it came to light this week that the Paralympians don’t get any funding if they win a medal, like the Olympians who win do. The Paralympians don’t get anything for doing the exact same amount of work if not more, and that isn’t the way it should be.

Q: What brought about the change in funding?

Ben Roche: The Australian Sports Commission at the time, they have to allocate across sports, and they probably saw that the sports might be better allocated to individual sports which they thought could secure more medals, whether that is athletics or swimming, I don’t know. For me I am a big believer in football being the game played around the world, and cerebral palsy is the most common physical disability for children in Australia. For me that is perfect, you’ve got the world game and the most common physical disability, what a perfect format. We’ve worked really hard to get that message out there and show what the power of football can do. It doesn’t matter whether it’s coming from poverty, or having a disability, or having a different background, football has the ability to start important conversations. For us that is where our messaging comes into it, our goal is to create inclusive opportunities for people across the country. Not just for cerebral palsy and things like that, we want to lead the way for inclusive football in all versions of the game. 

Q: How Important has football been to you?

Ben Roche: It has shaped everything I’ve done. I joined the Pararoos when I was 12 years old, and it has taken me around the world. It’s been really eye-opening in terms of that, but it has also put me in front of role models with cerebral palsy and other disabilities who have successful careers, families, social lives, and all those kinds of things. Being able to see that at a young age really shaped who am I today, and gave me the confidence to go and do the things I’m doing. I love football so much that I’ve been working in it, I was working for Football Australia as a team manager because I wanted to be in and around football, and it’s something I am extremely passionate about.

Ben at his first tournament with the Pararoos in Argentina.

Q: How important is it to have visible role models like these growing up?

Ben Roche: It’s massive, for me it was meeting those role models that shaped me. I launched a few programs across the country for people with disabilities, and the conversations I get to have with kids, and the conversations I get to have with the parents as well, the amount the community means to them is huge. For me to see someone who has faced similar challenges doing great things is the best thing I could have come across. By us having a successful Pararoos program we can hopefully empower and not only support these young kids that may want to play football but support them in their careers and everyday lives.

Q: Could the wider football community better embrace the Pararoos? 

Ben Roche: I don’t blame them for not doing so, we weren’t really a common name and still aren’t among the football community, which has been a big push for us to put emphasis through social media and get our messaging out there, to include us in conversation along with the Socceroos and Matildas. I hope that when people do get to see it, it’s something they can get behind. The game is quite fast-paced, it can be high scoring, really physical and we don’t hold back. I’d love to see the Australian football community embrace it more – and I’m not saying they don’t – but the more we can get them behind us the bigger reach we can have.

Q: What is the future of the Pararoos program in Australia?

Ben Roche: COVID has made the last couple of years tricky, just in terms of being able to fundraise for the program. For us we are really interested in taking it to the next level, to not only further develop the men’s program but a women’s program too, which more information will come out for in the next couple of months. We are looking to really create more opportunities throughout Australia, not only have our state teams which are filtering into nationals but also launching academies and programs that will feed into inclusive opportunities. On top of that hopefully we can keep having important conversations around disability.

If you want to help support the Pararoos you can donate through their website.

How Patrick Spagnolo has revolutionised sporting apparel in Australia with OneSports

Patrick Spagnolo has really changed the game in the local footballing world in how to best go about the time-consuming task of customising kits, combining customer care and his huge passion for design to create OneSports that Box Hill United have managed to collaborate with for the current season.

Spagnolo boasts 35 years’ experience in the apparel industry, including a role with CK working with some big name retailers in Australia and abroad, fostering expertise crucial to OneSports’ success. His burning passion for both customer care and design excellence has led to the company being involved with some fantastic clubs in Victoria like Melbourne City and Avondale FC.

Patrick Spagnolo discussed the origins of OneSports and outlined what services the company offers for its many partners.

“OneSports was all about providing quality teamwear and that’s why we partnered with PUMA around 12 years ago. The company basically offers an end-to-end service so from design of the kits right through to the dispatch with all in-house production,” he explained.

“The key with an end-to-end service is partnership with our customers and really understanding what their requirements are. With that information we can collaborate and create a product they are really looking for.”

Whilst Spagnolo doesn’t quite have a football background himself, it was his kids early involvement in the sport that sparked the OneSports idea to partner with local clubs.

Luke Pickett in front of the Wembley Park stand.

He also touched on his wealth of experience in the apparel industry and the previous bigger roles he was involved in that guided him to early success with OneSports.

“My background is 35 years in the apparel industry, worked as a general manager for CK for 15 years and worked with big box retailers like Myer and Target as well as big retailers in the UK,” he mentioned.

“I’ve got a vast experience in the apparel industry and also come from a design background anyway so then built on that through OneSports from a marketing perspective as well.

“I’ve got an AFL background funny enough, but it started when my kids were playing soccer and what I could see was that all these clubs were struggling with supply, and they were quite unreliable.”

There is a reason why OneSports was able to succeed almost instantly with a partner like PUMA getting onboard. The company offers outstanding design and production services but also takes away the huge hassle for football clubs which is customizing their kits.

Spagnolo expanded on the company’s main point of difference in the competitive apparel market and why so many local clubs are partnering with the company in recent years.

“The point of difference with One Sports is the design element of it, on understanding what the DNA and the identity of each of our customers are and working back on their history to come up with a design that leads us towards success,” he said.

“I saw that there was an opportunity there, but I didn’t just want a no name brand or made up brand, we wanted a premium brand and that’s why we presented the business model to PUMA which ended up being a success.

“Being able to draw on PUMA’s vast library of designs and European influences that we’re able to give the latest trend of sports apparel but more specific teamwear.”

“PUMA has a brand sells itself, it’s probably one of the best football brands in the world which makes it all a lot easier,” he concluded.

Spagnolo’s experience in the industry has led to a big change in the way a supplier communicates with the clubs, searching a lot more in-depth into each club’s history and drawing inspiration from that to create a layered piece of teamwear.

In 2024, OneSports collaborated with Box Hill United to create two unique designs for its home and away kits that are an ode to the over century long history of the club and modernising it with some European inspirations.

Box Hill United’s training shirt for the 2024 season.

He discussed the exact process the company took in designing each of the kits and what the apparel means to the club on a deeper level.

“When we come in the point of design concepts for clubs, we give each of them 4-6 design concepts that look at what the trends are looking like and finding an identity,” he explained.

“The Box Hill home kit was drawn off Manchester City’s 2023/24 home kit design and we combined it with Box Hill’s history which predominantly had a striped jersey and also a cheval jersey back in the day.

“Being an over 100-year club, we used the old kit with the cheval to draw the inspiration for the away kit with a modern twist to it, and the key is keeping it trendy and modern,” he continued.

“The stripe on the home kit is like a shadow stripe so it was based on Man City’s look with a mixture of Box Hill’s original home kits that had the striped looks. The away kit recognises the club’s past with the cheval look and modernises it to make it look more presentable for this upcoming season.”

The Under 16’s recently showcased their new ‘Vista’ Royal Blue home kits designed by OneSports. This was inspired by AC Milan’s 2020/21 away kit, adding to it a collar and cuff design showcasing the colours of Box Hill, Blue, White and Black.

The goalkeeper kit comes in all black with a feature of ‘Ice break’ on the sleeves and side mesh, adding a subtle yet powerful touch to the kit.

Luke Del Vecchio in the black goalkeeper kit. Image credit: Passion Creations.

Spagnolo talked about OneSports’ ambitions in the future as a company that is currently focused on the local and domestic game but is potentially looking at expanding further. 

“OneSports is not really looking at moving away from partnering with local clubs mostly because of PUMA’s values,” he said.

“There is an ulterior motive there from PUMA because their belief is if the kids are wearing ‘the cat’, they will be more inclined to buy more PUMA products because you become loyal to a brand so grabbing them at a young age is important.”

Spagnolo mentioned the time-consuming nature of catering to every club’s needs and how that is important to the relationship with partners but also the integrity of OneSports.

“We are big on brand integrity, we’re not just out there to flog garments, we are invested in all our club partners no matter how big or small they are,” he said.

“We care and that use of the word ‘care’ is sincere and authentic because we don’t miss delivery dates and collaborate closely with clubs like Box Hill United now.”

OneSports’ partnership with Box Hill United exemplifies its commitment to honouring clubs’ histories. With just over a century of the club’s history and an important 40-year milestone for the women’s team this season, the innovative designs have given the club an array of kits that really represent the values of the club and successes of the past.

Allambie Beacon Hill United FC’s Steven Gravemade gives account of the Local Sport Grant process and its benefits

Two historic clubs from the Manly Warringah Football Association – Manly Allambie Football Club and Beacon Hill Football Club – have amalgamated to create Allambie Beacon Hill United FC (ABHUFC) in the 2024 season.

Since the decision last year to merge together, the Club has been busy streamlining and preparing its operations in its inaugural campaign.

As part of their expansion, the ABHUFC have recently been approved by the Local Sport Grant Program form the NSW government.

They have successfully received two grants, helping to get a new coffee machine for the clubhouse and new flags for the numbering of fields costing just above $7,000.

With the new fields and more club members, these purchases have become important cogs in the building of this new Club’s culture.

Soccerscene spoke to ABHUFC’s grant advisor Steven Gravemade who saw a great opportunity arise through the grant.

How did you find out about the grant?

Steven Gravemade: I usually find them posted on social media adverts and many committee members forwarded stuff they find from social media.

We always need to keep our eyes open for any grant offers.

What was the process to get the grant?

Steven Gravemade: You need to start with the right documentation especially invoices and quotes for the products, such as the expected cost, and what they are needed for, club info.

Then you need to complete a lengthy online form with the details of the grant on the app called SmartyGrants.

This grants app then forwards the information to whichever grant program is requested. Us being the Local Sport Grant Program.

The Senior Men facing Narrabeen.

Was it a hard process to go through or straight forward?

Steven Gravemade: It was not lengthy and not hard. You need to know what you are doing in the sense of creating a quote for the grant and following a similar well-created format. You do have to work methodically through the form.

There was positive correspondence for 3-7 weeks before it hit the accounts. This means we can go out and purchase the products now and keep the invoice.

The final stage of the grant is putting back into the app system the purchase, and this should finalise the whole process.

It is dependent on the grants, these were smaller grants than others. Though we did two separate grants which added time but overall, a similar experience and therefore a fluid task.

There is obvious difficulty added when you are applying for grants that involve infrastructure zoning as it takes many months and is very taxing,

You’ll have to go through other systems as well including the local council and this naturally makes it a longer process.

Whereas with this grant it can be done just by the club without the association or council involved. Just through the app.

“Now he’s done it a couple of times for both infrastructure and smaller grants. I think we’ve become pretty efficient.

Do they think the funding was a good amount and adequate for the Club?

Steven Gravemade: In this particular case, it was exactly what we requested,

The form also asks if you are willing to contribute which can help gauge the grant, but for us, it was more than adequate and perfectly suited to what we had wanted.

How do you think this will benefit the club overall?

Steven Gravemade: These grants are a big help and help save valuable fundraising, that can go elsewhere.

For example, it was a big bonus in helping us with the processes that needed other funding such as our completely new purple kits, training equipment, updating facilities and club image.

It’s a massive help to the club and to the budget. Every little bit helps.

ABHUFC’s Women’s First Grade team against Manly Vale.

For the bigger picture and first-hand experience, do you see this program as a positive plan for grassroots football?

Steven Gravemade: Yes, we feel supported through grants like this as a club. You obviously need to work hard to get it.  Though the process was fluid and for our club, any grant is appreciated.

On this topic, do you think enough clubs/associations are aware of these grants?

Steven Gravemade: They do pop up, where mailing systems are also around and the main way to know of these grants and how to get them, a lot of clubs I presume are on them.

However, you still need someone proactive in the clubs to get the ball rolling such as a grants officer.

This one came up before the start of the season so maybe many weren’t looking then”.

We found out and applied for this one before the start of the season.

Also, if you look at all the grants there are a lot given out to all sports clubs, and they only show the grants that got accepted.

You can only guess how many actually applied for a grant and maybe could not be accepted.

However, I think a lot also don’t apply in the end. Overall, for me, I think these grants are beneficial.

ABHUFC’s mixed grading day in February.

 

The Local Sports grant was a massive project from the NSW government to help fuel the growth of the many codes within NSW.

The positive effect this has is massive on the infrastructure for the game and the quality and experience of grassroots sports.

The grants also show that the NSW government is invested in the growth of community football and wants to actively encourage and financially support the ambitions of these grassroots clubs.

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