Riding Shotgun – The Andrew Bernal Story

I first witnessed the football talent of Andrew Bernal at St.George Stadium when he captained the Young Socceroos in a friendly back in 1985.

The young man was so technically competent in his role as a libero that I believed he possessed the qualities of a young Australian Beckenbauer.

Unfortunately, Australian football lost Bernal’s contribution for the 1985 World Youth Cup Finals because he decided to ply his trade in his parent’s native Spain which for bureaucratic complications denied him the opportunity to lead his country in that tournament.

As many players who ventured overseas will testify, it’s hard to combat the obstacles which are presented in trying to make the grade in a foreign country but just like Craig Johnston, David Mitchell , Eddie Krncevic and Alan Davidson before him, Bernal overcame these and spent four years in the professional game in Spain.

When you’re riding shotgun, one thing is for sure – you have to take the initiative and Bernal succeeded in this endeavour when he miraculously managed to escape the clutches of the Spanish authorities before he arrived in England in 1988.

His account of the meeting with Brian Clough, the Nottingham Forest Manager, is pulsating and largely explains how Bernal was able to survive the cut-throat world of professional football and carve a career for himself when his playing days had ended.

The book reads like a Who’s Who of British football talent as he was able to mix it with household names on and off the pitch at his time with Ipswich Town and Reading.

Perhaps his biggest playing disappointment was Reading’s failure to win promotion to the Premier League when they were defeated narrowly by Bolton in the 1995 play off at Wembley Stadium.

However, a sterling career for the Royals until 2000 when he often played through the pain barrier was sufficient compensation for all those years he had devoted to a career in professional football.

Life after football can be a rude awakening for some but Andrew Bernal applied all his tenacity and contacts to acquire a position with SFX Management and ultimately be awarded the prize responsibility of looking after the welfare of David Beckham when he signed for Real Madrid.

To mix in the company of Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Raul and Figo was a dream come true and a lifestyle the average fan could only dream as Bernal met some of the biggest celebrities and influential people from all walks of life attached to Real Madrid and the Spanish game.

He became part of an inner sanctum while rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.

Nevertheless, Beckham’s star status didn’t come without its challenges as the paparazzi would demand every piece of the England captain and there are some harrowing experiences recorded in the book where Bernal was lucky to stay alive.

Life was surreal, and for Bernal it seemed the party would never end until Beckham changed management companies and Bernal’s world came tumbling down

Bernal was no longer riding shot gun and his unfortunate resort to drug reliance took him on a never-ending downward spiral.

This part of the story is something many high-profile people would not divulge but Bernal’s honesty in recognizing his human frailities is one of the features of his story.

Andrew Bernal’s story should be read by all football and sporting fans, and particularly by the football hierarchy in Australia who should finally realise there has to be a pathway created for professional footballers when they retire from the game.

Northern Suburbs and Manly Warringah Football Association representatives discuss NSW’s highest registration numbers

Football NSW has recently disclosed that the 2024 season is recording the highest number of registrations in community grassroots football.

Football NSW reported that registration numbers are up by 10% on the 2023 season with over 230,000 and counting registered members.

An important part of this increase in registration is the overall success and popularity of the Matildas and the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia & New Zealand. This has helped spark an 18% increase in female registration, especially within the younger age groups pushing over 23% from 2023.

The Northern Suburbs Football Association (NSFA) CEO Kevin Johnson has supported the impact of the Women’s World Cup.

Johnson has explained that recent Female membership in the 2024 NSFA season is expanding with an 11.6% growth in female player registrations and an 11.4% increase in female team registrations.

The NSFA is one of the few associations with a Female Football Manager in Kristi Murphy.

“Kirsti has been able to coordinate enthusiasm and feedback of all the clubs into key strategies to increase the female game at an association level,” Johnson told Soccerscene.

“This structure and dedication to female development has had a huge impact on the increase of female players.”

These strategies include junior girls under 6 & 7s hubs.

“These have very important in bringing in new young players and retaining old ones, with Female Junior players increasing by 14.5% and Girls MiniRoos by 22.5%,” Johnson said.

The NSFA has focused on the association’s work in building strong connections and investment in grassroots football. The NSFA also had in 2023 an increase of 30% in sponsorship deals.

“Last year NSFA with local councils Ku-ring-gai, Willoughby and North Sydney held Live Site events for people to watch the Matildas World Cup matches with football activations alongside the matches. This project led to an increasing engagement between the community and the NSFA,” Johnson added.

“This has allowed for the development of facilities and football that is helping the 2024 season’s all-round experience.”

Kevin Johnson believes these initiatives have cemented the NSFA well on track with Football Australia’s pillar 1 in the Legacy 23 plan. which is to reach a 50/50 player gender equity in Football for 2027.

The ‘23 plan works in unison with NSFA’s objectives in making the association a successful and progressive representative of the Northern Suburbs community and Football in NSW.

Neighbouring The NSFA in The Manly Warringah Football Association (MWFA) is Karen Parsons – President of Pittwater RSL FC, who has overseen the development on the ground. The club has seen an increase of 175 registrations in 2024 to an overall 1,473 players.

In addition, the diversity of the club’s players has changed positively with females now making 43% of registrations compared to last season’s 36%.

“We knew the Matilda’s popularity would increase interest in football, therefore the club needed new strategies to encourage club engagement,” she told Soccerscene.

“The MWFA has opened up an under-7s girls league where 5 Pittwater teams now play. We also had a successful MiniRoos and MiniTillies program in February.

“Feedback from members also included the request for equal-skill-based teams in juniors. Therefore we included optional grading into the under-8s mixed comp, which on grading day had a 70% turn-out rate and positive reviews from parents.

“An academy program run by our women’s premier league coach has supported coaching and training techniques for the younger years and increased their progress in the game – also allowing promising kids extra training at lower costs.”

“Usually in before seasons there is a drop of teenagers from the 13-18 age group. However this year there has been a complete retention of 13-18-year-old participants, especially in the girl’s divisions.”

There is a solid ethos of supporting the social importance of sport in the community and approaches from all the clubs have been to maintain the engagement and encourage all to play football.

Karen spoke of the cooperation between the clubs at youth levels, making sure if the kids don’t make a team they can go to other clubs. This has retained more kids both girls and boys playing football.

“Keeping people playing football no matter what club, is always the major focus of presidents,” Parsons added.

“Outside the junior levels, the adult divisions also have had an overall jump with more All Age mixed and women’s teams created, showing this increase is not just concentrated in youth.”

The MWFA has had an overall jump of 752 more registrations from the 2023 season, currently at 19,821.

These case studies are prime examples of how all levels in community football associations are actively maintaining and developing engagement in NSW Football.

Forever remembering Dylan Tombides and his story

Recently it was the commemoration of a decade since Dylan Tombides’ passing, and the DT38 Foundation persists in honouring his legacy by their ongoing efforts within the football community.

In 2011, Tombides received a diagnosis of testicular cancer following a routine drug test during the Under 17 FIFA World Cup, which revealed a tumour in one of his testicles. Despite a courageous three year battle against the illness, he tragically succumbed at the age of 20 on April 18, 2014, surrounded by his loved ones.

Following his unfortunate passing, the DT38 Foundation was established in his honour, dedicated to promoting awareness of testicular cancer with the aim of saving lives.

Head of Media and Operations at DT38 Foundation, Donna Giuffre, said via press release:

“Our goal at DT38 is not only to raise awareness about testicular cancer but also to foster a culture of proactive health management within the community,” she said to The PFA.

“By partnering with clubs and supporters across the A-League and globally we aim to make a meaningful difference in the lives of young men, promoting early detection, and ultimately honouring Dylan’s legacy.”

The Foundation aims to bring together supporters, athletes, and localities, persisting in disseminating the importance of awareness and solidarity for individuals impacted by testicular cancer. Their endeavour is to leave a meaningful imprint in the ongoing battle against this disease.

Their core message emphasizes the urgency of timely action, underlining the importance of education for men, DT38 tirelessly strives to ensure that young men and their families are well-informed about the significance of regular self-examination and prompt medical attention upon detecting any irregularities.

Recently, the organisation has forged a partnership with their second A-League club, Brisbane Roar, while Perth Glory, the hometown team, remains their primary charity collaborator.

The clash between Brisbane and Newcastle Jets earlier this month marking the inaugural charity awareness matchday since the Roar joined forces with the foundation as a partner.

This marks the third triumphant charity awareness matchday, following Perth Glory’s encounter with Brisbane earlier this season and West Ham’s Premier League match against Fulham at the Olympic Stadium. Supporters from both sides paid tribute to Tombides’ legacy with a round of applause during the 38th minute.

These occasions have not only provided a stage to promote awareness regarding testicular cancer and the significance of early detection but have also served as a homage to Tombides’ dedication to football and his brave fight against cancer.

Tombides had a six-year tenure with the Hammers, having enrolled in their academy in 2008. He earned his debut for the first team in September 2012. Following his passing, the club retired his number 38 jersey, and West Ham honoured him during a match against Crystal Palace.

On that day, Mile Jedinak, a former Socceroo and patron of the DT38 Foundation, participated in the match and successfully scored a penalty, he reflects on that day to The PFA.

“The game was a special moment, knowing what it was representing and the Australian football community,” he said to The PFA.

“I was a young parent then, and all I could think about at the time was wanting to offer my condolences to his family. I could do it after the game, and from that moment, I stayed in touch with them. I was aware Dylan was making waves at West Ham.

“You don’t play for a club like that if you don’t have something about you. It would’ve been nice to play against Dylan but sadly it wasn’t meant to be. He was well on his way to becoming a big star in the game.”

Introduced by The PFA and Football Australia in 2019, The Dylan Tombides Medal is bestowed upon a player chosen from the Under 17 (Joeys), Under 20 (Young Socceroos), and Under 23 teams.

The Medal is awarded to the player who best embodies the qualities of excellence, dedication, and bravery while representing Australia at the youth international level, paying tribute to the legacy of Dylan Tombides.

More information about the DT38 Foundation can be found here.

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