Rydalmere Lions FC: Modelling success for football clubs in Australia

In what is often described as a saturated Australian sporting market, where sponsorship dollars are limited and infrastructure development and growth difficult to achieve, Rydalmere Lions FC is setting the standard in New South Wales.

The inner-west club was founded in 1979 as the St. Joseph’s Zgharta Soccer Club and subsequently joined forces with the Fairfield City Lions in 2014; the same year the newly merged club was crowned champions of New South Wales’ State League Division 2.

Rydalmere juniors compete in the Granville District Soccer Football Association and the club was placed at NPL3 level for its first year of play in the newly formed second tier of Australian football in 2016.

The beating heart of the club lies in the migrant Lebanese families who first envisioned a safe and community based club for their children. Those founders saw an organised sporting club as an extension of the family unit and an ongoing connection to community as the most vital pre-cursor to any success that may come their way.

As is common to most football clubs around the country, the challenge of acquiring sponsors and raising revenue to improve facilities and meet the day to day running costs was considerable.

In 2016, as the Lions become a serious championship contender in NPL3, the club had 400 playing members and 650 non-playing members. It had seen only marginal growth from recent seasons and sponsorship remained steady yet meagre.

With the hope of expanding the reach of the club to allow all its members to spend more time involved in the game as a supportive collective base, an advisory committee was established. That committee brought together the best football, business, legal and financial minds from within the Rydalmere FC community and set about strategizing a path forward that would grow the club in terms of both participation and community engagement.

The committee allowed Rydalmere to more professionally and effectively make submissions to prospective partners in the local community. When City of Parramatta Council sought expressions of interest for new tenants to occupy the Rydalmere Central Bowling Club, the club was proactive and aggressive in its negotiations.

The vacant venue sat just a stones throw from the Lions home track at Rydalmere Park and seemed a perfect fit. In the very near future and after three years of planning, the club will re-open the doors of its new home; now rebranded as ‘The F.C’. It will become the Rydalmere Lions’ community base, a place to where football extends beyond the pitch and becomes a hub for not only club members but also the wider Parramatta community.

Most importantly, ‘The F.C’ will now allow the club to more easily meet those objectives set out by the clubs’ founders over 40 years ago, with the vision of shared experience and community lying at the core of any future decisions made at the club.

Further submissions to the City of Parramatta Council led to upgrades of the playing facilities at Rydalmere Park and the New South Wales government provided a grant for an upgrade of the wider precinct.

The entire facelift is valued at somewhere near A$5 million and provides not only a Football NSW compliant artificial turf pitch for the Lions to use during NPL play, but also an array of other smaller sporting facilities, increased vegetation, walking paths and a children’s playground.

The excitement around the development and the club’s pro-active approach to growth has seen a dramatic increase in membership. There are now 525 registered players and over 850 non-playing members; all eager to become part of history when the make-over is complete and the club begins to operate on a daily basis from its new home.

Sponsorship commitments have doubled within 12 months, membership has increased by an impressive 31 per cent and performances on the pitch in season 2020 hold much promise.

The club’s First Grade Head Coach is Gavin Rae, the former Dundee, Glasgow Rangers and Cardiff City midfielder who previously held the top job at Hakoah Sydney City East. It was a typically bold move by the club to enquire of Rae’s services, with a position at NPL1 level his most likely destination.

However, along with Simon Doueihi (Head of Football) and Anthony Harb (Club Technical Director), Rae completes an impressive team that hopes to return the club to NPL2 competition as quickly as possible, after suffering relegation in 2019.

In spite of that disappointment, the commercial success story of Rydalmere Lions FC provides a potential model for many clubs around Australia. Those battling to survive financially, let alone even dream of considerable growth, could do worse than use the simple philosophy of creating a community based hub, one that extends far beyond the play that occurs on a football pitch.

Players, supporters and sponsors have been drawn to that philosophy. When executed professionally and intelligently, such an idea has proven once again to lie at the heart of football in Australia. Don’t be surprised if Rydalmere FC quickly becomes a powerhouse in NPL and junior play. It will be nothing but the residue of a clear vision and some very hard work.


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Football Victoria cancels competitions in Melbourne for 2021

The City of Greater Geelong has engaged with Football Victoria to further plans for a regional soccer centre.

Football Victoria (FV) have announced the cancellation of all metropolitan Melbourne competitions for the remainder of the 2021 season.

In a letter to the football community, FV CEO Kimon Taliadoros and FV President Antonella Care explained that the decision was made in the best interests of those who make the game what it is in Victoria.

“FV’s vision is to provide Football For All, Anywhere, Anytime, and alongside the valuable feedback of our stakeholders, this has continued to shape our decision making process. Importantly though, the safety of our community sits above all else, as our most important consideration for all football decisions throughout the pandemic.

“Our NPL and Competitions teams have worked day and night to produce an extraordinary body of work, planning multiple scenarios for every competition. This work is detailed, well-considered and milestone driven.

“We would like to express our gratitude to our football community, who have engaged in roundtable discussions, completed surveys and provided direct feedback to the team, all of which has been absolutely essential for us to best align with the needs of our community.

“Many of the planned scenarios have been eliminated in recent weeks, due to the key dates passing with extended lockdowns across the state.

“Unfortunately, the most recent Government announcement means our options to complete the 2021 season for our metropolitan Melbourne competitions have now reached an end.”

“We know this news is disappointing, particularly following last year’s abandoned season.

“Winter sport has borne the brunt of lockdowns and in turn, the impact on our football community has been immense. Our Clubs, Associations, Officials, Administrators, Volunteers and Players have bravely weathered the storm, rallying through each round of restrictions, showing a resilience that I know will keep our community strong through yet another challenge.”

As a result of the cancelled competitions in Melbourne, there will be no outcomes in regards to promotion and relegation between divisions. No premiers or champions will be crowned as well, as a result.

FV are still optimistic of a return to football for participants in Regional Victoria, subject to the easing of government restrictions and the governing body’s outlined conditions.

The organisation will also engage with clubs involved in the NIKE F.C. Cup and Dockerty Cup finals, to determine whether these games are able to be completed by the end of the year.

More information in regards to FV’s Fee Refund Policy will be sent out to the community by Friday, 17 September.

For further developments and to access other resources visit: https://www.footballvictoria.com.au/

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.

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