WORLD Cup fever is beginning to grip TWT territory with football fans gearing up for the game’s most prestigious tournament, kicking off next next week in Russia.
Former Socceroo defender and local North Ryde Soccer Club product Alex Wilkinson turned up at his junior club last Thursday for a meet and greet session at North Ryde Oval.
A group of under-11 North Ryde juniors got a big kick out of meeting the Sydney FC international and chatting about the Socceroos and the World Cup.
North Ryde Soccer Club is one of many local clubs riding football’s tidal wave in popularity and the growth it has experienced over the last five years is set to continue, says club president James Howard.
He was on hand to greet Sydney FC’s star defender and former junior Alex Wilkinson when he dropped in to North Ryde Oval last week during training for the under-11 and under-13 teams.
“We’re proud of Alex’s achievements and we’re lucky he’s a great role model for kids that is passionate about the game,” Mr Howard told The Weekly Times.
“We’re a community-based club that caters for everyone – from the ages of six to 60.
“That includes both players aiming for bigger and better things at representative level and those interested more in the social side of things and the cameraderie that our game offers.”
He said the club catered to both boys and girls, men and women to ensure the cub continued to reflect its community and a more recent focus on registrations for its girls teams “had worked well”.
“We’re now looking at extending the pathway for junior players by hopefully fielding a team in Gladesville Hornsby Football Association’s Super League,” he said.
Mr Howard said the club had experienced five years of consecutive growth in registrations with total numbers at more than 500 and further growth anticipated.
“With all the units going up in the area, we’re expecting numbers to reach into the high 600s,” he said.
But Mr Howard, like many local sports advocates, was aware of the challenges that came with that growth, including a shortage of sporting facilities to cater for demand.
Ryde independent councillor Roy Maggio – considered by many the area’s unofficial Minister for Sport – said overdevelopment was adversely impacting the ability of existing facilities to cater to local sporting groups.
“We’re seeing an unsustainable increase in population and inadequate infrastructure to cater for that – this simply means we’ll see a decrease in service to all residents unless we make some hard decisions now,” Cr Maggio told The Weekly Times.
“On the other hand, one of the rare benefits – and there aren’t many – is that great community-focused sporting groups like North Ryde Soccer Club will grow and become more visible in the area.
“It’s happening across the board with football and now with the Socceroos at the World Cup and the Matildas in the upcoming womens World Cup to inspire kids, we’ll see another spike in participation.”
He said North Ryde Soccer Club’s contribution to the game was clear for all to see, as the club that produced Wilkinson who has gone on to achieve success in a stellar career as one of the game’s best defender and role models, with a likely return to the Socceroos squad likely.
“With ambassadors like that, you can’t go wrong,” he said.
In yet another indicator of football’s expected future growth, the sports top administrator this week announced the Federal Government-funded Sporting Schools program had seen a drastic increase in numbers.
Football Federation Australia (FFA) said there had been a 67 per cent increase in students taking part in their Sporting Schools program with more than 83,000 participants enjoying the program last year.
The Sporting Schools Primary Football program is predominately delivered by Hyundai A-League and Westfield W-League clubs as part of FFA’s four year strategy to connect all the parts of the game and convert participants into fans of both leagues.
“Football is the largest club-based participation sport in Australia with more than 1.15 million participants,” FFA chief executive officer David Gallop said.
“And history shows that we get a new surge in participation after every World Cup.
“With the Caltex Socceroos soon to take part in the tournament in Russia and the Westfield Matildas already qualified for next year’s Women’s World Cup in France, we know we will see more and more kids wanting to play the game.”