After attempting to encourage grassroots clubs to enrol in the Hyundai Goals for Grassroots program in an article on my website a few months back, it was a privilege to be asked to attend a session at Bert Saunders Reserve in Doonside, Sydney.
Seeing hundreds of happy kids, engaging with A-League stars and developing sport and social skills in a relaxed and safe environment, is a treat to watch.
Hyundai have thrown enormous financial weight behind the campaign, over $700,000 has been allocated to participating clubs and there is much more to come this season. A Foxtel crew was there to capture all the action and the media giant continues to support the program each week.
Clubs are allocated one thousand dollars if selected and receive a further grand for every goal that the home side score in the Hyundai Goals for Grassroots match in that round.
The session I attended was for the kids from St Patricks SC Blacktown and on a sticky Wednesday afternoon, they arrived after school with some classy talent waiting to meet them.
Josh Risdon, Raul Llorente and Lachlan Scott completed the more formal promo shoots before circulating around the various drills and encouraging kids to complete shots on goals, passes and headers with the appropriate technique.
If I have seen three better men for this task, I certainly have no recollection of them. Scott in particular looked a natural as he tossed balls towards the kid’s heads waiting for the return header.
Spaniard Llorente, typically, pinpointed the dribbling drill and shouted encouragement to the kids as they worked their way through the different zones, all the while, critiquing technique and offering simple and effective advice.
The humble Risdon helped with footwork and kicking technique and the smile on his face was as genuine as the one he must have worn when awarded his Socceroos shirt prior to his excellent performance against Honduras.
For a Club that has its detractors at times and with the sins of a few fools tarnishing far too many, it was a wonderful expression of a fun, family centred Club, committed to its regional roots.
Speaking with Dimitri Droulias, who works in business development at the Club, he expressed the wonderful sense of family and the passion for the RBB that the majority of members feel.
The Wanderers short life has been predominately successful and the people of Western Sydney have embraced the red and black with fervour.
That was never more on show than Wednesday, where the players almost seemed to be having more fun than the kids and hundreds of parents and onlookers were packed around the playing surface, as proud as punch of their kids and their Wanderers stars.
Given the opportunity to speak to Risdon, fresh from his latest Socceroo cap, I started by saying thank you.
I felt a little silly, however, I wanted to ensure he knew how much we all appreciated what the Socceroos were able to achieve under the intense microscope that has been Australian Football over the past twelve months.
His move from Perth has been an instant success and he cited the wider exposure gained from being a member of an “east coast club” as being partly responsible for his return to the starting eleven.
No doubt, Risdon felt a little hidden in Perth and whilst taking time to come to terms with the “less chilled” nature of life in Sydney, he is enjoying his football.
He is also adapting to the recent change of manager at Western Sydney after Tony Popovic’s move overseas. He spoke of the more relaxed atmosphere and the greater sense of freedom at training. It wasn’t an attempt to deride Popovic, just an expression of how managers approach things differently.
A Socceroo of the future, Lachlan Scott spoke maturely and astutely when I cited the need for Australia to develop quality strikers to lift the burden that Tim Cahill has shouldered for so long, Scott insisted, “My time will come, if I have to work through the youth system and wait for my chance, that’s fine.”
Even the frustrations of his limited opportunities in the Wanderers’ starting eleven was met with a perspective and poise reflective of an older man.
“Oriel Riera is a marquee, I am happy to learn from him and improve as a player”, is clear evidence of that maturity.
Scott was clear in his analysis of what lessons he is taking from the world class Riera. As Risdon points out, Scott and Riera are similar type players and Scott is using the Spaniard to hone his strength and distribution.
“Really holding my position with strength and staying strong on the ball”, was his analysis of the fine tuning he has been undertaking with his fellow striker and with better poise and strength on the ball comes more astutely selected passes. The Wanderers can expect to see much of this in the future from the Wollongong native.
Not that Scott is in a hurry, his grand plan sees him continue to develop, yet when I raised Qatar, the twinkle in his eye suggested that his dreams are big.
Despite the heat and my poorly chosen pair of trousers that offered little respite, the afternoon was everything of which the kids could have dreamed.
Well played to Hyundai, Foxtel and the Wanderers. Grassroots engagement is at the core of the continued development of the game and it was a privilege to see it in its most raw form.