This Saturday, far away from the A-League and W-League, Australian football history will be made in Sydney’s north.
It won’t be a game that causes a flock of media to descend, hordes of fans to pack in or generate the social media buzz that follows the Matildas or Socceroos but it will still serve as an important celebration of what football is.
Because, at its core, football isn’t about the bright lights of packed out stadiums, an unending push for trophies, glamorous player branding or the machinations of a worldwide industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
No, when boiled down to its very essence, football is – despite what some overinflated egos would have you believe – a game.
It’s a game for men and for women, for girls and boys and for young and old.
It’s a game for forging friendships that last a lifetime, for uniting a community through a shared love, and for serving as a momentary distraction from the humdrum.
It’s also a game for everyone – regardless of their abilities.
And that’s what makes this weekend’s fixture so momentous.
On Saturday, the Pararoos – Australia’s national team for athletes with cerebral palsy, an acquired brain injury or symptoms acquired from stroke – will clash with Canada at Cromer Park and play their first game on home soil since the Sydney 2000 Paralympics.
On Saturday, the @Pararoos will play at Cromer Park. 🙌
Hear from @masokicks, CEO of MWFA & Manly United FC, about what it means to the Northern Beaches community to embrace this opportunity. ⚽
— Pararoos (@Pararoos) November 25, 2019
The rules that adjudicate Pararoos games are quite similar to those that govern their able-bodied compatriots, with a few modifications made to ensure the athletes taking part are able to compete to the best of their ability.
Fielding seven players instead of the normal 11 on a smaller field, there is no offside rule governing attackers positioning and throw-ins can be made with one hand. Matches consist of two halves of 30 minutes each.
Those competing have Ataxia, Hypertonia or Athetosis; three types of impairment most commonly associated with those dealing with neurological impairment, with a motor control impairment of a cerebral nature or causing a permanent and verifiable activity limitation.
Ostensibly, Saturday’s fixture serves as a preparatory hit out for Head Coach Kai Lammert’s side ahead of next June’s IFCPF Nations Championships in Sant Cugat, Spain but, for the players, it means a lot more.
“You try to hold back tears in many ways,” Pararoos goalkeeper Chris Barty told pararoos.com.au.
“What an opportunity to show other people with disabilities what they can achieve in their lives.”
Established in 1998 in order to compete at the Sydney Olympics, the Pararoos have been operating under the auspices of Football Federation Australia since 2005 and, after the Australian Sports Commission withdrew funding in 2015 in accordance with the Winning Edge strategy, has relied upon support from the public to generate significant amounts of its funding.
The side currently operates a tax-deductible fundraising arm, thanks to a partnership between the FFA and Australian Sports Foundation but a lack of consistent, dependable funds has meant that there has, until now, been no opportunity for the players to play an out-of-competition friendly on home soil.
The Cromer Park fixture, as well as a number of training camps, has been funded thanks to FIFA Forward 2.0 initiative, but the squad is constantly seeking new revenue in order to compete.
Donations to the Pararoos can be made here.
Meet Taj Lynch, our number 3. 👋
Taj has played on almost every continent except Australia. 🌏
— Pararoos (@Pararoos) November 22, 2019
Playing in front of stands largely consisting of family and friends, the Pararoos recently finished in 11th place at the 2019 IFCPF World Cup; defeating Saturday’s opponents Canada 4-2 to seal their placing.
But with a crowd that is hoped will break into the hundreds on Saturday, the upcoming game will serve as a memorable occasion for a squad that only has two members – Chris Pyne and David Barber – that have previously had the chance to play in Australia.
Indeed, such is the gap between Australian hosted fixtures, the squad that will take on Canada will feature a number of players not yet born the last time it happened.
“It has been so long since we played on home soil, it is going to mean the world,” Barber – who will play his 100th game for the Pararoos against Canada – told footballqueensland.com.au
“For me personally, it is something that I have been dreaming about for a really long time
“If you are a fan of football, a fan of good football, then that is what this team is all about. Just because we have a disability doesn’t change the fact that we play amazing football.
“We are going to be playing against a world-class opponent in our own backyard, and if you are a fan of football and want to get out and support the green and gold then this is your chance to do it. It’s going to be a great day at a great venue, and I cannot wait to play.”
Plans are also in place to continue to grow opportunities for more athletes to compete in CP Football.
In October, the first-ever Asia/Oceania Regional Female CP Football Camp was held in Sydney with 12 players from Australia and four from Japan present; an opening step on the road to establishing a female Pararoos squad.
While there currently exist fledgling international sides and competitions for female CP football around the world, a lack of funding has hampered Australia’s attempts to join them.
Increased financing and public recognition will hopefully rise in the near future for both the Pararoos and any burgeoning female team – ensuring that football’s legacy of inclusion grows.
Pararoos v Canada
When: Saturday, 30 November
Venue: Cromer Park – South Creek Road, Cromer, NSW
Tickets can be purchased here.
100% of ticket sales will go directly back to the Pararoos program.
A-LEAGUE – ROUND 8
Friday: Melbourne Victory v Perth Glory, AAMI Park, 7.30pm
Saturday: Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners, Suncorp Stadium, 5pm; Newcastle Jets v Newcastle Jets, McDonald Jones Stadium, 7.30pm
Sunday: Western United v Sydney FC, Kardinia Park, 4.00pm; Adelaide United v Wellington Phoenix, Coopers Stadium, 6.00pm
Bye: Melbourne City
W-LEAGUE – ROUND 3
Thursday: Brisbane Roar v Western Sydney Wanderers, Lions FC Stadium, 7.30pm
Saturday: Newcastle Jets v Canberra United, McDonald Jones Stadium, 4.30pm; Melbourne City v Adelaide United, John McEwan Reserve, 7.00pm
Sunday: Perth Glory v Sydney FC, Dorrien Gardens, 4.00pm
Bye: Melbourne Victory