Raising the opportunities for soccer in a region that is known for its passion of rugby league is no small feat, but it's a challenge the organisers of a newly formed Upper Hunter soccer premier league are prepared to take on if it means creating development pathways for the kids in the region.
When numbers started to fall within Singleton, Muswellbrook and Scone, Singleton Strikers Football Club Technical Director Stephen Gruber opened up the conversation to create a combined Upper Hunter premier league with an ambition to provide development pathways for young soccer players wanting to progress from community level soccer, without having to travel to Maitland or Newcastle for the opportunity.
Mr Gruber said there is some great talent coming through the soccer ranks, but the development pathways just weren't there in the Upper Hunter.
As told by the local councils, without a development pathway there was no funding opportunities from councils to maintain grounds or help to fund access to the sport, Mr Gruber said.
The Upper Hunter premier league combines players from Singleton, Muswellbrook and Scone and recently even welcomed players from Moonan Flat to join the field. What started out as only six players has developed into 70 from the region, enough to fill teams from under 13s to under 18s.
A combined Upper Hunter premier league also meant a unity in identity of the regions soccer clubs and would help players from different parts of the region to feel included rather than feeling like they were playing for one or other individual club, Mr Gruber said. Long-term he hoped this pathway would allow up and coming players to also be trained as coaches and be able to come back and continue the legacy for other soccer youths in the community.
While the league was technically a premier youth league for boys, girls have also successfully trailed to join the ranks, Mr Gruber said.
"These girls are talented and they can hold their own on the field against the boys," Mr Gruber said.
There are currently six female players in the league and with curiosity building around the new opportunity, some players are even changing codes from rugby league.
It is still early days for the Upper Hunter premier league, but with support from the community and council, Mr Gruber sees the potential for success.
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