Football Queensland’s Future of Football 2020+ Competition Reform consultations have shone a new light on the merits of opening up competitive opportunities for aspirational clubs and there may be no stronger example in the state than the underdog story brewing in South West Queensland.
Though an established force at local level, Stanthorpe United stepped into the unknown in 2020 – moving into the Toowoomba Football Leagues (TFL) for the first time after COVID-19 curtailed their traditional participation in Football Stanthorpe’s Open Men’s competition.
After some “outside the box” thinking, as club stalwart Steve McEvoy describes it, Football Queensland South West accepted the club’s application to join the TFL and the Redbacks are now flying high atop the Premier Men’s division.
Following a mixed start, which included losses to Rockville and Gatton, a squad drawn from across United’s existing player pool and several other Stanthorpe clubs has suddenly won seven successive matches and earned a place in the annual President’s Cup fixture, a much-anticipated chance for prestigious in-season silverware.
“It’s been unbelievable, to be honest, to win those games in a row,” said McEvoy, the team’s long-serving former coach and a current assistant to new boss Brad Rub.
“All it was ever about was giving the players an opportunity to play football and creating a pathway if we could. They knew they could be competitive. We won the first game, we beat Highfields 3-0, but lost our next two.
“We had a meeting after we lost against Gatton and decided we were going to treat that as our pre-season, because a lot of the boys had never actually played together before.
“It’s very tribal down there. For some of the boys to pull on a Stanthorpe United shirt, it was difficult at the start. But I knew once we got out on the paddock that those things would be forgotten about and they would be playing as one team and enjoying the experience.
“They’re certainly enjoying the challenge and making a close bond, especially on the bus on the way home.
“They didn’t know each other very well at the start of the year but I think they consider themselves good mates now and that’s what sport is all about.”
United continued their exceptional form and sealed a spot in the President’s Cup game with a come-from-behind 2-1 weekend win against USQFC in Warwick, their new home away from home.
“We didn’t even know a President’s Cup existed! We’d never heard of such a thing until we got an email telling us we could reach the President’s Cup and thought: ‘What’s that?’ It’s a bonus,” McEvoy said.
“When we found out we were in it, for sure we did have a bit of a party and did celebrate it. It was a good trip home on the bus that night!
“A lot of these boys work on farms so they’re starting at 4.30-5.00am. It’s a commitment to put in every week to travel. Football Queensland South West got us a few games down in Warwick, which makes it only a 40-minute trip for us instead of an hour and a half and we appreciate that, and we’ve had some of the teams in Toowoomba say they’re prepared to travel down that way, which is great to see as well.
“The guys are getting the rewards for their commitment and effort.
“Even things like their wives and girlfriends letting them go away and be away from their families – the support they’re getting from their partners and families is important for us, because without that support these boys wouldn’t be able to do what they’ve done.
“The wins make it a bit easier, there’s no doubt about that. It’s been a fantastic couple of months and hopefully the boys can continue that for a couple more months. This has been groundbreaking and unique for the district.”
FQ CEO Robert Cavallucci congratulated United on their success so far this season and highlighted the value of creating new and fresh competitive opportunities in regional areas that deliver like-for-like and best-v-best outcomes.
“It’s great to see how the club has grasped this chance and how the football community worked together to get the team on the pitch and playing at a level suited to their ability,” Cavallucci said.
“We’re excited to see the rest of the season unfold. This kind of story illustrates why FQ has prioritised connected competitions as a strategic focus.”
Stanthorpe United will contest the President’s Cup against Willowburn at Commonwealth Oval in Toowoomba on Sunday, 25 October, with kick-off at 3pm.
Images: Stanthorpe United