It’s NAIDOC Week in Australia and, for the Queensland football community, a time to celebrate the state’s past and present Indigenous stars and their achievements on and off the field.
Queensland-born footballers of First Nations heritage to have shone on the national and international stage include Socceroos trio David Williams, Adam Sarota and Kasey Wehrman as well as Brisbane Roar’s Allira Toby, a regular Westfield W-League goalscorer who emerged through the National Premier Leagues (NPL) Queensland.
The state’s NPL Men’s and NPL Women’s competitions continue to benefit from the involvement of leading Indigenous athletes in 2020, from two-time A-League champion Jade North (Eastern Suburbs) to former Olyroos midfielder James Brown (Gold Coast United) to prolific striker Samara Christmas (Lions FC), an NPL Women’s Young Player of the Year award winner.
All three are active in promoting Indigenous football programs and have previously participated in the Australian Indigenous Football Championships, an annual event that Football Queensland supports.
Damian Munday, the tournament’s coordinator and Queensland Indigenous Football founder, paid tribute to their presence as footballing role models for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids.
“The ambassadors play a big role in what we’re doing,” Munday said. “We love to see them come down. Obviously they always get an invitation. Some of them are still playing as well.
“Jade North attended our last couple of tournaments, Adam Sarota, Ramone Close, James Brown, Samara Christmas, plenty of other women as well.”
Munday particularly highlighted Close’s incredible contribution to Indigenous football. The former Redlands United forward scored 10 goals for Olympic FC in 2017 and 11 for Peninsula Power in 2018, helping the club to promotion from the Football Queensland Premier League. But it’s away from the pitch that he’s made an even bigger impact, having led the creation of the Australian Indigenous Football Championships.
“He’s one of the strongest ambassadors in my eyes because he’s put a lot together, put a lot of his own time into Indigenous football,” Munday said.
“Him and Lawrence Gilbert created the first Indigenous tournament up here. Ramone has been a mentor to me within Indigenous football. I always turn to him for advice when I feel I need it. I tend to give him a call. Ramone is a great contact.”
Close stepped down from his role with the Australian Indigenous Football group earlier this year to focus on other community projects but Munday and Queensland Indigenous Football are committed to continuing his work in creating participation opportunities, whether in playing, coaching or refereeing.
Munday’s focus for the immediate future is on developing pathways and sustainable community programs to build on the work Queensland Indigenous Football have already undertaken in areas such as Cherbourg and St George.
“Our vision for the next five years is to get the programs up and running and have a lot more engagement with community,” he said.
“We’re trying to break that pattern of just going in, running a couple of sessions and then, when we leave, the program doesn’t go any further or kids don’t have any more involvement in football. We’re looking at making it a bit more sustainable for each community.
“We’ve got a few other bigger plans as well but we just want to focus on getting into community and helping the community grow through football.”
Images: Ian Judd & Gold Coast United