Bend it like Bankstown

Sunday Telegraph, 20/06/2010

 If you’re in Western Sydney and you hear someone yell ‘SHOOT’, you’re probably at a soccer game.

Western Sydney often gets a bad rap, but the World Cup shows just what an incredible place it is. Nine players – or more than a third of the Australian team – come from Western Sydney. It’s a spawning ground for Socceroos.

If there is something in the water I didn’t catch it. I was a pretty ordinary soccer player. My team was the mighty Lansvale United. Our arch enemy was Marconi Fairfield. I don’t think we ever won a game.

Marconi’s captain was a wunderkind called Paul Okon. He was one of those players that made everyone else look like they were standing still. I remember every goal he scored against us. I also remember feeling a lot better when he became the Captain of the Socceroos.

There are lots of stories like this. Cabinet Minister Chris Bowen grew up a few kilometres down the road from me. He couldn’t play soccer either. But the kid across the road could. Chris tells the story of the little boy across the road who used to kick the soccer ball against the garage door for hours every day. That little boy was Harry Kewell.

The point is this: Western Sydney is bursting with talent. When I go back to my old primary school I tell the kids about Paul Okon and Harry Kewell to show them they can be anything they want to be.

In Bankstown, at the other end of my electorate, I tell them about Ian Thorpe, Steve and Mark Waugh, John and Ilsa Konrads, and performers like Bryan Brown, ACDC, Human Nature and Paulini – all Bankstown boys and girls.

I also tell them about the Bankstown Boy who became Prime Minister – and then I watch their eyes light up as they realise anything is possible.

The truth is, though, the real stars of Western Sydney aren’t these people. They’re people like Trevor Wood. Trevor isn’t famous. He’s not a sporting champion, a singer or a politician. He’s probably never had his name in the Sunday Telegraph before. But he is very important.

Trevor coaches the Bankstown Sports Under 11s Soccer Team. Last year, he told me, they couldn’t kick a ball. This year they’re leading the competition. One of the parents told Trevor the other day he was a good coach. He should be. He has been doing it for 20 years.

He’s also the President of the Soccer Club. When he took on the role 12 years ago Bankstown had six teams. Now they’ve got 30. In his spare time he runs two local businesses. I asked him the other day why he does it. He told me it’s because he loves it and he loves seeing the joy kids get out of the game.

That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about winning World Cups. It’s not even about the Socceroos. It’s about the thousands of kids who play sport every weekend. In Western Sydney there are more than 48,000 young people playing soccer. 14,000 play netball. 22,500 play rugby league. None of this would be possible without people like Trevor.

He is just one of the real soccer stars of Western Sydney. The people who get up every morning, get the kids to school, fight the traffic, work hard, study, run their own business and still find time to kick the ball around with the kids.

They are the ones raising the next generation of Harry Kewells, and more importantly the next generation of Trevor Woods.