The fact that the Australian Pararoos, the Paralympic team of the Australian Football Federation were playing their first game on home soil in 19 years was a huge statement, made even more impressive is the fact that the program was axed in 2014 when the Australian Sports Commission deemed the team too much of a long shot for medal glory. As a result, the team lost funding of $175,000 and forced Head Coach Paul Brown to go public with a campaign that ultimately cost him his job.
A year later, in 2015 the Australian Football Federation reinstated the Pararoos to their fold of national representative teams under a different operational model and in November,2019 they hosted the Canadian Soccer Paralympic team in a special 2-game series generously funded by the FIFA Forward 2.0 program. The first game on November 30th marked not only the Canada Para teams 100th game all-time, but also the 100th in charge for Head Coach Drew Ferguson. (The first game was open to the public while the second was played behind closed doors).
The Pararoos put on an exceptional show that resulted in over 1100 supporters in the stadium cheering on their team, finally able to play a competitive international game on home turf. Not only had the AFF Pararoos delivered flyers to all homes in the neighbourhood, they had completed an extensive round of media sessions with TV and print that drove local interest for the weekend games. The venue, Manly Warringah Football Association in the affluent neighbourhood of Cromer, 30 minutes drive north of downtown Sydney was adorned with FIFA and FFA marketing including the prominent #Undefeated hashtag. A Pararoos booth was busy selling out of branded merchandise and mini-games at half-time demonstrated the FFA commitment to pushing this team to the next level. The final component that made this a truly special experience was the role of local children from special needs groups coming out as flag bearers. The FFA had left no stone unturned in an effort to showcase their commitment to inclusion.
A packed stand prepare for kick-off in this special game for both teams.
The media coverage for this event was exceptional and the line up at the gate proved that there is real interest in Paralympic soccer and parasport in general when given the support and spotlight it demands. Each of the Australian players had a story that had to be heard and much of the coverage gave voice to their experiences and the importance of the program which has now expanded to regionally based youth programs and most recently a women’s Para soccer program.
Diego Gilbert (9) challenges for the ball against a Pararoo watched by 1,100+ fans in a packed Lucas Neill stand.
For many of the Canadian players this was the largest crowd they had ever played in front of but there were no sign of nerves. In both games the physical strength of the Pararoos (IFCPF Ranked 10th)and the depth of their experience was telling, and despite the high work rate of a slightly jet lagged Canadian team (IFCPF Ranked 11th) there was really only one team in it. Young players Diego Gilbert (18) and Corey Stashewsky (19) showed plenty of promise for the future building around the consistent Sam Charron (21) and with Ryan Watson and Lucas Bruno still in their early 20’s there is a lot of promise in this squad.
Sam Charron Ryan Watson
Name | Age | Where they grew up
Bruno, Lucas | 23 | Calgary, AB, CAN
Charron, Samuel | 21 | Ottawa, ON, CAN
Denton, Sam | 21 | Southwold, ON, CAN
Gilbert, Diego | 18 | Toronto, ON, CAN
Hodgson, Dustin | 35 | Vancouver, BC, CAN
Kamoun, Raji | 26 | Montréal, QC, CAN
Mowat, Benjamin | 18 | Moncton, NB, CAN
Resendes, Joe | 39 | Port Moody, BC, CAN
Stashewsky, Corey | 19 | Victoria, BC, CAN
Watson, Ryan | 20 | Montréal, QC, CAN
White, Danny | 16 | Kitchener, ON, CAN
Wojtiw, Damien | 38 | Toronto, ON, CAN