We need help: Country football clubs struggling in aftermath of Covid lockdowns

Manager of football operations at Tooradin-Dalmore Nicholas Pouki warming up with the reserves side. Picture: Ben Kelly
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Sports clubs in regional communities are facing great difficulties after a tumultuous 2020. Ben Kelly reports.

After missing the 2020 season because of Covid-19, many country sports clubs face the reality that they may not survive the next 12-24 months and are looking to the community for help.

Tooradin-Dalmore Football and Netball Club football operations manager Nicholas Pouki said that the full extent of how clubs suffered was still unknown.

“Community sport is only surviving because of local business and sponsors,” Mr Pouki said.

The current uncertainty has meant many sponsors have chosen not to commit to their sponsorship in 2021, having a financial impact on the club.

“The club has had to look at viability and cost-cutting to ensure we remain a club,” he said.

Tooradin is a small town on Western Port Bay 57km from Melbourne, with a population of about 1600, at last count. It’s a popular stopping place for people heading to Phillip Island and Gippsland, meaning most of their revenue is from passing travellers and the sports club.

We need help: Country football clubs struggling in aftermath of Covid lockdowns
Tooradin is a small town built on Sawtells Inlet from Western Port Bay. Picture: Domain.com

Mr Pouki said Tooradin-Dalmore had the support of its players and families to thank for its survival thus far but would need to find a balance between financials and enjoyment going forward.

“Community sport is important because of the enjoyment, but we also have the reality of being viable,” he said.

When there is pressure for both, it means the club has a different focus, which becomes survival.

 “Many clubs over the next 12-24 months are going to be faced with this harsh reality.”

Swinburne Centre for Mental Health senior research fellow Dr Eric Tan said many people’s mental and physical health would have been affected by the inability to access sports clubs and have social interactions during restrictions.

“It’s one of those things [during restrictions] that we can’t do, things that we used to do to support our mental health,” Dr Tan said.

Social interaction is something we’ve taken for granted over the last 100 years, and we just had the rug pulled out from under us.

Mr Pouki said this was particularly important for regional towns.

“2020 was a year to reflect on what we missed. We missed local football for the connections and that’s massive for local communities and the opportunities that come from that,” he said.

“Everyone wants to belong, and football clubs are amazing places where it doesn’t matter what job you do, what nationality you are or if you can or can’t kick a football, as long as you want to be there you can be a part of something.”

This sense of belonging to something, providing an enjoyable and entertaining place to be and the continued support of the greater community is what country towns and sports clubs are banking on to keep themselves on the field this year and beyond.