They don’t come any prouder than Football South Coast CEO Ann-Marie Balliana.
The 46-year-old has lived and breathed football her entire life, ever since her family ran the Fairy Meadow United club as a youngster.
Since then, Balliana has played the game herself and coached her son’s team and has of course dedicated her life to the sport of football as one of the leading female administrators.
It was no surprise to hear her joy when Community Football was given the green light to kick-off as matches took place on Wednesday evening bringing in the new season on the 1st of July.
“It’s been such a rollercoaster ride over the last few months for everyone and it’s just so exciting to see everyone ready to play.
“Community sport is such an important part of promoting social inclusion, promoting physical and mental well-being, and connecting the community together through friendship and their passion for the game.
“From our Under 6’s to our over 45 players and every player in between, football has well and truly been missed and I am sure there will be some very happy people taking to the field in the coming days.
“For me personally, I have been involved in football my whole life.
“My family ran a club called Fairy Meadow United. I have played, coached my sons’ team and was part of the Illawarra Junior Football Association board (IJFA) prior to Football South Coast being formed.
“I understand the positive impact football has across many people and am one of the many thousands who have missed the game this year.
“Our region has such a long and rich history with football, and it is a great moment to see our competitions resume given all the turbulence and uncertainty surrounding 2020.
“Communication has been the key during this time.
“The Board was meeting weekly to ensure that FSC was placed in a strong position to deal with the pandemic.
“The FSC Board, and in particular, the Football Councils and management ensured that there was continual communication and consultation with our clubs and all key stakeholders.
“During times like this, there also has to be a degree of flexibility and innovation to deal with the unforeseen circumstances from COVID–19 and it was really important to rally together in the interests of everyone involved in football.
“I am also extremely proud of the FSC Staff and their hard work and diligence. It was a fantastic team effort which was all the more challenging working remotely. The guys are a credit to our football community and were so committed to football during an extremely challenging period.”
Ann-Marie also paid special tribute to the clubs and volunteers that have been working around the clock getting ready for the revamped season – that and their amazing work in ensuring their clubs all followed the ‘Return to Training’ Guidelines.
“Clubs have been extremely diligent in understanding the COVID-19 Safe Plans and implementing all the necessary measures including signage and all the required resourcing.
“Clubs have been very proactive to ensure that they will be ready to facilitate football in a safe environment for the entire community.
“Our volunteers are the backbone of our sport, and this year will mean even more work.
“It is a credit to our clubs and all our volunteers that they are just as keen to see football return and their players return to the pitch.
“Clubs have also felt the impact of losing sponsors and other fundraising opportunities so it’s really important that as a community we support each other through a year that has been so unusual in so many ways.”
The chatter of better infrastructure has always been a topic of conversation in the South Coast region but Balliana stated that COVID-19 has brought out the best in seeing sports working together in sharing the grounds, the example being Cricket Illawarra.
“Midweek matches are difficult when many of our grounds don’t have lights with appropriate lux levels.
“Many football fields are shared with cricket so COVID-19 did highlight the challenges with not having football specific fields, however a great positive outcome was working with the other sporting codes to ensure our season could be extended, so our sincere thanks to Cricket Illawarra in particular.
“With the size of our sport, infrastructure is always a key challenge.
“Many grounds have high player to field ratios and the lack of drainage and irrigation causes many issues for many venues across the region.
“In particular many of our clubs use change rooms for storage and this is an area that definitely needs to be addressed.”
Balliana fittingly ended by thanking the entire football family for their efforts in helping each other and assisting with the sport’s reboot for the new season.
“Many people have worked extremely hard behind the scenes to make sure our 13,000 players can play they game they love. From our board, to football councils and in particular our clubs, it has been a great effort by all involved to get to this point after many months of uncertainty.
“We also want to thank all of our players, coaches, club committees and referees for all their patience during this time.
“When we first heard of the suspension, we knew that as an organisation we had to be methodical in our planning, anticipate various outcomes and ensure the sustainability of the organisation and more importantly the sport.
“We have players of close to 13,000 across our various competitions and programs and our region with its history, has a proud passion for the game, so it was important to plan for many scenarios and ensure we were ready to go when we got the green light.
“With teams pulling out, co-sharing of grounds between clubs and trying to organise scheduling to reduce ground traffic, the logistics of the draw have been quite challenging and we appreciate everyone’s understanding of the circumstances.
“Overall I am proud that as a football family, we really did support each other during this time.”