Northern NSW Football is delighted to announce the recipients of its inaugural Local Champion Awards for April.
The NNSWF Local Champion Awards are a monthly recognition of individuals and teams who make a difference across the football family as we thank them for their commitment to their club, team, community and football.
Volunteer of the Month
Ben Perry – Italo Stars FC
Ben Perry describes it as the most hectic day of his life.
Ben is the vice-president at Italo Stars FC. The Football Far North Coast club were one of the hardest hit by the northern NSW floods which started in March and continue to affect large areas of the Northern Rivers and Clarence Valley.
Ben and his Italo Stars teammate Nick Organ spent seven hours rescuing people from treacherous flood water in Lismore at the start of the disaster.
The pair met up at Ben’s place and used his driveway as a boat ramp to launch his 14-foot tinny into the murky flood water which had engulfed much of the area.
They pulled people from second and third story windows, from rooves and from people’s kitchens and loungerooms.
Ben’s trusty tinny, normally used for crabbing and occasional fishing, fits three or four people comfortably. But there were times when they had up to 10 people and even a dog on board as Ben and Nick tirelessly ferried people to safety.
“That Monday was pretty hectic. Probably the most hectic day I’ve ever had,” Ben said.
“We were using the boat to get friends, family, strangers out of a pretty dire situation. There were hundreds of guys in boats who did a lot of good things in very dangerous conditions.
“It’s mind-blowing now to think about how much water there was. We were ducking powerlines on the main road. You stand under a powerline and look up and see how high it is. This was the main street of Lismore. I don’t want to see that again.”
The danger was everywhere. On their side was Ben’s experience on the water and in a boat. But against them was the dangerous debris, the pouring rain and the volume of water. Hearing was impaired as the rain hammered down relentlessly, while the sound of windows smashing and desperate people screaming for help filled the air.
Then there was the danger of other boats and jet skis crisscrossing roads to reach people on rooftops. It was chaos.
“We got hit by a large gas bottle. It felt like a whale coming up underneath the boat. It was pretty scary in that you just didn’t know what was happening,” Ben said.
“The water was a dark brown, black colour. It was a bit surreal getting people out. There wasn’t anyone in shock until we got them out of there. Getting out of their houses people were just in survival mode. Once that was over that’s when people started breaking down. People were crying in the boat.
“It was pretty traumatic. It probably didn’t really kick in until the week after. It took a while [to process]. It was a pretty full on thing that happened.”
Ben’s association with Italo Stars goes back 30 years. He has been a player, a coach and even enjoyed a stint as club president. He has held most roles on the committee and was awarded life membership in 2016 as the club celebrated its 50th year.
He and a dedicated group of about 10 volunteers have spent countless hours cleaning up at the club in a desperate attempt to play football again this season.
It took a few days before they could even reach the ground. Their club house had only been open three weeks following a two-year refurbishment. Their home at Barrow Lane was all but gone. They had lost everything.
“I’ve never seen a war zone but that was as close as I’ll ever come to seeing a bomb hitting somewhere in Lismore,” Ben said.
“We had lost all power. It was mind-blowing. Everything was gone. You think, where do you even start?
“We just salvaged what we could. We found junior goals two or three kilometres away in someone’s front yard. Everyone knows everyone in the North Lismore community so I was getting phone calls where someone would say ‘we’ve found your goals in Mary’s front yard on so-and-so street’.
“The second thing was hosing everything off and trying to get everything back working. Our mower went for a swim but we got it back running. There’s still a lot to clean up that we haven’t even touched.
“We’re going to try and mow our fields and start to fix up the infrastructure. Five or six guys are tradesmen and have been fixing things up out of their own pocket. Our lights have been destroyed. Training went back last week but we can only train for an hour or so without lights.”
Ben was grateful for the visit from Northern NSW Football on their Flood Support Road Trip last week.
“[NNSWF] donated truckloads of stuff. We didn’t even have a single ball or bib a week ago. Now we’ve got balls, equipment,” Ben said.
“It’s going to be a slow process. The water pressure blew the roller doors off our storeroom and everything just floated away. Our perpetual trophies, kits, cones, wiped off the planet.
“Now we’ve got some gear so we can have some training sessions. We actually did find two bags of kits which somehow stayed in the bags over on the over side of the fields. We managed to wash them so we have a strip for our junior and senior side to wear.”
The disaster was almost the death of the club but the Stars continue to shine. While they have lost players and volunteers, Ben was optimistic about the future and the 2022 season.
“Initially it was all a bit too much but we talked to a few guys and discussed it among the group. The consensus was what else are we going to do?” Ben said.
“Apart from work there’s nothing else to do. In our area there’s no real social activity bar sport. So we got a team together. Last year we had four senior and five junior sides, this year just one senior and we’ve scraped together two junior teams.
“It was touch and go. It would have been the end of the club. We’ll see how we go this year and what kind of funding we can get and what our options are.
“We’ve had dozens of people from the club directly affected by [the floods]. Our playing group all come from North or South Lismore so everyone has been smashed.
“But everyone is looking forward to having a kick and some social fun. There’s no expectations, just a kick with your mates.”
Lucy has demonstrated outstanding ability and commitment during her three seasons as a match official. She has quickly risen through the ranks and is officiating on a level of football rare for someone so young. Lucy attends coaching sessions, training nights, fitness tests and courses to upgrade her qualifications and gain more knowledge. She is a member of the NNSWF Youth Referee Academy where she is a willing contributor to the coaching and development opportunities she receives. Lucy gives her officiating everything and is keen to share her knowledge and enthusiasm with all other referees she works with. Lucy is an inspiration to other referees and has the potential to advance a long way as a match official.
Scott has been coaching girls’ football for four years including under-7s, 8s, 11s and 12s. He is a strong advocate for women’s football and encourages the girls to give their all as sportswomen. Fair play and striving to do their best create an enjoyable atmosphere for the girls who have a ball playing together. The enthusiasm comes from the top down where Scott supports the girls to thrive. An absolute champion.
Joshua is an inspiration. Not only does he manage to play and coach his team but he inspires and encourages every player to do their best. A lifelong Newcastle Jets fan, his passion and commitment deserve to be recognised.
Bellingen United FC have transitioned into the Coastal Premier League competition. They have experienced all round growth at the club and achieved a five-star rating in the National Club Development Program last year.
Nelson Bay FC is one of the largest clubs operating within Northern NSW Football. The committee have continued the great work of their predecessors in strengthening the club’s governance and striving to attract new people to the club.
The club have made a strong commitment to NNSWF community programs including delivering a Kick On for Women program and recently delivering Summer Football despite the pandemic impacts.
Nelson Bay FC create numerous opportunities for women and girls to engage with football and will be engaging with Female Football Week, which started on Friday.
Northern NSW Football Community Football Manager Ross Hicks congratulated the recipients and thanked them for their contribution to football in northern NSW.
“Without people like Ben, Lucy, Scott and Joshua as well as clubs like Bellingen United and Nelson Bay FC we wouldn’t have a game. They make football what it is in our region,” Hicks said.
“It is their commitment to their clubs, teams and football community that make the game and improves the experience of playing football for the people around them.
“We thank them for their contribution and congratulate them on being named NNSWF Local Champion Awards winners for April. We wish them all the very best for the rest of the 2022 season.”
Monthly award winners are also nominated for the annual Local Champion Awards in October.