How Ipswich created a successful football franchise
AS Western Pride's history-making men's football team prepare for Saturday's grand final, it's timely to highlight the tremendous Ipswich vision that made a dream become reality.
Most remarkable is how a group of like-minded Ipswich sporting and professional people have created a National Premier League success story after just five years in operation.
One of the chief architects was Todd Hunt, who summed it up perfectly when invited to reflect on the early challenges and how Western Pride has made Ipswich so proud.
"I'm still pinching myself,'' said Hunt, who played a leading role framing Pride's policies and structure.
"I don't think anyone thought that the club overall, not just the men's team, would be performing this well given it's only five years old.
"I think the football model is spot on.''
Visionary Ipswich people like Hunt, Kym Wickstein, James Buchanan and Wendy Spencer led a group of passionate volunteers who established the Pride franchise and secured an all-important state league licence.
The "hugely beneficial work'' started in the years before Pride officially kicked off its 2013 season at the North Ipswich Reserve.
Backed by Ipswich City Council, and especially sports boss David Morrison, Western Pride won the right to play in the-then Australian Premier League, before the name was changed to its current National Premier Leagues structure.
Hunt was inaugural vice chairman, working with other successful business people like new club chairman Wickstein.
Hunt later took over as chairman before Wickstein assumed the role again.
Despite some early resistance, Football Ipswich was formed as the official entity to pursue a state league licence.
Representatives from the leading regional catchment clubs - the Ipswich Knights, Ipswich City Bulls, Western Spirit, Colleges United and Springfield United - offered people to share in the decision-making process.
"Everybody that was at the table wanted the best for Ipswich football,'' Hunt said.
Buchanan had earlier done some fantastic work trying to build co-operation through QT Cup pre-season competitions between regional teams.
Presentations were made around the local clubs and at venues like the Ipswich Girls' Grammar School to share the vision that Ipswich football could build a club capable of being a force in a state league competition.
This included senior men's and women's teams, along with junior boys and girls' sides, with a focus on development and building an elite pathway.
Current head coach Graham Harvey has lifted professional standards to a new level, guiding the senior team to its first grand final.
"Graham Harvey is an exceptional coach,'' Hunt said. "It's given our juniors something to aim for, something to aspire to.
"The level of professionalism that club brings to the region, there is nothing like it.
"They are out there in the schools. They are running programs.
"They have got the right footballing structure in place and they have got the right people around.
"And the Council and community support has been phenomenal.''
However, P2E consultancy company director Hunt said Pride's progress started with that group of dedicated volunteers before 2013.
He said appointing current general manager Pat Boyle was a vital one due to his sporting and business knowledge.
"Having good people around was very much the key,'' Hunt said.
"You've got a lot of passionate people but you need to have people that have got business minds and output.
"The model was very different. We looked at the people that filled those committee roles and pretty much everyone came from a business background.''
Hunt said the commitment of Cr Morrison was also pivotal in Pride's development.
"David Morrison played a lead role in facilitating the early meetings of getting all the clubs together to talk about what it might look like,'' Hunt said.
"That period of 2012 really was the catalyst for it because we had to do a heck of a lot of setting up.''
As the Pride men's side finalises preparations for Saturday night's NPL Queensland grand final against Moreton Bay United, Hunt is also delighted to see the club's under 18 boys team recently win the premiership. That was another first for the club.
He praised volunteers from day one, including Darryl Kitching, Lisa Chapman and Bianca Hyslop for their valuable contributions.
Securing club patron Gary Wilkins, a former international player and A-League administrator, was another coup.
"That's just gold,'' Hunt said.
"He comes with that background, that respect, and when you've got a patron like that, that really puts the club in high esteem in football circles.''
From early anxiety to higher level rewards
REFLECTING on the early years of Western Pride's development, Ipswich football fanatic Todd Hunt recalled some doubters and lessons along the way.
They included attempts to form an Ipswich Football Academy that "fell by the wayside'' because of the difficulty getting clubs working co-operatively.
"Once the NPL came onto the scene, that gave us a catalyst to do it,'' he said.
However, with that came more anxiety.
"There were a lot of concerns about our local clubs getting battered with players to fill Pride,'' he said.
"It would be fair to say that a couple of clubs really did suffer early in the piece and that created an element of doubt in people's minds as how successful it would have been.''
However, Hunt said bringing in general manager Pat Boyle "was probably the best decision that was made''.
"Pat's got that persona.
"He's highly regarded in football circles.
"Having him being the front of it certainly paid off.''
Hunt said the biggest challenge in Pride's early days was "trying to get all the clubs on board.''
However, Hunt was proud of the collective effort Western Pride has made in "putting Ipswich football back on the map''.