Ipswich region's hard work, strategy defies football critics
HAVING been with Western Pride since "day one'', life member Kym Wickstein could talk hours about what has been achieved.
He loves regional football and Western Pride so much, he is always happy to highlight the incredible progress being made by such a young state league club.
Among Pride's major accomplishments have been winning a senior men's grand final after just five years, promoting players and coaches to national and international level, strengthening equality in the sport and building a powerful record of participation across all grades.
"Winning the grand final in five years was pretty big,'' Wickstein said.
He said being able to get the Pride women's team back into the National Premier Leagues (NPL) competition was another satisfying moment.
"That took a lot of hard work,'' he said praising the QT, local councillors and state and federal ministers for backing that.
"The other one (big achievement) was for the women to play before the men.
"We've been trying for three years to have that equality in the game in the club (previously being blocked by Football Queensland).
"That to me was another achievement . . . it brings the club together.''
Well before Pride teams took the field in the 2013 NPL season, Wickstein had a vision of what regional football needed.
Working closely with other leading administrators like Todd Hunt and supportive Ipswich City councillor David Morrison, Wickstein knew what was needed.
After joining the board of Ipswich Football and being voted in as chairman, Wickstein appreciated all the groundwork that was done to create Western Pride FC.
"First and foremost would be getting the licence in the first place,'' Wickstein said.
While Ipswich had put together a solid bid to become a state league club, Wickstein said he rated it only an 80 per cent chance of success.
When Western Pride was confirmed as an NPL newcomer, Wickstein conceded the financial reality of the job ahead struck home.
Equipment had to be bought and fields found to trial at. Ipswich Grammar School provided a welcome start before the North Ipswich Reserve and later Briggs Road Sporting Complex were secured for games.
Despite the doubters, Western Pride FC officials built a solid foundation, backed by the grassroots regional clubs at the time.
"Starting from nothing was a huge thing and I got calls from people in the football fraternity saying 'it's not going to work','' the long-serving Football Ipswich and Western Pride president said.
"The presidents of the five local clubs (Knights, Ipswich City Bulls, Western Spirit, Springfield United and Colleges United) were instrumental in helping get the licence because all it needed was for that to be defeated at the committee meeting and it wouldn't have happened.
"We owe plenty to those club presidents.''
In recent years, Pride has continued to flourish, helped by professional coaches supporting each other.
After inaugural senior men's mentor and former Socceroo Kasey Wehrman returned overseas, his replacement Karl Dodd carried the proverbial ball forward before backing the next head coach Graham Harvey.
Dodd (Guam national coach) and Harvey (Hong Kong) secured professional coaching opportunities during their stints at Pride.
It was when Dodd was coaching that Wickstein recognised the club's premiership potential.
"In 2015, when Karl Dodd was there, I said to Karl: 'Mate if we can keep this squad together and bring in a defender and another quality midfielder, we will win the championship,'' Wickstein said.
"We missed the championship by two places (in 2017) but we won the grand final (beating Moreton Bay United 2-1 at the Briggs Road Sporting Complex).
"The players we brought in certainly made a difference to that. Mind you, we lost players as well.''
Former players like Harry Sawyer had secured professional contracts.
Dylan Wenzel-Halls (Roar), Dan Hall (Central Coast Mariners) and Zoe Lambi (Roar) have been promoted to higher level football in recent months.
Holly McQueen is in the NPC and junior Matildas, along with a host of Pride players making state squads.
Current Pride footballers like Hayden Mchenery are being scouted by New Zealand teams.
"All that wasn't happening before we came into being,'' Wickstein said.
Former Ipswich City Bulls president Dan Burnell accepted a football manager's role in Mackay this year after some tremendous work at Pride, including organising the senior team's post-grand final trip to Japan.
In the 2018 season just finished, Pride's under-18 boys and under-13 girls added grand final successes to the young club's list of achievements.
The girls completed the premiership/grand final double.
Wickstein is also proud how Western Pride earlier became the first Ipswich club in decades to host a New Zealand international side preparing for a World Cup qualifier.
But a major setback was the sudden cancellation of the Pride women's team licence last year.
"Pat (general manager Pat Boyle) and I were devastated,'' Wickstein recalls.
"We sat at Briggs Road for about half an hour absolutely dumbfounded, going through what we thought may have been our downfall . . . and we could not find a reason.''
However, massive pressure from the regional football community, backed by the QT and local MPs, had the bizarre Football Queensland decision reversed.
With Ipswich chasing a future A-League licence, Wickstein was encouraged by that widespread community and political support.
"For them to show their hand so early about that was really gratifying,'' he said.
With the Pride women re-instated, the club has continued its massive development program across all the grades.
"One thing I'm very, very proud of, having been involved from day one, is that we are the only club in Queensland that has fielded a team in every boys and men's competition, and in every girls' age group,'' Wickstein said.
"We had some headaches at the start but we always fielded a team and never forfeited.
"Sometimes we'd get a hiding but we just said if we can get through the first 12 months, it will all change.''
It has, with Western Pride now one of Queensland's premier football clubs.
Time to reduce cost for kids
ONE of the negatives Kym Wickstein would like to see addressed in the future is the cost of playing football.
"Football Queensland and Football Australia have to find a way to make football more affordable for the juniors,'' he said.
"That's something I'm very proud that we've tried to do - minimise the cost to the kids and their parents. And none of the money that comes from (junior) fees goes towards paying senior players. We do that separately.
"And not many people know that.''
Wickstein said the Pride junior fees go directly back into coaching, equipment and helping the kids