Kick on kids: Ipswich efforts keep junior numbers healthy
AS a former Premier League player and current under-12 coach, Danny Wilson knows how valuable it is to provide accessible options for young footballers.
That's why the Ipswich Knights club vice-president is delighted to see so many kids back on regional fields enjoying their sport.
The Wilson-coached Knights under-12 boys drew 1-1 with Ipswich City in their latest Brisbane Youth Premier League encounter at Sutton Park.
"It's been pretty good to help them build the players,'' Wilson said, in his third year guiding the talented side.
"Being able to nurture them through and start to get them ready for their next step of playing on the big field.''
While focused on encouraging his Knights of the future, Wilson was heartened by the overall interest in junior football this season.
Despite the COVID-19 shutdown, more than 320 players from under-6 to under-18 have continued to support the Knights junior program.
That compares favourably to previous seasons, highlighting the ongoing popularity of the round ball game.
"It's probably slowly starting to creep back up which is good,'' Wilson said.
Although female numbers have dropped off slightly, Wilson was still happy with how everything was running in testing times.
"Our intention is to keep on providing that service to people with the hope the program builds and from that, the numbers should be able to come through,'' he said.
"That's what we are trying to do - provide that service for all diverse members of the community.''
Knights teams in under-6 to under-13 competitions play their home games at Ebbw Vale.
The club's under-15, under-18, under-20 and youth sides are based at the Knights Bundamba headquarters.
With youth and senior Queensland Premier League and National Premier League teams, the Knights have 530 players this season.
"From a numbers point of view, that's quite fair and reasonable for us,'' Wilson said.
Like all clubs, the Ipswich Knights had to deal with a multitude of coronavirus uncertainty.
"We are governed by Football Queensland and Football Brisbane so it was our job to make sure that we were providing timely information to our members, and at the same time doing all the background work once the COVID restrictions did open up,'' he said.
"We had to make sure we had our plans in place so working with the respective stakeholders and Ipswich City Council to approve our COVID plans.
"And then heavily rely on our volunteers to make sure we had all the precautions in place.
"From a club point of view, it was a challenging time where you were fielding a lot of questions which unfortunately you don't have all the answers.''
However, as the information became available, club officials and volunteers focused on following the requirements to get football going again.
"The kids have been back a month working through the COVID issues,'' he said.
"There's still a couple of tight restrictions we need to work through but the main thing is we get the majority of them all back on the field and having sessions with their coaches.''
The satisfying result is seeing the smiles of the faces of young footballers.
"It's really good to see kids outside running, enjoying the outdoors,'' the club vice-president said.
"We are just fortunate enough that we can allow that to come and participate in a great game.''
While traditional Ipswich is the Knights heartland, Wilson said the club welcomed players from the growing fringe areas to join the academy, play semi serious of just have some fun.
"From the western corridor, it's pretty easy and accessible,'' he said.
"You're not that far off Springfield. You're not that far off from your Jindalee, Oxley, Sinnaman Park areas.
"It's more making it affordable. That's the biggest thing and let the people know we can be as flexible as we can with them.''