Adelaide spread football to indigenous north

Reds use absence of Asian Champions League football to connect with indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

    Flores is embraced by Adelaide fans but he also found friends far from the city before leaving the Reds [GALLO/GETTY]

    Adelaide United is the best-known Australian team as far as fans around Asia are concerned. The A-league was only allowed to send teams into the Asian Champions League in 2007 but, just a year later, the Reds made it all the way to the final.

    It was no fluke.

    En route, Aurelio Vidmar's men beat such powerhouses as Pohang Steelers of South Korea (who the following year became the most successful team ever in Asian club competition), the seven-time J-League champions Kashima Antlers, then Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan, the richest team on the continent.

    "Can you imagine in Uluru and in Alice Springs kids asked me if I was going to re-sign for Adelaide United? It was amazing. We tried our best to make the kids happy"

    Marcos Flores, A-League player of the year

    It took a Gamba Osaka at the peak of their passing powers to see off Adelaide in the two-legged final. In 2010, the Reds returned to the knockout stage and were eliminated in the final minute of a thrilling second round tie at the hands of Jeonbuk Motors, one of Asia's best.

    It left the club wanting more, and with no Asian action this time round, Adelaide have not been idle in seeking new territories to spread their name as well as the beautiful game.

    The Northern Territory is not really a new one; it was administered by the state of South Australia, of which Adelaide is the capital, between 1863 and 1911.

    And, to an outsider at least, the word territory doesn't quite do it justice.

    It is five or six times bigger than the United Kingdom depending on who you believe.

    Instead of a population of 60 million however, there are less than a quarter of a million residents, with around a third indigenous.

    Indigenous struggle

    Many of these struggle economically and also struggle to connect with the beautiful game.

    Aussie Rules Football has had much greater success engaging the community, with a number of players making the grade.

    Football can point to Socceroo international Jade North and former Adelaide captain Travis Dodd as the highest-profile players from the indigenous community but there is still work to be done.

    Adelaide are not about to change the situation overnight, but the club is hoping to make a difference.

    United were dumped out of the Asian Champions League by Jeonbuk Motors in 2010 [GALLO/GETTY]

    In June, the Reds sent three players to spend time in a soccer clinic in the town of Mutitjulu, near Alice Springs.

    The images of Eugene Galekovic, Marcus Flores and Daniel Mullen playing football with the youngsters were heartwarming and show just what power the beautiful game has.

    "The Territory is home to most of the remaining indigenous tribes in Australia," explained Adelaide Chairman Greg Griffin.

    "These tribes are sometimes nomadic and travel between South Australia, Western Australia and the Territory.

    "Many of the Indigenous people live in difficult circumstances. Adelaide United has joined forces with Football In Central Australia (FICA) and the Northern Territory Football Association (NTFA) to send its best known and regarded players into the outback to run clinics for kids who love football, but live in remote communities, and therefore do not have access to this level of specialised coaching.

    "Beyond that, Adelaide United is committed to taking the brightest of this great talent base into the elite junior teams that will represent the club in the Weifang Cup in China in July 2011, and on a tour of northern England in April 2012, to play teams such as the Manchester United Under-15 elite team."

    Historic links

    Adelaide may be promoting itself in a region that it sees as its backyard, with the historic links between South Australia and the Northern Territory, but the league and the sport as a whole also benefit as Paul Lelliot, the CEO of FICA explained.

    "The Adelaide United players are quality ambassadors for the game and the amazing thing to come out of this visit is the subliminal groundswell of support for football in this region," said Lelliiot.

    "The A League brand has respect and everyone we met were genuine in their wishes for success."

    Flores, the 2010/11 A-League player of the season, was especially in demand.

    "Can you imagine in Uluru and in Alice Springs kids asked me if I was going to re-sign for Adelaide United?" the Argentine told the Adelaide Advertiser.

    "It's made me proud, as Adelaide United has supporters everywhere.

    "We mixed with the kids. It was a fantastic experience.

    "It was amazing. We tried our best to make the kids happy. Never in my life did I imagine Central Australia would be so beautiful."

    In the end, Flores didn't re-sign for the club and joined China's Henan Jianye two weeks later.

    It was a departure much-mourned in Adelaide and he will not be forgotten easily in Mutitjulu either.

    John Duerden has lived in East Asia for 10 years, covering the football scene for international titles such as Sports Illustrated and The Guardian as well as a host of Asian publications. He lives in Seoul, South Korea. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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