In the controlled frenzy of day to day life through the North Coast Football season, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture view.
While we are task-oriented by necessity – whether that’s processing player registrations, setting up for game day, or running the canteen – the sum of those parts has delivered in spades on the North Coast.
Hard working clubs have benefitted from a player influx. More broadly, our game’s public profile continues to grow – and commercial interest in the code is robust.
All that success has come despite significant challenges beyond our control – an awfully wet start to the year constrained training and saw ground closures.
And ever present was the pandemic – a beast which gathered fresh Delta claws, but one the local football community has been able to work around.
With the finals almost upon us, it’s timely to take a peek in the rear-vision mirror on what has already been a phenomenal 2021.
We caught up with North Coast Football General Manager Andrew Woodward (AW) for an illuminating Q&A.
Q: After the testing year of 2020, did you think this season was going to be as close to normal as possible?
AW: When the season was ramping up in around March, I, like most, believed the country had a handle on the pandemic, and we would be able to operate relatively normally. In April and May, the volume increased internationally on concerns about variants and then I started to think that we, as a community, could be in for a tough time again. And we are.
Q: What were your initial thoughts when late season we had a COVID scare at Coffs Harbour when a visiting tradesman tested positive?
AW: There were two thoughts. One was to find out exactly what was happening and what the implications of that were for us. The job then was to inform the clubs and participants on what was and wasn’t possible to remain operational.
The second thought was ‘what if’ sport was suspended? What do we do then?
We then started developing contingency plans for community football, Coastal Premier League and National Premier League Youth.
Q: Part of your response was to communicate that it was game on, despite a few minor tweaks to COVID-compliance. How hard was it to cut-through the rumour mill and general public anxiety?
AW: The key to successful issue and crisis communications management is to rely on information from official sources. In this latest case, I urged everyone to rely only on the Premier and other members of executive government (like Ministers), NSW Health and NSW Police.
It was then essential to reaffirm to everyone the facts of the matter that there was only one exposure site for 30 minutes, there were no positive cases, there were no positive samples from sewerage, and there was no lockdown.
The rumour mill, particularly on social media, was in overdrive.
Q: On the eve of the finals in various competitions, many outsiders would not be aware of the contingency plans that were ‘in play’ if things turned south? Talk us through that process of planning for the what ifs.
AW: First and foremost, we have to think about public safety. While we love football, we have to remember it’s only football.
The second thing is to ensure that we comply with the Public Health Orders and operate football within the imposed boundaries.
Third, we had to ensure whatever decision we made had no or minimal impact on the integrity of competitions and treating all teams fairly. We also had to consider the need to keep it simple and not impose undue complexity on people.
Q: Football on the North Coast has had a cracking year despite the coronavirus tribulations. Why do you think our code has prospered when others have struggled?
AW: We’ve had our best year ever in terms of player numbers in 2021, and that’s amazing.
We bounced back much stronger than I expected. I put that down to the fact that the clubs and football’s governing bodies worked hard to stage an entire season last year, whereas others didn’t or couldn’t. That made a lot of friends for the game. People were locked up for much of last year and wanted to get out this year.
I think football’s other great advantage is that it is local and pretty much available in every town and city on the North Coast. People are staying closer to home, and we’re benefitting from that.
Q: The All Clubs meeting is this weekend – that will be about positioning for the future, but maybe a time to also celebrate the resilience and optimism of the stakeholders.
AW: All of the clubs should feel very satisfied. They’ve done a spectacular job over the past two seasons. Let’s remember they’re volunteers doing this outside of their jobs. They put in an enormous amount of work.
Hopefully, the COVID-19 outbreaks can be confined to Greater Sydney and South-East Queensland, allowing us to end the season on a high.