ACT News

Canberra Big Issue community soccer team celebrates sweet Sydney success

Rhys Stewart, pictured at Reid Oval, has been part of the Canberra Big Issue football community for four years.
Rhys Stewart, pictured at Reid Oval, has been part of the Canberra Big Issue football community for four years. Photo: Matt Bedford

Disadvantaged members of Canberra's community became champions last week after winning The Big Issue Street Football Festival competition in Sydney. 

The fifth annual event, held between January 15-20, brought hundreds of participants from all walks of life to play soccer at First Fleet Park in Circular Quay. 

Ashley Paul Kelly has sold The Big Issue magazine for eight years and played in the organisation's Canberra Community Street Soccer side for seven. 

He said his commitment to the team had got him through tough times and he felt proud to bring home the trophy after representing the territory. 

"My week doesn't start on a Monday, it really starts on a Wednesday with training," Kelly said. "Street soccer is really needed.

"For a lot of us if we weren't able to come here and get training it would be really hard for us to connect within the community and we might be really isolated. 

"I was living in the car for the last six months but these boys give me a lot of support."

The tournament was a jam-packed day for the ACT team who travelled together up to Sydney and played five round-robin games. 

The team won four games and tied in the last game against Parramatta. 

Coaches Ronnie McLeod and Mark Petricevic agreed  Canberra played great football in the final to overturn Parramatta and lift the trophy.  

McLeod said he had seen time and time again how supporting people through sport worked. 

"The program encompasses anyone with some sort of need, whether it's homeless, unemployed, people with mental illnesses or any sort of disadvantage," he said. 

"For a lot of our players it's the highlight of their week. It's healthy, a good social outlet, while they are getting themselves together they get a sense of routine from this."  

McLeod said it was sad to see team members move on, but he was thrilled when players found permanent housing, employment and could only return now and again to have a kick with friends. 

"We have seen it really works," he said. "The whole point of this is that everyone kicks goals."