Proud Far North Queenslanders and former Australia internationals Kim Carroll and Michael Thwaite have joined Football Queensland (FQ) in encouraging state and local government to recognise football’s critical need to establish two new Regional High Performance Centres.
In its Strategic Infrastructure Plan 2020-2024, FQ identified crucial investment into Regional High Performance Centres in the North and Central Queensland regions as vital to improving pathways, participation opportunities and the overall experience for young footballers in regional areas.
Carroll, a product of Tully in the North, won 54 caps for the Westfield Matildas during a successful international career, but only after making the difficult decision to leave her hometown and family at age 15.
The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup participant, who recalled training on a school oval during her formative years, said investment into the Regional High Performance Centres would make a significant difference for juniors.
“I’m all for it,” Carroll said. “Without that opportunity, it’s a big stretch to go from a small country town to some of the bigger cities like Brisbane.
“It’s about grabbing that talent from a younger age and giving them opportunities to absorb as much information and knowledge about football as they can.
“Exposure to that professional side of the game as early as possible in your development as a player can definitely help.
“There’s so much more sports science and other elements behind football these days that having a proper facility could absolutely boom younger talent through the pathways.”
The Regional High Performance Centres would accelerate the development of Queensland’s women and girls leading into the FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil in 2023 and serve as lasting legacy pieces from the tournament, which is tipped to drive a strong increase in junior participation.
“We’ve made that pathway with the Matildas now where they’re known and have a backing in Australia,” Carroll added. “Now it’s about building up all the levels underneath that.”
The Central, North, Far North and Wide Bay regions have proved their value as launching pads for top Australian football talent, counting two-time A-League champion Josh Brillante (Bundaberg), Young Matildas representative Taylor Ray (Townsville) and Sydney FC legend Steve Corica (Innisfail) among the success stories.
Participation numbers have long been strong, with the Central and Far North regions recording 2.2% and 5.8% player registration growth respectively from 2018 to 2019, while the North has achieved growth in 2020 even amid COVID-19 challenges.
Thwaite, who grew up in Cairns before launching a 16-year professional and international career, said footballers in the state’s north deserved better facilities to help ease the kind of “stressful” decision he faced in his teenage years.
“Just look at the statistics,” Thwaite said. “There have been a lot of quality players – Socceroos, Matildas, A-League players, W-League players – that come from that region.
“I think at the moment there is a bit of a generational gap. Most of those players had to move down south like myself to play and get paid as a professional. I think to continue having those high-profile athletes, not just in football, there needs to be something done immediately.
“I think we need to improve on the pathway to keep kids being comfortable in and around their families so they can save money and finish their schooling.”
“There’s a lot of history behind football there, but just not a lot of opportunities for players so they end up giving the game away,” the 13-time Socceroo added.
“For me it’s sad because there’s so much talent from those regional areas. Not just to mention my own pathway – I know with the Indigenous communities, there is a lot of talent that exists up there. I’m very keen to help give those kids and players a pathway as well.
“It would definitely be good to see some infrastructure.”