News Story

Disability Football Programs Within The ESFA Community

Published: 6/03/2019 3:45:00 PM

Our football community embrace football for everyone and as such, we have within our Association, Clubs involved with football programs for players with disabilities.

On Sunday 3rd March 2019 The Purple Hearts joined Randwick City FC at their Annual Gala Day. We wanted to highlight the importance of footballers with disability programs, so we went straight to the source to ask all about The Purple Hearts. Ben Folino from RCFC gave us some wonderful insight!

The Purple Hearts are a squad of footballers with a disability that have been part of the Randwick City Football Club from the get-go. We're now in our 9th year and we've seen the squad grow from just a handful of players in 2010 to around 35 today.  It's an initiative the entire the club and wider community have embraced. 

We have around 20 club-folk who volunteer each week to ensure our Purple Hearts stay focused and get the most out of each training session. 

The players train once a week for 30 weeks during school term at Matraville High School. The seniors compete in the Football NSW Athletes with a Disability Futsal Competition under the auspices of the Sydney Futsal Club during the summer period. This year they made the grand final only to go down in a nail-biter against minor premiers Phoenix Futsal Club. We have two teams, juniors (8-13 years of age) and seniors (14+). RCFC could not have achieved what it has with this initiative if not the support of the school that allows us to use the hall without charge, the Clovelly Community Bendigo Bank that has been behind us from the very beginning offering financial support, our volunteer coaches (too many to mention) who help out each week, and the community spirit engendered by the club.

Anyone who has met a Purple Hearts player will know what being part of the club and playing football means. The thrill many get from kicking a ball and the bigger thrill they get when a goal is scored is immeasurable. 

Sunday 3rd March 2019, our club held its annual gala day at Chifley at which all club players, their family and friends come together in the spirit of club and community to play this amazing game of ours. It's always well attended by the Purple Hearts who see the gala day as an opportunity to play with their peers, demonstrate what they're capable of and maybe educate us a bit about what it means to be part of something.

If you'd like further information on the Purple Hearts or know anyone who might be interested in joining, please contact Ben Folino 0419973631 

To understand exactly what this program means to the players, we have an excerpt of a speech given by player Max Williams at the RCFC 2018 Presentation night.

“My name is Max Williams. I play with the Purple Hearts because I have a disability called Autism and an intellectual delay. I commenced playing football for Purple Hearts in February 2016.

I was very worried about playing football because 1)  I had never played football before; 2) I didn’t know how to play and 3) I didn’t like football.

For the first practice, my Father was given the job of taking me to training. This was a disaster when my Father and I got lost and couldn’t find the right place and the kickoff was closed. Finally we found the right place and I was able to train for 5 Minutes.

The next training was much better but I still didn’t enjoyed it. Fortunately, I had the best coach in the world; Ben Folino! He is awesome because he is gentle, encouraging, nurturing, compassionate and generous.

Soon after this, Ben invited the Purple Hearts to a Gala Day at Centennial Parklands. It was fun because I met a lot of people and I earned the name Mighty Max. I still didn’t know how to play the game but the other men nurtured me.  This helped me to learn some skills and encouraged me to finally kick the ball.

Part of being Autistic means I am unable to make friends and social connections. Becoming a member of Purple Hearts has transformed my life and enabled me to be a member of a sports team and community. This has widened my participation in society.

I know that this will stay throughout my life by meeting people, exercising and playing in a sports team are just some of the wonderful benefits Purple Hearts has given me.”

It is called the beautiful game for a reason. Congratulations to Randwick City FC for facilitating such a great program.

We look forward to reporting about the Windgap Warriors football team, ably supported and sponsored by Pagewood Botany FC, who will be playing at Jellicoe Park on 11th May as part of the annual Dimos Day. 

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