North aims to help produce more indigenous professionals

Jade North has set himself the ambition of helping to make it easier for indigenous children to get involved in football and generate an increase in those players graduating to the A-League and other professional competitions.

Jade North

Brisbane Roar defender Jade North Source: Getty Images

Earlier this month, the Brisbane Roar star and former Australia international received the Naidoc Sportsperson of the Year award for his work in multiple ambassadorial roles in and out of football and also his support for indigenous football and disadvantaged children.

It is an award that had previously been won by some of the biggest names in Australian sport, including rugby league’s Johnathan Thurston, AFL’s Adam Goodes and basketball’s Patrick Mills, and North said he was honoured to have become the latest recipient.

“When I won it I was pretty much lost for words,” he told The World Game. “I didn’t find out until the night and it was a great experience. There were over 1800 people at the Darwin Convention Centre and it was a massive occasion.

“I’m still shocked and over the moon at winning an award like that. It’s something that’s really big for myself and my family back home in Taree.”

But North, who is still a major force in the A-League at 34, said he was not about to sit back and feel comfortable at having been recognised in such a way and was intent on using that recognition as a positive force in his bid to get the indigenous football-playing numbers up.

Asked why he thought there weren’t more indigenous footballers among the professional ranks, North said it was partially because of the cost of getting involved in junior football and the advantage the other football codes had when it came to the creation of indigenous icons.

“The other codes have been around at this highly professional level for longer than football,” he said.

“They’re big organisations, they’ve got huge stars – you only have to look at a Jonathan Thurston or a Greg Inglis and everybody knows who they are. It’s the same with AFL.

“Football in this country is still a sleeping giant and kids see the other games on free-to-air TV, so there’s more exposure, and Australians love their rugby league and their AFL and we’ve always been typically the third or fourth sport underneath all of that.

“I think there aren’t nearly as many indigenous kids playing, and getting through to the professional level, because when they’re young they can so easily see their role models in the other codes and that’s something I really want to change in football’s case. And I’m confident it will change.

“But it’s not just that aspect of it and when it comes to cost it’s not just the indigenous families that it affects. The AFL, for example, have got all these fantastic pathways for non-indigenous and indigenous players built around education for careers, so football has a lot of catching up to do.

“When I was growing up I went to school on the Gold Coast and my friends played soccer, but they tended to get to a certain age and then choose rugby league or AFL and that still happens a lot, so something in the system is failing.

“I don’t know how much of it is to do with registration costs, but it’s usually a lot cheaper to play league and AFL than it is soccer. Some people can’t afford for their kids to play soccer, so we have potentially some of our best talent being lost to other codes. People have talked to me about that.

 “My wife, Maree, played in the Oztag World Cup on the Sunshine Coast last year in the indigenous side and the amount of indigenous people who came up to me and said they wanted their sons to play soccer because of the serious injuries you can get playing the other codes was amazing.

“And a lot of them were fathers who were ex-NRL players. So there is a need and that’s where I feel I can make a good connection to some of these kids coming through and that’s what I aspire to do.”

North said he had approached Football Federation Australia to offer his help and seek theirs.

“I’ve spoken to David Gallop and Kyle Patterson a couple of times about it and they respect what I’m doing and what I want to do,” he said.

“And if I can show Australia what I can do and what we can do as Australians to be able to help bring these kids from the bush like the AFL do, there is so much unbelievable talent and I believe they suit football even more than they do the other codes.

“I’ve had a positive reaction from the FFA, but they’ve got a lot of other things going as well at the moment and I have to respect that. I’m very supportive of what the FFA do.

“In the meantime, I want to keep going with this and if I’m not going to do it then no-one else is going to do it at this stage, so I’ve got to keep going.

“It would be great to be a part of something special that helped change things. That’s my passion.”

Watch the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, Dakar Rally, World Athletics / ISU Championships (and more) via SBS On Demand – your free live streaming and catch-up service.
Have a story or comment? Contact Us

Watch the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, Dakar Rally, World Athletics / ISU Championships (and more) via SBS On Demand – your free live streaming and catch-up service.
Watch nowOn Demand
Follow SBS Sport
5 min read
Published 19 July 2016 at 6:27pm
By Greg Prichard