The GrassRoots Project: casting green and gold in bronze

Greg Werner is a man with an idea. And like all good ones, he knows the exact moment it came to him - at 2am on November 15, 2014

Cahill

Socceroos star Tim Cahill returns to his junior club Marrickville. Source: AAP

For the past few years, he’s been trying to get in contact with every single Socceroos and Matildas representative (or their families) ever. It’s a mighty task, but he’s made some incredible strides.
 
The reason? Werner wants the junior club of every single senior Australian international player, male and female, to have a plaque denoting where they begun their football journey.
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His hope is that it will serve not only as a important marker of the past, but a key inspiration to future generations training and playing on those same pitches.
 
The GrassRoots Football Project has found about 200 junior clubs who have been already nominated (each player can only choose one club). A huge effort already - but there’s still so much to do for Werner, who still works part-time.
 
What started as a pipe dream is now nearing reality - at least 300 clubs need to sign up to make it financially viable for a foundry to produce the plaques. At the moment, it's only an online tribute.
 
But this small hobby has now turned into a full-blown passion, one that has consumed Werner’s life inside 18 months.
 
“Prior to the Adelaide-Brisbane game in November 2014, SBS news ran a feature on Servet Uzunlar where I learned that she was a local girl, of which I was completely unaware,” he told The World Game. “So I jumped on the FFA Hall of Fame page to find out who else may have come from the Sutherland Shire.
 
“I knew of Richie Bell, Graham Arnold and the Griffiths boys - but what I discovered was far worse. There was a real lack of information on all players deemed worthy of the Hall of Fame.”
 
“The kicker was Tony Vidmar. He was inducted in 2009 but his Hall of Fame entry, at the time, consisted of his name and a silhouette. It showed a lack of care, desire and respect for the heroes of our game. Right then, in the early hours of that morning, the GrassRoots Football Project was born.”
 
Werner began contacting players through whatever means he could - online, in person, over the phone. Incredibly, the first response back came from a legend.
 
“The first person to come back to me was none other than one of my boyhood heroes, Harry Williams,” Werner said. “Eventually I had a chat with Jamie Warren (Chair of the Johnny Warren Football Foundation) and was offered their database to work from, which I've since helped update.”
 
“The response has been quite humbling. The Matildas’ old girls’ network has been in overdrive with many even digging out old junior pictures to give their online profiles added colour. They all have a very strong bond because they were such pioneers.”
 

 
Not surprisingly, Werner’s one-man journey has taken him into some sacred quarters. 
 
“I've spoken with all of our oldest Socceroos - even a pair in their nineties, Frank Parsons and Kevin O'Neill,” he said. “Kev captained the 1950 side to South Africa and I had the honour of spending an entire Saturday morning with him and his lovely wife, talking about football in the 1930's, 40's & 50's.
 
“After finishing playing with Cessnock, he joined Prague in Sydney. He'd finish work at 3pm on a Friday afternoon he and his wife would drive to Sydney and stay at his sister-in-law's place.
 
“He'd then play on Saturday in the league and often a cup game on Sunday, then drive home to the Hunter ready for work at 7am the next morning. No ice baths or recovery sessions then - and he spent his whole working life down the Cessnock coal mines.”
 
Werner is also keeping a tally of which junior clubs have been the strongest producers of Socceroos.
 
“The older clubs dominate, obviously. Balgownie, the oldest of them all, heads that list with six - but its been over 16 years since Matt Horsely was capped and 29 years prior to that, Max Tolson," he said. “Of the younger clubs, Altona City is next with five, ranging from Mike Micevski in 1976 to Jason Davidson today.
 
“Some clubs like Kahibah in Newcastle had three Matildas in the one team and Port Melbourne also had a "golden group", but I'm still seeking exact confirmation on the details.”
 
There’s also been some unexpected turns in his research. Most notably, a distinct lack of awareness from the recipient clubs.
 
“Very few of the clubs - especially in the cities - are aware a player spent his or her formative years there,” he said. “Gwawley Bay here in the Shire have dined out on Arnold's time at the club - but they had no idea Mike Grbevski also came through and nominated them.
 
“Now one of my biggest issues is tracking down emblems of extinct clubs. The grassroots club of Zeljko Kalac, Mark Bosnich and Charlie Yankos no longer exist but we want their emblems in the list.”
 

 
Exactly who will pay the brass plaques is remains to be seen but Werner would like to see them donated, either by councils or private benefactors: “I don't see it as implicit on the clubs to fund it. It should be a gift.”
 
Werner says he treats every name on his list with the same importance, regardless of their profile.
 
“Many of the one-gamers are just chuffed that someone remembers them and shows an interest,” he said. “But whether they played one game or a 100, they are all internationals, and that’s something the rest of us can only dream of.”
 
Can you help link a missing Socceroo or Matilda to the project? Contact Greg at grassrootsfootballproject@gmail.com, through Facebook, Twitter (@grassrootfoot1) or his website, www.grassrootsfootballproject.com.

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6 min read
Published 18 August 2016 at 4:34pm
By Sebastian Hassett