At its Football Fun Day last month, Gungahlin United FC provided an insight into how sport can truly unite a community.
An estimated 3000 people flocked to the GUFC home ground at Harrison to familiarise themselves with the club. Many had signed up to play a team sport for the first time so this day acted as an introduction to the club.
And as with many individuals joining a sports club for the first time, there’s an associated sense of foreboding. ‘Will I fit in?’ There’s an understandable feeling of nervousness.
But GUFC had this covered.
Activities to break down barriers included a bingo card that allowed kids to visit sponsors’ tents, they could have their photo taken with National Premier League players, visit the Reptile Zoo exhibit, and try glitter tattoos and crazy hair slime.
Gungahlin United president Neil Harlock said the aim was to make the players, especially the new players, feel confident and comfortable at the club.
“It’s a really great way to help people feel welcomed and included, especially for those who are new to the sport or who have recently arrived in the area,” said Neil.
The Football Fun Day provided an opportunity to meet new teammates and coaches, collect uniforms, ask questions and generally get to know the club.
Assistance was also provided to parents who wanted to put their hand up to coach for the first time. They could hear from the coach coordinators and the technical director.
Gungahlin is fertile ground for sports organisations that thrive with a strong junior base.
Apart from the number of young families in the region, there is also a multicultural characteristic to Gungahlin, which GUFC has fully embraced.
The 2021 Census reveals that in 49 per cent of Gungahlin households, both parents were born overseas.
On the back of the population dynamics and through hard work, Gungahlin United FC has grown to be the biggest sports association in Gungahlin and the largest football club in Canberra, with 1700 registered players. Of these, 1450 are aged between five and 18 years.
This ground-up grassroots base has started to pay dividends in the highly competitive National Premier Leagues.
The NPL men’s team won the title in 2019.
This week the NPL women’s team made the final of the Federation Cup for the first time with a 2-1 victory over Canberra Olympic.
The club is well-represented when it comes to players taking the next step to the A-League Men’s and Women’s competitions.
There’s Kai Trewin with the Brisbane Roar, George Timotheou at Melbourne Victory, Emma Ilijoski at Canberra United and Miguel Goncalves at Sydney FC.
There have also been players picked up by the Central Coast Mariners Academy: Dylan Peraic-Cullen, Mikey Katsoulis and Josh Milicevic.
A number of players have received college scholarships for football in the US. Players have gone on to play at clubs and schools in Europe and the UK.
The success of the GUFC has been driven by an ethos of inclusion and enjoyment, as well as by promoting a truly united spirit.
It should be the template for sports organisations across Canberra: if you embrace the community, the community will embrace you.