Running a competition with more than 4500 participants and a million dollar turnover is possibly the toughest gig in Coffs Harbour sport. New North Coast Football administrator Bob Harris tells of the work ahead of him with Coffs Coast Advocate sports journalist Brad Greenshields.
BRAD GREENSHIELDS: Righto we've got Bob Harris as the new administrator for North Coast Football. I'm positive that wasn't in the Crawford report.
BOB HARRIS: It definitely wasn't. It might've been one of the recommendations though.
BG: Well how did it come about that you were selected for this position? Let's face facts, people will say that you're a pot stirrer so how does it come about that you put your hand up for the job?
BH: I dispute that I've been a pot stirrer. I've been involved in football at many levels from a player, coach of a premier league side, president, board member and now paid administrator of the competition.
I've got a passion for the game and I'm hoping that this new job will be one that I can contribute to the development of the game at a different level.
BG: You've only been in the job for a couple of weeks but have your eyes already been opened?
BH: Most definitely, yeah. I've been sitting on the other side of the fence a fair bit now Greeny and you see how involved you have to be to run an organisation like this.
It's no small organisation. There's over a million dollars going through the books each year. We've got 26 clubs from Yamba down to Macksville and it's got to be run professionally.
The last couple of weeks though the learning curve has gone perpendicular.
BG: What has been the reaction of people? To start with, the people locally. Has there been a reaction to your appointment?
BH: Not locally. I've had a few well wishers and phone calls. Most people I'm hoping think it's a good move but nobody's questioned it or been rude or anything like that.
BG: Has there been a reaction from Newcastle and the offices of Northern NSW?
BH: No. I think they're really supportive of having a person of my intellect and ability doing the job (laughs).
I haven't had any real contact with Newcastle at the moment, I've just had a couple of calls but there'll be somebody from Newcastle coming up for our all clubs meeting on Sunday at the Woolgoolga Bowling Club. We'll work together now, we're all working in the same direction.
BG: What made you get involved? What made you say 'I need to get involved at this level'?
BH: Throw my hat in the ring? I think last year was, well I think you used the term Greeny in one of your columns 'annus horribilus' to quote you. It was a bad year and it was a bad year because nationally, football. Do we call it football or soccer?
BG: We'll call it footy.
BH: Football, not footy. Football was forced into many changes nationally with the A-League and the move into Asia and there were really major changes imposed on local football competitions.
We had a new board, new standing committees and a new structure, a new way of doing things and I think we probably changed too quickly and didn't have our basics in place. So it turned into administratively quite a bad year, however we've learnt a lot of from it.
I guess for myself, when the position became advertised, football is something I'm obviously very passionate about and I thought that with my administration skills and my knowledge of the game that I can offer something here, so I threw my hat in the ring.
BG: It sounds to me like your eyes have really been opened.
BH: Definitely. They say a leopard doesn't change his spots but maybe I'm turning into a zebra.
There's so much more to running a competition than there is even running a club and in the last week I've realised the amount of work that has to be done behind the scenes with insurances and registrations. It's a major job and I've been very, very busy the last week.
There's a couple of really major issues that are happening this year as well. We're embarking on a national registration scheme where all players around Australia will be registered through the same body, through FFA. We've got to implement that this year so that's over 4500 players just in our local area who have all got to register on new forms and a new process. It's all got to be documented in triplicate, etc, etc.
There's a lot of major administrative issues coming up this season.
BG: What do you think will be the hardest part of the job over the next 12 months?
BH: It's communication Greeny. This job is all about communication and because we're a community based organisation, we're here to provide services to the local football teams and they want to know that what we're doing, we're doing well, we're doing professionally and we're doing properly and they want to be involved in what these changes are and the decisions and why we're making these decisions and why these fees are being charged.
BG: There's 26 clubs in the zone, each club has teams ranging from opens down to under 8s or something like that and it's not just blokes, it's boys and girls. That's the biggest playing base of any sport in the area isn't it?
BH: Yeah it is and it has to be co-ordinated properly. Making the draw is a nightmare, grading the younger teams is a nightmare, making sure everyone's legal and registered and insured, it's a major job.
It's such a major job now that I don't think we're far away from seeing professional administrators in the clubs because the commitment to running a club is massive in itself and the people that do run the clubs, they're all volunteers and the work they put in is phenomenal but I think we're getting to a point where we're not far off where we need professional administrators in each of the clubs.
BG: Is there a vision that North Coast Football is working towards?
BH: There's aims and objectives and goals that we're striving for and that is to provide an excellent professionally well run competition that gives everybody the opportunity to enjoy the game and develop in the game and I suppose the ultimate is to provide young Socceroos that can win the World Cup.
More than that it provides the local kids with an opportunity to enjoy sport and that's incredibly important.
BG: You're saying Socceroos, well we've got a Matilda in Jenna Tristram. Does that make her a poster girl for local football?
BH: A poster girl for Australia. She's a stunner and a fantastic kid and she's achieved the highest level now in her chosen sport. She's off in China at the moment and playing internationally with the Matildas and that's a fantastic achievement.
So it can be done from the regional areas, not just the cities.
BG: I imagine that a competition that has just the Coffs Harbour area involved would be hard enough. How big a challenge is it having Grafton in as well?
BH: I'll be honest, that's where a lot of work has got to be done. It wasn't a takeover it was an amalgamation of the two zones and the work in the Clarence is going to be very important.
Currently we've chosen to quarantine one place in the Premier League for a Grafton or Clarence based side. We're very, very hopeful and it looks pretty firm that the Maclean Bobcats will be in the competition next year which will make the Premier League a 10-team comp but the development of the game in Grafton has really got to be worked on, it's not a major sport up there, it's been left behind.
There's some great athletes in that town. There's a very big 'cocky' community there and netball and the football codes are very popular as well so we've got to do a lot work there.
BG: Another issue that football had last season was their biggest showpiece, the grand finals. Last year the day went on a while didn't it? The premier league final between Urunga and Coffs United finished pretty late and the beer ran out. Is the day going to be changed at all this year?
BH: I can guarantee you there'll be some changes from last year.
It was badly organised and administered and we're all at fault there, no individuals. We should've all been more involved. We lost a great stalwart and a lot of knowledge when Jim Graham retired from the position and a lot of Jim's skills were sorely missed last year and that was evident.
Clearly there's so many games to be played now we're going to have to probably run them over the two days at the Stadium. So we'll look at splitting up the seniors and the juniors, the men and the women and run them over the Saturday and the Sunday and there won't be the tight scheduling that we had so we have reserves teams playing at midday and the first grade doesn't play at 11 o'clock at night. It was a disaster waiting to happen in hindsight.
BG: A lot of games going into extra time killed it though.
BH: Extra time killed it and a few other things. We just tried to put too much into the one day.
BG: In 12 months time, where is North Coast football going to be?
BH: A good question that one Greeny. I'm hoping that we'll be running a professional competition that's hopefully more independently funded.
One of the main aims I have is to ensure some corporate sponsorship rather than getting the kid's mums and dads to cough up the amount of money particularly with the junior development squads and the rep players. We've got some great kids here but you question if they're all being made available for the rep teams because of the expense incurred in playing. There's some major issues that we've got to work on.
I hope that we can just run a competition that's enjoyable and runs smoothly and everyone's happy and enjoys being involved in it.
BG: The State Youth League. Is that something that needs to be worked on?
BH: Yeah it is and not only the State Youth League but the National Youth League. It's a major gap in football in Australia. It's very hard to organise and co-ordinate these representative sides in the rural community around NSW and Australia generally because of the distances we have to travel and it becomes expensive and prohibitive for a lot of the kids.
We've really got to work on that because these kids that are learning to play the game at a young age have got to be taught by the best coaches and have got to be prepared at 12, 13 and 14 for the national sides.
That won't happen playing club football or playing in the local comp. They've got to go to the next step which is going to be state level.
BG: Righto, it's time to put your head on the chopping block. You're now totally impartial. The men's and women's Premier League comp, who's going to win the title and who's going to be the big improvers?
BH: Now you're setting me up for a good kicking here.
BG: I am. Come September people will remember this.
BH: As an administrator I'm totally impartial and all I hope is that we have an excellent well run competition and I can guarantee you that the best team will win the competition.
I wouldn't even like to guess because there's so many rumours going around at the moment about who's signing whom but I'm sure that the favourites will be the favourites from last year and my only hope is that the Clarence side do well this year and show that they can perform and they have a good season as well.
BG: Righto, looks like it's time to move on to a third beer.
BH: Why not? Cheers.