Paul O'Shea lends a hand to the Mildura United Soccer Club

1 May 2012 By Hannah Carrodus

Mildura United Soccer team
Mildura United Soccer team

When Leadership Victoria (LV) heard that the Mildura United Soccer Club needed help to balance its books, LV Skills Bank matched Alumnus Paul O’Shea (EBLP’10) to the project.

 The retired lawyer, who has extensive experience working in both the not-for-profit and business sectors, was happy to lend his expertise.

 The Mildura United Soccer Club has achieved many successes over the years, including wins on the field and through its involvement with the local Indigenous population.

The club was transformed 20 years ago when Chris Tsivoglou, the former president, saw the disadvantage and boredom faced by many local Indigenous kids and thought that soccer would be a great way for them to build their confidence. He started encouraging these kids to join the club, and within a few years the majority of the club’s players were Aboriginal.

The club has been accommodating to players’ needs, such as organising a bus to pick up and drop off players from the Namatjira Avenue Aboriginal settlement, which is 30 kilometres north of the Victorian border. They have organised trips to Melbourne and Sydney, and in recent times the girls’ soccer team has enjoyed particular success on the field.   

But while the Mildura United Soccer Club can boast of many significant achievements over the years, its major challenge has been financial viability. Most of the players cannot afford to pay registration fees and while the club does receive funding from the Department of Justice, this is not enough to cover its costs.  Uniforms, training equipment and the club’s ground are being pulled together, in Paul’s words, “on the smell of an oily rag.”

The club came to LV’s attention through our involvement with Woor-Dungin, a collaborative program that aims to form closer ties between Aboriginal groups, philanthropic organisations and skilled volunteer programs, like Skills Bank.  This program is part of LV’s long relationship with the Mildura Aboriginal Corporation. These groups alerted LV to Mildura United Soccer Club’s needs, and it was through the Woor-Dungin program that Paul became involved.

Paul and LV Alumni Peter Alkemade (EBLP ’06) and Jan Mahoney (EBLP ’07) have been working with club officials over many months to help them develop a business plan to apply for new grants and establish fresh fundraising initiatives. The Football Federation of Australia has recently released an Indigenous Strategy, and Paul says this is one avenue of funding the club may explore.

Another key aim for the future is to hire a paid manager and youth worker. Teen pregnancy, joblessness and metal health problems are common trends amongst the Mildura Indigenous population and the club’s players are not immune from such occurrences.

“The good news stories are great but it’s still tempered with a lot of hardships and tragedy,” Paul says. “There are still a lot of challenges. It’s never easy.”

By hiring a youth worker and manager the committee hopes the club will operate as a social hub that can connect players to the services and help they require.

These days the club also has many players from refugee backgrounds, including numerous players from Afghanistan. It seems that soccer has been a great way of connecting people at risk of isolation.

While Paul’s work is ongoing hopefully, with his help, the club will find the means to pull through and continue to strengthen the Mildura community.

“It’s helped a lot of those kids to find something they love and get meaning in their lives,” Paul says.

“It’s not about helping people in material ways so much as helping them realise that they do have strengths and qualities they can develop. The club is a gateway to some of those things.”