Almanac Film: Olympic soccer juniors take on Europe




Janet Merewether has recorded a trip-of-a-lifetime experience for a group of 11-year-old football (soccer) players from the Sydney Olympic club. The team was invited to take part in an international tournament at Legia Warsaw in Poland and they prepared for that with a series of games against junior teams from several clubs in Germany. The players were astonished by the quality of the facilities at all the clubs they visited and the level of skill and commitment required to have a chance of a senior career in the game. Not surprisingly the Australian youngsters found it hard to win matches against this quality of opposition, but they all learned from the experience.


The great value of the film is that it shows what is possible for young players today if there is the commitment on the part of parents, coaches, clubs and governing bodies. While all the youngsters taking part may have dreams of becoming Socceroos or Matildas, the reality is that only one of the players who took part is still with the Sydney Olympic club. This does not mean that the rest have given up hopes of a career in the game, just that it will not be through the Olympic program. Among those who taking part reflecting on their own careers, especially the junior phase, are former Socceroo captain Alex Tobin and Olyroo Nick Rizzo, who had a career in England and Italy.


The film brings back memories of the time when a similar group of parents took the Victorian Country Region Under-13s to Europe in 1985. The guy who had the original idea promised sponsorship and contacts but had a heart attack and pulled out and there was no money. The parents raised $66,000 to take the kids from all over the country regions of Victoria to Germany, Holland, Scotland, England and Wales with a couple of weeks at the Hennef sports complex in Bonn with Bodo Ilgner as one of the coaches. He later went on to play for Germany.


My wife’s father died while the kids were in the UK, so we went back for the funeral. Meanwhile Australia had qualified to play Scotland in the final play-off for last place in the FIFA World Cup in Mexico in 1986, so we took our whole family and others to Hampden for the first leg qualifier and then flew home for the second leg at Olympic Park in Melbourne. The kids had a ball and Kris Trajanovski went on to play for the Socceroos, while others represented Australia at Futsal or played in the Australian National Soccer League or National Youth League.


Janet Merewether has captured the spirit of the Sydney Olympic tour and the participants will probably never forget the experience. One thing that does not become clear from the film is the cost of the tour and how this was financed. Bill Papas, a parent of one of the boys taking part, appears as a shadowy figure in the background, and it is not clear what other roles he had vis-à-vis the tour party. It is a pity there are these question marks over Papas, but the director of the film could do nothing about that, except for her brief remarks about him at the end of the film. It will be interesting if she is able to do a follow up on the children’s subsequent experience in the game and in life. Meantime, grab a chance to see this documentary if you can.


The film premiered at Ritz Cinemas in November 2022. Watch the trailer below.



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