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  • Writer's pictureJack Twohill

A missed opportunity? Analysing the Newcastle Jets' Coffs Harbour return

The Newcastle Jets will again travel to the Coffs Coast this pre-season, engaging with the vibrant football community in the mid-north region of New South Wales through junior clinics aiming to encourage the next generation of talent in the area. The trip will culminate in a pre-season friendly against Ross Aloisi's Brisbane Roar. The Jets, being one of only two regionally based sides in the league, have taken the responsibility of bringing the A-Leagues outside the Hunter Region, first taking A-League action to the regional hub seven years ago.

Trent Buhagiar runs with some Coffs Harbour locals at a football clinic in 2022. (Newcastle Jets Facebook)

Newcastle's links to the northern coastal regions of NSW extend beyond this relatively new initiative. As the Jets' local football pool is controlled by Northern New South Wales Football, with the NNSW NPL exclusively being represented by regional-based teams, the club sees it necessary to build strong links with under-represented communities in the federation's elite league, even with the Jets' NPL sides joining the mainly Sydney based Football NSW pyramid.

The city of Coffs Harbour has always made an effort to welcome Newcastle whenever they bring their matches to Coffs International Stadium. Per Austadiums, a flood relief match between the Jets and Perth Glory in 2021 drew a crowd of almost 3,000 during the middle of the pandemic, whilst a 7,891 strong support turned out in 2017 to cheer on the Jets against Melbourne City. The club has felt this strong support displayed on the glistening beaches on the north coast, with a mutual appreciation being developed with the locals over the past seven years.

In 2017, Andrew Nabbout fired the Jets past Melbourne City in Coffs Harbour. (Keepup)

In the official media release by the club, Coffs Harbour Mayor Paul Amos expressed his excitement for Newcastle's pre-season return to the city, going so far as to describe the Jets as the "home-away-from-home side".

The Newcastle Jets have developed a strong fanbase over the seven years of these regular trips, which have included competitive A-League fixtures.

"We know we have a number of supporters in the region, and thanks to Greater Bank and the City of Coffs Harbour we have a great platform to engage closely with them and the wider football community this September,” CEO Shane Mattiske said in the same release.

Newcastle Jets CEO Shane Mattiske (second from left) pictured with Coffs Harbour Mayor Paul Amos (far left) and others. (Newcastle Jets Facebook)

However, given the fanfare surrounding the FIFA Women's World Cup over the past month and the fantastic performance of the Matildas, the absence of Newcastle's women's team on this specific trip is particularly questionable.

The Newcastle Jets have seen recent benefit to their women's program from the football development in Coffs Harbour, with current Matilda and Everton midfielder Clare Wheeler representing the club before playing for Sydney FC. She is not the only notable Matilda from the state's northern regions. Matildas Alumni such as Tracie McGovern, from further north in Wauchope, local girl Jenna Tristram, Port Macquarie's Caitlin Cooper, and Rachel Cooper, from Mullumbimby near the NSW-QLD border, have all donned the prestigious green and gold.



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Clare Wheeler alongside Cortnee Vine in Matildas camp. (Twitter: @NNSWF)

With the World Cup being a resounding success on home soil and relevant discussions regarding recognising Australia's past and present national heroes, it seems the club has let a golden opportunity slip.

The legacy of the Women's World Cup has been widely debated. It will continue to be, with discussions taking place regarding funding, celebrating women's sport, and how this current crop of Matildas has changed the sporting landscape in Australia. Giving the people of Coffs Harbour a chance to mingle with both the men's and women's sides on equal footing may have significantly impacted this now-regular visit. Further to the statement was Scott McCluskey, the regional sales manager for Greater Bank, who is seemingly funding this preseason hit-out, being very keen to highlight the performance of the Matildas.

"On the back of the Matildas' historic showing at the FIFA Women's World Cup, the whole region has caught a serious case of football fever," McCluskey said.

However, with the upheaval still being felt from a lack of ownership, which has sent shockwaves through the Newcastle Jets in recent years, and the long list of departures in the club's women's ranks, this omission can be understood. With the Emerging Jets, Newcastle's NPL side, which competes in the NPL NSW Women's competition, in the middle of a very disappointing season, and the senior squad not quite coming together yet, it was always going to be challenging to organise a trip for the players up the coast with the men's team.

Whilst the Jets may later regret not having their women's squad more settled to allow for a travelling contingent to be introduced at Coffs Harbour, this continuing bond between the club and the Coffs community is promising. Initiatives like this one, or more similar to the Central Coast Mariners taking regular season games to Mudgee last year, keep the regions engaged in the A-Leagues as much as possible, as the league often gets lost in the shuffle of mainstream media.

It's always important to reconnect regularly with the communities that have given so much to football, including those outside A-Leagues hubs. Hopefully, more clubs will be interested in taking the round-ball game to the bush or beach in the future, as these communities are already the lifeblood of the Australian game.

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