From Orange to Liverpool: Barnstoneworth United's 492-kilometre Australia Cup away day
Cup football is an iconic part of the sport right around the world. For those lower in a country's football pyramid, the opportunity to experience playing against different teams in other regions or higher levels is a treasured moment. It can be the highlight of a player's career.
The re-introduction of the FFA Cup, now the Australia Cup, brought this magic back to the football landscape in Australia, helping to connect all levels and regions of the game in the process.
Since its return in 2014, the competition has thrown up some fantastic storylines consistent with the cup's magic. Think Melbourne Victory facing fifth-tier side Balmain Tigers, the breakthrough of NPL stars such as Kenny Athiu and, most recently, Sydney United knocking out two A-League Men sides to become the first federation club to reach the tournament's final.
But while the biggest headlines occur in the tournament's final stages, the qualifying rounds also produce some very intriguing clashes.
One recently in New South Wales involved Barnstoneworth United, who took a seven-hour round trip for their opening match against South-West Sydney-based Moorebank Soccer Club.
Barnstoneworth United, also known as Barnies, was formed in 1998. While primarily focused on being a community club in their early years, they have progressed their representative team. They are one of two Orange-based clubs in the Western Premier League.
Barnstoneworth United's home and away colours. (Barnstoneworth United Football Club)
While away days aren’t short trips in their regular season, the journey to Hammondville Oval certainly took things to a new level.
Front Page Football spoke exclusively with Barnstoneworth United goalkeeper and Vice President Brock Logan to discuss the 492-kilometre round trip, the club, the squad, and football in regional NSW.
Logan explained the club's rise from a predominately Over 35s and C Grade Orange club to where they are now, occurring mainly over the last ten years, before the re-introduction of the Western Premier League.
“It’s (Barnies) been more of a friendly social club, but in recent years it’s been quite competitive; we’ve won a few A Grade titles locally in Orange,” Logan said.
While Logan explained that the side was doing well at Western Premier League Level, the league has challenges. Player retention is difficult, partly due to balancing team and work commitments when travel to games can take up to two hours.
“We have a lot of change in personnel every year, some people move on with work, and it’s hard to keep a fully committed side each year,” Logan said.
“But this year, we’re looking pretty strong.”
The Western Premier League encompasses Bathurst, Mudgee, Dubbo, and Lithgow teams. No away day outside Orange is relatively straightforward.
Barnstoneworth United during their Australia Cup match against Moorebank. (Facebook: Barnstoneworth United Football Club - Orange)
According to Logan, the league does offer a clear upgrade from local football. However, this travel can take its toll. It’s a situation the players at Barnstoneworth and across the entire league understand.
However, despite the challenges, the players collaborate to make things work and relish the long trips.
“Dubbo (the furthest city the club travels to) is one of them (Logan's favourite away trips); it’s always a good trip; the guys out there have good banter,” Logan said.
“All the clubs have got good banter; I think we all realise the situation we’re in. You love your home games, though, that’s for sure.
“You drive for two hours, get out of the car, and your body's stiff; you feel like you’ve just run a marathon.”
It’s certainly a different experience to local football in metro NSW, where long trips to clubs within the same competition don’t tend to exceed 40 minutes.
The fixture against Moorebank was not their first foray into the Australia Cup. The club even won their first-round match in the last edition against Thirroul FC at home, which Logan explained drew a good crowd for a local game in the area.
Despite playing in the competition and at NPL3 NSW level for Western NSW Mariners, this time it meant more, as Logan did it with a club from his local town and one he volunteers his time with off the field.
“For a club of Barnstoneworth’s stature, it’s good. You have a bit of pride, you go out there and wear the jersey, and this might get us out there, get us in the community,” Logan said.
Brock Logan (centre) during Barnstoneworth's Australia Cup clash against Moorebank. (Facebook: Barnstoneworth United Football Club - Orange)
Given the previous trips they've made in the cup, and the long away days they regularly endure in the Western Premier League, there’s already a road trip routine for the side.
The short turnaround between the fixture announcement and the match being played meant there was no opportunity to organise a bus or something similar for the squad. So, the traditional carpool amongst the players was the plan of action for the day.
“The cars will have 2-4 people, 9:30 am leave, get somewhere to have a light lunch so were not filling up, although it’s probably going to be fast food, maybe Lithgow Maccas, but you’re going to try to go for the healthy options. Or hopefully Subway, that would be the best choice,” Logan said.
“Get there around an hour before kick-off for a good warm-up and a team chat.
“On the way back, definitely Lithgow Maccas, that’s for sure, then home, shower, and straight to bed to get to work at 6 am Monday.”
Aside from football, most of the away days are spent on the road, a sacrifice clubs from regional areas make to participate in competitions like the Australia Cup and even in their local league. 8 pm kick-offs for away games usually means they won’t be home before midnight.
It’s a difficult sacrifice to make, but players from this part of NSW endure to play and enjoy their football.
“It’s hard, but we love football, and that’s why we do it. We have these small sacrifices which, for some of us, you don’t even think about,” Logan said.
In a show of sportsmanship, Moorebank and the cup organisers worked with Barnstoneworth to provide a kick-off time that suited their travel.
“Moorebank sent us the time slots (for kick-off). One was 7 pm on a Saturday and then the 3 pm kick-off Sunday afternoon,” Logan said.
"We had 12 boys available for the Saturday and 15 available for the Sunday (from a squad of 18), so we went with the Sunday."
Brock Logan isn’t a stranger to those trips to Sydney after playing for Western Mariners. He was a part of the 2015 squad that progressed to being just one round away from the tournament proper.
Unfortunately, Barnstoneworth United’s run ended yesterday, as they lost 2-1 to Moorebank.
However, despite the result, the fixture speaks to a magic of the Australia Cup often overlooked: the opportunity for community clubs to be represented on a national stage. Travel makes participating in the NSW State Cup, a state-wide knockout tournament for local clubs, difficult.
However, the opportunity to participate in the biggest knockout tournament in Australian sport can give unparalleled exposure to regional clubs, even through unique avenues.
“It was quite funny last year, we actually got our club posted by the Australia Cup Facebook page for one of the logos of the competition, and that was a bit of a laugh. You’re getting major teams such as your Newcastle Jets, your Sydney FCs, and then here’s Barnstoneworth United Orange getting posted about (too),” Logan said.
Barnstoneworth's Dylan Hallz during their Australia Cup match against Moorebank. (Facebook: Barnstoneworth United Football Club - Orange)
Although their cup run ended, these games, which see clubs from very different regions and backgrounds sharing the stage, show what the Australia Cup is all about.
There will be very few longer trips made throughout the NSW qualifying rounds this season, and the passion the players display to travel the kilometres they do is quite remarkable.
This fixture offers insight into a football landscape only those involved in the game regionally would understand. For those in metro Sydney, a trip to Bathurst or Orange is a season highlight and may take weeks of planning. But for clubs in regional NSW, this trip is a regular occurrence.
It's not a straightforward experience, but one that exemplifies the passion for football in these areas. For that, you can only respect clubs like Barnstoneworth United for their commitment to the game.
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