Turning once again to our city’s greatest design asset - the Parklands - CityMag pulls up its socks and takes a run out onto the green belt with Adelaide City Football Club’s under 13 team, reflecting on grass as an important place for inclusive competition.
The dew on the grass jumps up and away from the ball as it cuts a path between father and son. The droplets glimmer as they lift off the cold green carpet. They don’t travel far, just high enough to catch the winter sun as it hangs low and lazy in the east. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning on the stretch of Unley Road that runs between Greenhill Road and South Terrace and It’s game day.
“Adelaide City was established in 1946,” says Mark Zito, Junior Director at Adelaide City Football Club and coach of the Under 13 A-grade team. He says the Italian migrants who brought the club here originally established themselves in the Adelaide Hills rather than plains, and called the club Juventus, after the famous Italian team of which they were no doubt avid fans.
“Looking over the history of the club, those original founders, they just wanted to bring the game and their culture to their new home – where they settled,” says Mark.
It was around 25 years ago that Adelaide City built the clubrooms here in the south parklands. The building, a humble cream besa brick structure, is nothing spectacular, but Mark takes pains to tell us that it was club volunteers, not Adelaide City Council, who funded its construction.
Looking at it objectively, it’s hard to see what Mark is proud of. You could have driven past a thousand times on your way to somewhere else and never had a reason to stop. There’s a graffiti tag of a cow’s skull on the roller door that faces Unley Road and there’s some yellow grass left over from summer that needs trimming. It’s not a building or place worth photographing. And yet there are hundreds of photos on the walls and in filing cabinets here of countless teams of young soccer players, who’ve gone through the ranks and for whom this destination was the only destination on a Sunday morning.
The Under 13 side Mark coaches has just scored their third unanswered goal against traditional rivals, West Adelaide. The opponents, despite having some skillful wingers and a well-composed midfield, are being dominated by a more physical and more structured Adelaide City.
“The club has been very successful throughout its history both in the National League and all the way through the junior leagues,” says Mark. “Every year, every team we produce would be one of the most competitive teams in their division and everyone wants to play Adelaide City and all the clubs want to beat Adelaide City. That brings prestige to the club and with that comes a lot of interest from kids who want to play for the club.”
Mark explains how kids (well, their parents) drive here from McLaren Vale, Seacliff and the Adelaide Hills on Sundays and twice a week besides for training. Mary Western has only traveled from Parkside today but she decodes why parents travel further.
“I’ve got two boys who play for the club,” she says. “They’re in the Under Nine and Under Seven sides. The eldest is just super competitive and really this is the only place that makes sense for him, where he can try as hard as he wants and that’s encouraged.”
“It’s the club’s motto,” explains Mark when I question him about the idea of “super competitiveness”. For Mark it’s about encouraging kids to set their goals high and then strive and have the support to reach them. In his words, “to be the best that they can become”.
And the interesting thing about this particular brand of competition is that it’s strangely inclusive. In the short period it takes to order and receive a coffee from the volunteer-run cafeteria, CityMag overhears three conversations we couldn’t comprehend. One in Portuguese, another in Polish and yet another in Italian.
Soccer has always had the outward appearance of being multicultural, but even Mark admits that Adelaide City was an Italian team at its roots. Why the different languages then? Why are families driving from all over the state to play soccer for Adelaide City?
For Mark it’s a simple answer: honest competition.
“Our success as a club comes from our culture,” he says. “It comes back to the volunteers and the structure we have. When kids try out for the team, the coaches and selectors will only pick the best players in those tryouts. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve come from, whether you’re involved in the club or not,” he says.
If you perceived any positive bias towards Adelaide City you’re right – the author played for the club between 1997 and 1998 as an Under 13.
“I think that brings out the best players, knowing that they’re going to have a shot getting into a side without too much politics getting thrown around.”
There’s a lesson in there. But for the time being we’re happy to watch on as the game unfolds before us – the Under 13 Adelaide City soccer team have just kicked their sixth unanswered goal of the day.