A festival of football heads begins on Thursday featuring Indigenous Australian and New Zealand teams, Wollongong Wolves as well as an African select 11.

The 'Clash of the Cultures' festival takes place on 17, 19 & 20 January in Wollongong and this event is notable for many reasons including having former Socceroo teammates pitted against each other.  

Jade North will coach the Australian Indigenous team and he will come up against NPL side Wollongong Wolves who is mentored by fellow Socceroo teammate Luke Wilkshire.

The Australian Indigenous Women’s team (main picture) will also take on a Maori team who have travelled from New Zealand while the Australian Indigenous U-14 Boys/Girls will also be participating.

The Australian First Nation’s team are also known as 'Mariya' which translates to Emu in the Dhurga language. The Emu’s are made up of players that participated at the 2018 National Indigenous Football Champions (NIFC) that were held in Nowra last November. 

NIFC tournament organiser Bernie McLeod says the aim of the event is to bring together the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander, Maori and African communities as well as to promote increased participation and healthy lifestyles.

McLeod was also buzzing that North, who was the first Indigenous player to captain the Socceroos, will lead the Emu’s for two matches.

“When I asked Jade if he would coach the men’s team he jumped at the chance and said, ‘he would be absolutely honoured’,” McLeod revealed to Football Today.

“This is a career he wants to get into. He held a coaching clinic at the 2018 NIFC where over 130 kids participated in his Kickin' with a Cuz program.

“He was overwhelmed to see all the kids wearing his name and his colours of the Brisbane Roar. He was just blown away. I can’t tell you how excited he is, not just as an Indigenous man but as someone who hopes to pass on his football knowledge to younger kids about his football experience.”

Former Socceroo Luke Wilshire told Football Today that he was looking forward to taking on his former teammate and continuing the relationship the Wollongong Wolves have with the NIFC.

“I’m excited that Jade who is a former Socceroo team mate of mine is going to coach the Indigenous team, I’m really looking forward to it,” he says.

“The NIFC and the Wolves have been working really well together in the past and looking to build on that in the future. Now with this opportunity for a friendly game it’s a great starter for us to get the year under way and play our first friendly game in pre-season at our training base which is also Indigenous land. It goes hand in hand in this region.”

The men’s Indigenous team will also play a team from the African Nation Sports Association (ANSA) made up of players who competed in the NSW African Nations Cup Football Tournament in December last year.

McLeod says playing an African select 11 provides the Indigenous Men’s team with an opportunity for the two cultures to come together.

“We are very excited to play against them,” he said. “I like the idea of supporting a team that is made of refugees and trying to give them an experience of playing against the first nations people of Australia. 

“At the same time giving them an insight into our culture which is very important. This is the start of something special and will turn into something much bigger in the coming years. We are looking to hold an even bigger tournament with other refugee communities in the near future.” 

Bernard Muchemwa is the president of ANSA and is relishing the upcoming fixture against the Emu’s and his association that is made up of 16 African countries.

“We are excited about this game,” he says. “We have quite an exciting and talented group of players in our team, a number of them play competitive football at the NPL level. Some of the players were born here, some come as kids with their parents as refugees. It’s an opportunity that we have been looking for years. We are trying to have a network of like-minded people of multicultural sections of the Australian community to be together as one.”

The NSW African Nations Cup Football Tournament has been running for 14 years. In that time a number of current A-League players have participated such as Western Sydney Wanderers striker Abraham Majok, Sydney FC attacker Charles Lokolingoy as well as Central Coast Mariners duo Emmanuel Peters and Charles M'Mombwa.

Muchemwa is proud that fellow African players such as Thomas Deng and Awer Mabil, who recently made their debuts for the Socceroos, and Elvis Kamba who recently signed for Melbourne Victory are making their mark.

“We feel enchanted about how these players are doing,” he says. “We feel so delighted and we want our boys to get to a point where they can play a part in uplifting Australian football. I also know Elvis personally. I have taken my boys to Melbourne where we played one of the teams there and I saw real talent and commitment. They really want to make it and get to the top.

“We are incredibly grateful to Australia for affording our young people an opportunity to showcase their talents at that level. That’s why they keep on knocking on the doors of Australian national teams, A-League and NPL.”

With African youths being negatively portrayed in the media of late, Muchemwa says the friendly games gives his community an opportunity to shine a positive light about their community.

“It’s very important that people can see a different Africa and not a negative one,” he said. 

“That Africans are positive people. They are people who really want to integrate into the Australian community. Football is the one area where people see us as a positive. Whenever Elvis or any of these other African boys are playing in a full stadium in the A-League or for the Socceroos and all the Australian fans are cheering they have a positive view about us. 

“We are grateful that Australia has accepted our youth, has accepted our talent and has tried to integrate the people into the community and given them the opportunity to be role models  to our people and tell a different story.”

Photos supplied by Bernie McLeod and Lace-Up Pix.

Categories: News | Football Life | Local

clash of cultures tournament, jade north, luke wilkshire, indigenous football

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