Ballarat’s excitement builds for World Cup campaign

Soccer coach LeRoy Hand is predicting a lot of sleepless nights in Ballarat across the next four weeks.

For sports enthusiasts and even those with just a passing interest in the game, the FIFA World Cup has become the talk of the town.

ANTICIPATION: Meg Murphy, an under-eight player for Ballarat North United, is looking forward to watching soccer on the world stage. The MiniRoos are holding a celebratory hub day on Sunday from 9am-1pm. Picture: Lachlan Bence

ANTICIPATION: Meg Murphy, an under-eight player for Ballarat North United, is looking forward to watching soccer on the world stage. The MiniRoos are holding a celebratory hub day on Sunday from 9am-1pm. Picture: Lachlan Bence

While the opening World Cup match will be played on Friday morning Australian time in Russia, the Socceroos kick off their campaign against France on Saturday. 

Hand is coach of Ballarat Soccer Club’s under-13 division one boys’ team and senior women’s team, and recently coached Ballarat’s under-14 representative squad at the Victorian Country Championships. 

He said the excitement was especially noticeable among Ballarat’s juniors.

“In the school yard, everyone plays soccer for the entirety of the World Cup and then for months afterwards, every other sport seems to disappear,” Hand said. 

“It has an enormous impact at school level. 

“But I have three teams of extremely passionate kids who love the game and their interest is always like that.”

Already the banter has begun between soccer fans who have favourite players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo representing opposing countries.

“Normally we would only support Australia at all costs, but they also have a vested interest in individual players,” Hand said. 

He believed the media attention, the scale of the tournament and the fact it showcased the best players in the world were all contributing factors to the strong level of interest, while accessibility also made a huge difference. 

“There are other tournaments like it, like the Champions League, but unfortunately it is no longer on free-to-air television,” Hand said. 

Meanwhile, Ballarat and District Soccer Association secretary Laurelle Sommers said the interest directly translated to an increase in participation numbers at a grassroots level.

“I’ve been involved in the association the last 15 years and every time there is a World Cup we’ve seen an influx the year after at the junior level, so it certainly raises the profile of the sport,” Sommers said.

“They watch it in July, think it’s too late to sign up for this year, but we get them in March next year.”

As part of celebrations, about 800 children will participate in a World Cup-themed MiniRoos event at Morshead Park on Sunday with Melbourne Victory making a guest appearance.

Victoria Park Vultures Football Club is hosting a gathering for Australia’s first match, which includes showing the Socceroos on the big screen against France and a best dressed competition at the Bunch of Grapes Hotel on Saturday.