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7-a-side’s social inclusion

Driving along the lengthy Lower Athelstone Road in Adelaide’s Eastern suburbs makes for a dark, lonely existence on any random night.

But turn down the long, steep driveway of the street’s Athelstone Recreation Reserve on a Wednesday evening and the night sky comes to life.

Literally travelling down, your eyes are met with a dazzling sea of colours as the Athelstone Soccer Club’s 7-a-side competition lights up.

For 25 years this competition has attracted the best local talent from Football Federation South Australia’s (FFSA) senior leagues, despite being run by Athelstone SC, an amateur club.

And, importantly, extra divisions since 2000 have created a social sporting scene not seen elsewhere in the area as divisions two and three and the women’s competition have allowed people of different abilities to participate.

Long-time competition administrator and Athelstone Soccer Club volunteer Anthony Iadarola believes the off-season complete participation is important to their association.

“Social inclusion is what it’s all about,” he said.

“There’s excitement involved and we’ve made it organised and professional in the way everything is run… the players like that.”

7-a-side offers an alternative to Futsal, the indoor football game also played post-season, with the bright grass pitches forcing less injuries than Futsal’s floorboard surface while producing a fast pace game.

“People like playing outside; Futsal’s good too but the players love playing outside,” Iadarola said sternly.

The reserve’s bright setting is dominated by a diverse range of colours.

Players create their own teams with friends and club football teammates and choose their own uniforms, resulting in the showcasing of many of world football’s superpowers.

The scene is filled with everything from the traditional colours of Manchester United and Inter Milan to the fluorescent kits of FC Barcelona and AS Roma.

It makes even the bright blue uniforms of the referees hard to spot.

Five pitches marked at half the size of a normal football field are set-up for four hours of matches every Wednesday from September to mid-December, with prize money on offer for winning teams.

Tens of thousands of dollars literally run around the field once competition begins, as 40 teams compete at a cost of $650 per squad each season.

Spectators flock to watch friends and family each week and the club has food available and keeps the bar open, ensuring everybody has a good time and sticks around for much of the evening.

Nicholas Bucco, one of South Australia’s rising football stars, is in his fourth season of 7-a-side and notes the competitive feeling in a relaxed venue as the biggest attraction.

“If you look around you see familiar faces from the Super League but then across the field there’s part-time players out here for a weekly summer kick-around,” Bucco, 20, said.

Bucco, an emerging midfielder with the Adelaide Blue Eagles in the FFSA Super League, South Australia’s premier football competition, . likes the opportunity to run around with friends whilst preparing for next season with his club.

“For us in competition during the year it helps keep fitness and touch up but more than anything I’ve always played in a division one side with my closest mates,” he said.

“It’s the fun and relaxation factor which keeps the competition fun for all of us, whether we’re serious footballers or not, despite the competition’s competitive nature.”

Bucco is clearly a serious footballer as he takes to the field in flashy white boots and attracts his own spectators, notably rival players from opposing teams keen to see what they’re up against, but it is not all about the serious stuff.

Many are happy to watch everyone there, from the fast, skilful players in division one, to the veterans in division three still trying to relive the glory days of years gone by – their football brain still ticks even if their legs are no longer on the same wavelength.

Former A-League players Richie Alagich, Michael Brooks, Jason Spagnuolo and Mimi Saric have all played Athelstone’s 7-a-side, as has Hollywood actor Anthony La Paglia, who was part of the inaugural competition in 1985.

The competition’s popularity is a chance for the volunteer-based club to continue to raise revenue to keep their teams, who compete in the South Australian Amateur Soccer League, afloat and affordable.

“We try to subsidise our club players’ fees a bit so it’s not run too much like a business,” Iadarola said. Revenue from 7-a-side was a major part of that.

The club hopes the local council will add more lighting so a junior 7-a-side competition can be run in the near future.

For the moment the very back part of the field, where that would be possible, remains poorly lit.

With the rest of the ground so intense and full of life, that small part becomes almost anonymous and looks out of place.

The council’s help will change that.

“We could have an extra pitch and more people and teams and we’re looking at possibly doing juniors as well,” he said.

Iadarola’s excited tone suggests the club hopes it happens sooner rather than later.

Until then, Athelstone Soccer Club continues to enhance its positive, family-orientated reputation with continued off-season success in its 7-a-side competition.

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