Paul Smith, the President of the Sutherland Sharks, has been living in the Shire and dedicating his life to football since he first played competitively in the late 1950’s.
He has served the club as a player, coach and administrator for what seems an eternity and his home away from home is Seymour Shaw Park.
However, with the recent announcement the FFA is planning to expand the A- League and the strong possibility a bid from Southern Sydney may be successful, Paul Smith’s life in football may change forever.
In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Smith talks about his life in Sutherland football and how he sees the future of the Sharks.
RS: Where did it all begin?
PS: My family emigrated from Birmingham to the Shire when I was a three-year-old and I played my junior football with Caringbah Rangers and Cronulla RSL.
I graduated to youth representative ranks in the mid 60’s and played with Peter Wykes who became a long term senior captain in the State League.
R.S: Describe your path to first grade and the players and coaches who were at the club.
P.S: After playing in lower grades, I was selected in 1st grade by Mike Johnson in 1971 when the club was promoted to State League Division 1 and played with established stars like Alan Maher, Col Bennett, John Lavin and John McDonald.
I was fortunate to captain the club to a grand final victory and played my last game in a reserve grade grand final when we defeated Blacktown City 4-1 in 1979.
R.S: What were your emotions after retirement from senior football, and how did you adapt?
P.S: It was bittersweet because I had experienced a few injuries and these had taken some toll on the body but I coached youth football during the 1980’s and lower grades, and in the late 1990’s joined the committee before being elected President in 2006 .
R.S: The club was all ready to be promoted to the NSL in 1985 but a few issues arose which prevented this. If you had been promoted would that have changed the face of the game in the Shire?
P.S. At the time, three clubs were being promoted to the NSL but politics were dominant as we heard the late Sir Arthur George, the Chairman of the ASF, wanted the other clubs and not us.
However, the attempt was finally thwarted when the licenced club fell into financial difficulty due to mismanagement and the dream to play at the highest level disappeared.
The great Socceroo, John Watkiss, was so disappointed that he vacated the senior coaching position at the end of that season.
The club had strong support in the community and it was undoubtedly a big blow to progress for the club.
R.S: As one of the largest football districts in Australia, why has Sutherland never really kicked on to greater things in senior football?
P.S: The lifestyle in the Shire is more conducive to participating than spectating and although we have 18,000 juniors; surfing, league and union still have a strong following.
Although, a few weeks ago, Sydney FC in the W-League attracted over 3,000 for their game at our ground which proves for the big occasion, people will support us.
R.S: How is your relationship with Sutherland Junior Association?
P.S: In relation to Sutherland Juniors we’re separate business entities with different business models but we do try to work together and of late there has been good co-operation to make a commitment to market the game more.
Also the juniors are acquiring more qualified coaches and last year returned to representative football in the second tier which is good for the area because a lot of players were drifting to other associations to pay elite football.
I believe in time, we should operate as one entity with separate committees only and work to improving facilities together.
At the moment the senior club is financially stable and we’re waiting for a DA to be approved by Council to build a two-storey function room with a cafeteria and gym next to the ground, which will be a great boost to our revenue streams.
R.S: What are you doing to promote senior football in the area?
P.S: We use social media extensively and by offering all clubs the use of the ground for club days and trial matches, we’re hoping to create closer ties with our club.
On match days we have the younger kids play before the first grade and also if clubs request senior players to assist with coaching, we make them readily available.
However, we believe Sydney FC should be making a bigger contribution to visiting schools and clubs in the area.
Without a doubt it would be much harder for us if we didn’t have the support of John Hills from Pipe King who has been a long-time sponsor of the club and assists in much of our promotion.
R.S: Are you happy with community support of the senior club, and do you really believe that 6.30 p.m. on a cold Saturday night is a big attraction for people to attend first grade football?
Especially, when all round the world the traditional first team kick-off is 3pm.
P.S: We were only discussing this recently and maybe if we played at 3pm we would attract a greater following.
However, it’s a matter of catering for all the youth teams in the schedule to keep them as part of the club.
R.S: Couldn’t you play a few of the younger grades at another ground to accommodate for a first grade 3pm kick-off like a few clubs did last year?
P.S: We could certainly consider it.
R.S: How is Grant Lee contributing to the future of the club in his coaching role?
P.S: Grant came to the club last season at a difficult time when the dressing shed wasn’t a happy place but he managed to unite the players.
Robbie Stanton had previously created this culture and Grant has managed to recreate it.
His aim is to make the semis this season and he has managed to secure the services of Nick Olsen, Nick Littler, Hayden Morton, Leo Malfara and Jacob Tratt who are all experienced players and will make a big impact on the club’s performance.
R.S: What are your thoughts about FFA’S announcement regarding the addition of two new teams in the A- League for 2019-2020?
Would you like to be a part of a bid for a Southern Sydney club?
P.S: Obviously, it would be great for the Shire if an A-League franchise was accepted.
Last year we did have talks with the Chinese consortium represented by Craig Foster and the main question was whether the A- League team would also have an NPL team who would compete against the Sharks but also draw on our junior pool.
If it does eventuate, we would be happy to be a feeder club as long as the A- League franchise worked with us to develop the game and didn’t just take advantage of our junior ranks.
Also, we wouldn’t be happy if they fielded separate teams in the NPL.
-By Roger Sleeman (Johnny Warren Foundation)