A story about an ASRC member and employee’s passion for soccer, and how he has used these skills to make a new life in Australia.
Soccer player Pottal has hit the ground running since arriving in Australia three years ago.
He has studied English, gained a coaching licence, volunteered for and been hired by the ASRC, played soccer and coached juniors, enrolled in a diploma, and is set to launch a football academy – all while waiting for his refugee status to be determined.
Pottal played soccer professionally in Asia after leaving Guinea, one of West Africa’s poorest countries with a volatile history. When his father became involved in Guinean politics, it was too dangerous for Pottal to return and he sought protection in Australia where he was holidaying at the time.
“I couldn’t get through to my parents in Guinea … and the Red Cross referred me to the ASRC,” Pottal said.
“When I come to the ASRC I was in tough situation. I came to a place where I don’t know anybody and the ASRC helped me a lot.”
While the ASRC supported Pottal, he completed a six-month English course. After gaining work rights, he landed a job in a factory for a year and the ASRC also helped him start a youth work diploma at VUT.
But when he heard that the ASRC had a soccer team “that never wins”, Pottal knew he had found a way to give back.
“I said I’d come and play that Sunday ‘and this time we’re going to win’. I put some pressure on myself,” Pottal laughed. “We played at Princess Park and we won the game.”
Impressed staffers at the ASRC asked Pottal if he could coach the team. “I can’t give the ASRC money but probably the best way for me was to get involved in some of the stuff they do here and try to do the best I can,” Pottal said. After he started coaching the team mid-season last year “we had a good run – won four, drew two, lost one”.
“I think soccer brings people together. You learn so much about different cultures – you communicate well and quickly,” Pottal said.
In the pre-season Pottal helped organise a tournament with a lot of locals clubs where the ASRC team “just missed out on the final”.
The 2015 season kicked off with a stint top of ladder but the combined forces of injuries and the Ramadan period, when they couldn’t always field enough players, saw the team lose a few games. Pottal’s contribution to the ASRC has deepened after his appointment to a two-day a week position to run the youth program at the Innovation Hub. He has become the second ASRC member to become a paid employee.
Pottal said there about 30 young ASRC members who attend the Hub’s weekly creative activity sessions at the moment, and his goal to substantially increase this number. “At the moment I’m trying to find out what the young people need so we can set up some stuff for them,” he said.
Eyes on the ball
Meanwhile, the club Pottal plays for, Essendon Royals, had asked him to run clinics for its junior members after he gained a licence to coach youth and senior from the Football Federation Victoria.
“We started in July with eight kids and it grew in eight weeks to more than 60 kids. Recently there were 120 kids on a Tuesday night,” Pottal said.
Pottal’s potential as a soccer player was developed through Guinea’s football academy system and this, along with the popularity of his Essendon junior clinics, gave him the idea to pursue his own youth football academy in Melbourne’ west, where he believes the need is great even if the means are lacking.
“At the moment in Sunshine they don’t have a system whereby people with different backgrounds have the opportunities to play soccer,” Pottal explained.
“I’m trying to get those kids involved with this without having to pay a lot of money – at least they are doing an activity they like. At the same time, it could help those people who may be getting in trouble with violence – a way of educating them that there is another way.”
Pottal’s academy enterprise is being assisted by the Business Incubator at the ASRC Innovation Hub.
“The program is helping me to find out more about running the academy properly. I have a mentor called Brad, who has lot of business experience. You need a good structure,” Pottal said.
He plans to launch the academy in Sunshine in January, running the sessions in evenings.
“The kids there come from backgrounds where they are familiar with soccer. They could be very talented players. Future Socceroos maybe,” Pottal said, laughing.
He said that in the past six months he has become “happy about what I’m doing”.