Melvyn Wilkes, to discover the benefits of competitive sport for our youth. [caption id="attachment_16726" align="alignnone" width="570"] Melvyn Wilkes[/caption] Technical director and operations manager with the Sunshine Coast Fire (National Premier League) since 2014, Melvyn Wilkes lives and breathes football. Passionate about raising the profile of the game on the Sunshine Coast and providing a pathway for our young players to reach their full potential, Melvyn has big plans for the club and its players over the next five years. The only privately-owned football club in Australia, Sunshine Coast Fire was founded in 2007 by Noel Woodall, a Sunshine Coast criminal lawyer, with the intention of keeping our youth off the streets and out of trouble. “It’s very unique,” says Melvyn. “Noel invests significant amounts of money per year into the organisation and he has a passion for the development of young people, in particular discipline and life skills. “The club was very successful in its early years, producing Queensland champions and national champions and has had rapid progress. In 2013, the Queensland State League rolled into the National Premier League and this is where we are today. “It’s been a long journey, but with the investment of time and money, we are due to expand from 170 players to 265 players next season.” Born and raised in Yorkshire in the UK, Melvyn had an impressive coaching career spanning 20 years, including coaching for the English Premier League and says the most rewarding part of his role is seeing the young players develop through the ranks to reach their dreams. “I love watching the development of players. If a player moves on to the A League the benefit for me is the satisfaction of seeing a player that I have contributed to making a debut. “I see a lot of them in the English Premier League, some played in the recent World Cup. It’s very rewarding.” Designed to produce the best possible pathway for talented young players, Sunshine Coast Fire has partnered with Peregian Beach College, also founded and built by Noel Woodall, to provide equal opportunities for our youth through their scholarship program. “We are a huge advocate of education,” says Melvyn. “It is something the Woodall family is heavily invested in. They built the college because they wanted to provide not only a sporting facility but an education facility. “We found ourselves with a number of talented young people who, without this opportunity could have gone down a very different path.” Although Melvyn’s role first and foremost is to produce the soccer stars of tomorrow, he says it’s the holistic approach to the kids’ overall wellbeing that makes all the difference.
“Competitive sport brings with it a huge element of discipline, and that is what we pride ourselves on. We are looking to breed honest, well-rounded, nice young people.”As the fastest growing sport in Australia, Melvyn says there has been a huge increase in the interest and number of people playing soccer. “It’s a global game and Australia is definitely on the up,” says Melvyn. “Australia has done really well to get to the World Cup finals and the Matildas are doing really well too. “Last November there was 1.1 million male and female players in Australia, as of today there are 1.5 million.” Despite the generosity of the club’s owner, the costs associated with running the club are considerable, and they rely heavily on the continued sponsorship from local businesses to keep afloat. “It costs a lot more to run than what we earn through the fees,” says Melvyn. “The per player ratio in terms of finance is about double to keep the operation as it is. “Our sponsorship arrangement is quite unique in that the money goes directly to our suppliers for equipment and apparel, so sponsors see exactly where their money is spent down to the last cent.” And given the increased popularity of the sport, they are getting plenty of bang for their buck. “It gives them statewide exposure,” says Melvyn. “The junior players travel from Toowoomba to the Gold Coast and the senior teams go as far as Cairns, Townsville and Mackay. All our games are videoed and broadcasted statewide and when we play in the FFA Cup our games are streamed nationally and other programs are in discussion to stream globally.” To accommodate the growth of football as a game and the need for a bigger sporting facility locally, Sunshine Coast Fire, in association with the Sunshine Coast Sports Club plan to undertake the development of a state-of-the-art sporting facility, which is scheduled for completion by 2021. “This will be the only facility of its kind on the Sunshine Coast, and will be one of only a handful of facilities in Queensland that will be able to cater to our sport and other sports to such a high standard in one location,” says Melvyn. “This will not only set our football club apart from any other club in Australia, it will make us a competitive leader with other comparable sporting clubs found overseas.” Of course, as with any competitive sport, there will only be a few players who make it all the way to the top of their game, but Melvyn says with hard work and sheer determination, anything is possible. “I know what it takes to get players to the top level. If I provide them with the blocks it’s up to them to get there,” he says. “Is it easy in this game? No, it’s bloody hard work. But you don’t start to climb a mountain to finish half way up. You have to get to the top and it’s easier to run down the mountain than it is to climb it but the view at the top is a whole lot better.”