There are have been false starts, crushed hopes and many competing interests in the long awaited establishment of the Sydney Hills Football Association, but it has come to fruition, and its inaugural season kicks off this autumn.
The official launch of the association at Fred Caterson Reserve last November attracted Mayor Michelle Byrne Fuentes, Castle Hill MP Ray Williams, Sydney Hills Football Association President Craig Gough, and officials and players from participating clubs.
A total of 13 clubs will compete this season, with more clubs likely to join as the season progresses. The clubs include Baulkham Hills FC, Castle Hill RSL Rockets, Castle Hill United FC, Hills Grammar, Hills Knights FC, Kellyville United FC, Maroota FC, North Rocks Soccer Club, North West FC, Norwest FC (Cougars) and Rouse Hill Rangers FC. St Bernadettes FC and Coptic United have most recently joined the association.

A league of their own

“The concept of a Hills league has been talked about for decades and it took real drive and determination to make it happen,” said Mayor Michelle Byrne at the launch.
President of the new association, Craig Gough, can only agree. The concept of a Hills association goes back to the 1970s, but it has taken this long to bring it to fruition.
“We have more than 8,000 players across 13 clubs who can’t wait to play football in a truly local competition. We are in discussions with more clubs that are looking to make the move over to the Sydney Hills Football Association,” he said at the launch. “Our goal is to make the Sydney Hills Football Association one of the strongest associations in New South Wales, and this is the first step on that journey.”
Craig Gough told Sydney Hills Living that the reasons for the association’s presence come down to enabling Hills residents to play locally, with local clubs contributing to their own community, developing a style of football around their own players, and creating something tailor made for this community.
“We’ve had tremendous support from the council and our local federal and state parliamentary members, because they can all see the need for an association in such a fast growing area,” he said.

Room for everyone

Craig Gough became involved in the local football community through his son’s interest in playing the sport, and his participation in the association ballooned from there. He began playing at about 45 years of age, and said he has played against skilled players of 75. There, he said, is the real reason for a local association — local people of all ages and skills can have a game on the weekend. Teams are spread from the age of five through to over-45s, for both male and female players.
“We have a strong bent to develop ladies’ football in the district — about 15% of our players at the moment are female, and that’s growing.”
The essential difference between Sydney Hills Football Association and most others is its primary focus on the local community, said Craig, with attention going to grassroots participation rather than a focus on elite players.
“What has pleased me as president, as I look back at the clubs that have joined us, and all the people who have joined, is they all have like minds and a strong community focus. Off the field all the clubs will work together and support each other to build a strong association and football community.”
With the Hills population set to mushroom in the next couple of decades, Craig envisages up to 18-20,000 players wanting to compete in Hills football clubs, such is the growth expected in the sport. That means that there will be strong competition between more and more clubs, he envisages.
“The enthusiasm is certainly out there,” he said. “People are moving from other clubs to our clubs because they want to be involved,
play locally and be a part of the local community’s sport.
“We think it will be a best-in-class association. It will take us a few years to build it and get there, and it might be a bit clunky at first, but I’d say in five years’ time there will be between 12,000 and 15,000 players, and be a very strong association.
“We have a five-year development plan outlining what we want to achieve in that time, so we can be judged then on what we achieved. We will have support programs for our clubs, and help them to become more professional in their coaching and operations so they all have a common standard and framework structure, so from the association’s point of view all the clubs are sustainable.”
Three clubs — Castle Hill United, Hills Knights and North Rocks — will also offer all-ability football activities for Hills locals, and the association has appointed an all-ability football co-ordinator to develop an inclusive program for them.
Infrastructure demands will be critical to the association’s ongoing success, especially with so many players hoping to hit a paddock each weekend. Playing fields, dressing rooms, shelters and more will be needed.

Boots on the ground

“We believe the council can provide us with the grounds we need to play. We’ve had great support from the council, and it is working closely with us to make sure there are fields available for local kids.”
“Football accounts for more than twice the number of players of all other field sports combined in the Hills. It’s big. It’s popular. The council recognises this, and is keen to work with us to ensure that facilities are available,” said Craig.
Mayor Michelle Byrne agrees. “As Mayor of The Hills Shire and a Councillor for more than seven years, I know only too well that there is a huge appetite for weekend football among boys and girls, men and women, ranging from under-fives all the way through to over-35s.
The more people playing weekend sport, the more fit and healthy our community is.
"Council will always support measures that give more of our residents the opportunity to play sports.”
Castle Hill MP Ray Williams said he was pleased that the association had come together to support local clubs.  
“This is a huge step forward for football in The Hills. It’s the number one participation sport and the more clubs that commit to the league, the stronger football will become in this region,” he said.
“The Sydney Hills Football Association organisers have faced enormous challenges in what has been a huge effort by all involved. I’m looking forward to the first ball being kicked in April.”
Craig Gough said he was excited that the first whistle is only weeks away.
“Football has always been big in The Hills but now we want to take it to the next level.
"A lot of people can’t believe that after so many years of talk, an association for the league is finally here.” ☐