SALE United Football Club has once again been recognised for it’s Annual Primary Schools Twilight Tournament.

The event won Sale United a 2023 Victorian Sport Award from Vicsport for Community Sporting Event of the Year.

The tournament has seen 700 kids from the Wellington Shire participate in seven weeks of games, boosting club registrations by 30 per cent.

Last year saw the club celebrate 30 years of bringing Twilight soccer to the entire Wellington Shire community. Games were held every Monday for seven weeks during Term 4, with four sections in place: Prep/Foundation; Year 1/2; Year 3/4; Year 5/6. The club sources referees by training the youth members of the club to referee the games.

Laurel Irvine, Gabrielle Clare, Anouk Meereboer and Madelaine Breakspear were invited to attend Victoria’s Night Of Nights For Sport, on Wednesday, June 12 at Marvel Stadium.

The club was also named as a state finalist for the Community Club Of The Year.

When the Annual Primary Schools Twilight Tournament began in 1993, there were 15 teams. In 2023, there were 67 teams entered and this is up from 52 in 2022. That is almost 700 kids playing soccer every Monday during Term 4.

“As we encourage everyone to come and give football a go in a fun and enjoyable tournament, we have found that our participation rates have increased dramatically, especially females,” Sale United Football Club said.

Laurel Irvine accepts the Vicsport 2023 Victorian Sport Awards for My Sport Live Community Sporting Event of the Year for their Annual Primary Schools Twilight Tournament. Photo: Fifty Mil Studios

The sporting event has given every single child aged four to 12 years, the opportunity to participate in football and give it a go. All primary school-aged children, no matter what fitness or skill level they are at can participate in this tournament. The sole focus is on participation while having fun. No child is left out and everyone has the chance to be involved in football regardless of gender, nationality, religion and ability.

The club’s co-ordinator, Laurel Irvine ensures that everyone feels welcome, and with administration support behind the scenes from Secretary, Darleen Richardson, it’s no coincidence it’s been another successful year for participation in football.

“It is very humbling to win this award. To be acknowledged for the effort that we put in for our local sport has made us very proud,” Richardson said.

Maffra Eagles were runner-up in the Year 1/2 age group at the award-winning Twilight Tournament. Photo: Contributed

“The local community are telling us they are proud as they also played or coached their kids in our tournament going through primary school. Many feel they are part of the award too and rightly so. Every single participant over the past 30 years has left their mark on this award.

“We have also had new sponsors come on board since as they know we have good governance and are committed to the local community.”

Richardson also said that winning this award gives their volunteers a renewed passion to create “an even better tournament” for the Wellington Shire primary school-aged children in Term 4.

“Our adult 7v7 competition is strong for everyone aged 15-65, but we are hoping that the affect of winning ‘Event of the Year’ encourages boys and girls aged 12 to 16 to join our 5v5 tournament to give them an avenue after school to play sport,” she said.

“We are just so happy that something as simple as sport brings everyone together.”

Ms Irvine has been involved with the tournament for over 14 years, and said it recently provided an opportunity for children to participate in sport after the pandemic.

“It’s just something for kids who are unable to get into the mainstream of sport,” she said.

“So, we invite primary schools to enter teams and we keep the cost as low as possible, so that any child can just have a go and then they play with their mates.

“And it’s a very short span, like seven weeks, and it gets a little bit of sport.”

Many volunteers across the club, and the schools and community, have enabled the tournament to continue year after year. Especially with people like Cameron Irvine – who ensures pitches are ready, and Paul McGrath and Andrew Olijnyk giving support.

Representing Sale United Football Club at the media wall, from left: Laurel Irvine, Coordinator; Gabrielle Hutchins, President; Anouk Meereboer, Coach. Photo: Fifty Mil Studios

“We have a positive partnership with the Wellington Shire Council itself, who helped us navigate through road safety in the area on a Monday evening where they gave us a grant for new fencing around the ground to keep the players safe and also helping with a grant for a new line marker,” the club said.

“The sheer volume of participants and onlookers has also given our Club a good name in the community, and businesses have come on board to sponsor for the first time and we can’t thank them enough. The club won an award for the Tournament back in 2019 for the Wellington Shire Council Community Event of the Year.”

Each year, the Victorian Sport Awards (VSAs) honours the athletes, coaches, administrators and volunteers who made an exceptional contribution to sport in Victoria during the previous calendar year as well as the initiatives that promoted sport and active recreation participation.

Presented by the state government and Vicsport, this year’s VSAs was held in the Victory Room at Marvel Stadium where winners across 18 categories were announced.

Following nominations from State Sporting Associations as well as teammates, club members, friends, family and the recipient’s local community, an esteemed panel of 37 highly-qualified Victorian sportspeople were charged with selecting both the finalists and winners.

Coach Madelaine Breakspear

The most prestigious honour bestowed on the night, the Outstanding Contribution to Victorian Sport Award, which is presented to an individual in recognition of outstanding achievement in, or contribution to, sport in Victoria. This year’s recipient was Dr Peter Brukner OAM.

Minister for Community Sport, Ros Spence took the chance to thank all those that contribute to what makes Victorian sport so great.

“The awards night celebrates the dedication and importance of our clubs, coaches, officials, administrators, and volunteers across the state – it’s fantastic to see these Victorian icons receive the recognition they deserve,” she said.