Last weekend, 2500 people watched Northern Fury play their first home game in two years. And according to chairman Rabieh Krayem, this is just the beginning.
When North Queensland Fury were at their lowest ebb in their short Hyundai A-League existence, the Townsville-based outfit-s attendance dipped to 1003 as the club struggled to stay afloat.
Last weekend, roughly 2500 people turned out for the club-s first home game of its new life - now rebadged as the Northern Fury in the Queensland National Premier League - and the difference in atmosphere between the two crowds couldn-t be any more different.
That low was Fury-s final home game in the A-League, a 2-1 loss to Brisbane Roar - but the North Queensland football community turned out in force on Sunday as the Fury returned to Townsville to defeat Western Pride 3-0, a result that lifted them to seventh on the ladder after two losses and a win on the road.
And it wasn-t just the senior team that pulled the crowd; the club played their U16s and U18s fixtures beforehand, still managing to pull in 1000 spectators to the junior games.
It-s just another small step on the road back to professional football for the Fury. Former player Gareth Edds is now player/coach and instilling his team of unpaid amateurs with a sense of the discipline and professionalism required to make a team successful.
And off the field, the club has been working hard to re-establish those links to the community that initially made it a prospect for A-League football.
Fury chairman Rabieh Krayem has been through the highs and the lows with the club and admits he-s learned lessons on how to rebuild the club after its early demise.
“You learn from all the mistakes and make sure you don-t do them because this is it, this our final chance to get an A-League club in the region,” Krayem tells footballaustralia.com.au.
“We-ve got to get the model right, not rush, and build it and show FFA the region wants the club and in doing that you-ve got to get the corporate support and the crowd support. We had our first home game yesterday; it was a great atmosphere, about 1200 adults and about 1300 kids, which was fantastic. Was nice to see the green and white back, it-s full steam ahead.”
The model for getting the Fury right this time is two-fold: firstly, making sure those players with no professional experience and those developing through the ranks understand the ambition of the club and what that entails; secondly, building a sustainable financial model that will, in time, help the Fury achieve its aim of returning to top-tier football within five years. And Krayem believes the foundations are already there.
“This year has been about getting the structure right. We-re finalising the community model and will go out to a local membership model and within that window we-ll build up a financial model for the club, which the members will own and sustain and will be able to fund an A-League club.
“We-ve got a lot of corporate support and a lot of A-League clubs would probably be quite envious of our publicity, our marketing, our website, our matchday programs, even our advertising. And you can only do that when you-ve got corporate support behind you.
“Gareth has instilled discipline and professionalism to the NPL side. There-s not one player that gets paid but the club has done everything possible to treat them in a professional manner; we don-t have the money to pay them but it-s about treating them with respect.
"After the game was over yesterday, all the kids ran out to get these players- autographs. I don-t think that happens too often at a state league team.”
That community reaction, and the goodwill that has carried over from the club-s A-League days are crucial to Fury-s future. The sense of loss of their local team helped strengthen the resolve of the local community, and a more considered, long-term game plan aims to make that connection a central component of the club.
“This time we-ve moved forward slowly,” Krayem says. “The way we were treated was unfair and a lot of people knew that. The thing for us is we-re back - to get 2500 people to an NPL game, I think that-s bigger than every other game.
“We sold nearly 300 team jerseys on the weekend and we-ve just ordered another 1000 pieces of merchandise ready for next home game. People are passionate about it. We-ve kept the name and the colours - we-ve got a new jersey.
“We-ve got a vision. We don-t want to be in the A-League next year because we know we can-t do it. But we know we want to have a Youth League and W-League side within two years.
“And if we do everything right, we-ll be in a position in a five-year window to apply for an A-League licence.
“We-ve got the whole North Queensland community behind it, volunteering and supporting it to make sure it works. And the football community has realised if they don-t get behind it and support it, it ain-t going to work.
“We-re treating this as if we-re in the A-League - obviously we don-t have the money - but relying on the corporate support and the good will of the Fury to make sure we-re developing a good product and good young players.”
Image courtesy MGM Photography