WRECK Bay Sharks’ Bernie McLeod has been acknowledged by the Western Sydney Wanderers for his commitment to the sport of football.
At the A-League club’s annual awards night, McLeod was joint winner of the Western Sydney Wanderers Chairman’s Award, along with Lawrence Gilbert.
McLeod said he was just honoured to be nominated for his work with the Indigenous community and football, but to actually take out the award, he is still pinching himself.
“I was stoked just to be nominated to be honest but to take it out is a massive thrill and something I’m extremely proud of,” McLeod said.
“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t expecting to win at all – I didn’t even have a speech prepared.
“But when they read my name out, I looked around twice before going up to accept the prestigious award.”
While McLeod is over the moon to be recognised, he acknowledges that this award is for all the Indigenous people working in football circles.
“Obviously it’s great to receive credit from the Wanderers, who are actually partners with our club, for the work I’m doing with Wreck Bay and getting the inaugural National Indigenous Football Championships off the ground,” he said.
“But I’ve accepted this award on behalf of all the people doing work to improve the pathways of Indigenous athletes in football.
“Huge numbers of Indigenous children play football from a young age but because the pathways haven’t been in place, athletes such as Adam Goodes have gone on to play professionally in the AFL and NRL.
“This award highlights all the great work we are doing in communities, to provide an avenue to find the next Kyah Simon or Jade North.”
McLeod, who has enjoyed a decorated career himself, ranks this award at the top of his personal achievements, alongside representing the Australian indigenous football team – but noted that this is only just the start of a bright future.
“Now that we have put in place a legacy for footballers to follow, the future is bright I believe,” he said.
“Preparations are already underway for the second National Indigenous Football Championships to be held again at Nowra’s Ison Park in the first week of November.
“We will have more than 32 teams taking part – with teams as far as Arnhem Land travelling to the Shoalhaven to compete.
“The carnival acts as a talent identification process, which will hopefully see a couple of players go on to sign contracts with professional teams and make representative sides.
“I think we are about to tap into an untapped resource and I’m excited to see what the future holds.”