When a futsal coach traveled to Bendigo to run a clinic earlier this year, he was unsure whether there would be any new talent for the Victorian team.
But ask anyone involved in soccer in Bendigo and they will tell you – the Karen boys have all the skills.
Within 10 minutes, the coach was already keen to sign up nine players for the Victorian country squad – six of which had come to Bendigo as Karen refugees from the Thai-Burmese border.
The coach came to the city after Bendigo Senior Secondary College had formed three indoor soccer teams to compete in an inter-school tournament. The only problem was, there was no other school to compete against.
Teacher Travis Matheson knew the players had what it takes, and wanted to give them the chance to impress the visiting coach.
“Futsal Victoria ran a few practice games in the gym, and the coach noticed pretty quickly that the boys had a lot of talent,” he said.
Four of the Karen players have accepted the opportunity to travel to Brisbane to compete in the national championships in September, but at $1700 per student, it does not come cheap.
VCAL English program co-ordinator Mardi Holland said the school has been able to fund $300 each, but there is still a long way to go.
“$1400 is still unattainable for our Karen refugee background students,” she said.
For the players, they are just keen to get out on the court as much as possible.
Bah Blu Htoo Kunoo has lived in Bendigo since he was seven years-old after his family arrived in Australia in 2007.
Along with his cousin Htee Moo Htoo, who arrived in Australia at nearly the same time, he said soccer has always been a major part of their lives.
“We’ve been playing soccer since we were little,” he said.
“I played for Victoria, clubs in Bendigo and now Bendigo City.
“Futsal is a bit different, it takes a lot of skill to play.”
Pleh Eh Ywa Hlaing has been in Australia for two years, and found soccer has helped him to meet people and integrate into Bendigo life. Per Soe is also hoping to travel to Brisbane to compete.
The players received their first donation on Friday, from the Y Services Club of Bendigo. Club president David Coles presented them with a cheque for $1400, to cover one player’s expenses.
They still require three similar donations to make their trip to Brisbane a reality.
Bendigo is home to Australia’s largest community of Karen people, who arrived in the country after living across seven refugee camps on the border between Thailand and Burma.
To support the students, click here or contact Bendigo Senior Secondary College on 5443 1222