TFA Volunteer Of The Year Award 5 Web Hero (1)

Today we set a scene, we’re in the Gippsland region of Victoria in the early 90’s and multiple footy codes are competing to establish themselves in the Aussie Rules stronghold of Sale. While other codes may have had superior resources, Touch Football flourished. February’s Bristol Volunteer of the Month recipient Laurie Smyth was the catalyst for the introduction of Touch Football in Sale. He has been heavily involved in the sport now for over three decades and continues to give back to the game. Whilst a softly spoken man, Laurie has been bestowed with Life Membership by Touch Football Victoria and has a regular feature in the local newspaper promoting Touch Football.

Laurie has been the president of Sale Touch Football Club for over 20 years founding the club in 1994. He’s been through thick and thin with the sport and has had an immense influence on growing the game in the Victorian town.

As our Bristol Volunteer of the Month, we speak to Laurie about his passion for Touch Footy, his legacy, and the remarkable role he has and continues to perform in his local community.

Congratulations Laurie, can you begin by telling us a little bit about your Touch Football journey?

Thanks for this opportunity to be heard and being recognised! Very appreciative. In the early days there was a battle between League and Union as to which would be the new sport in Sale. Regardless of who won this came with the barrier of having to travel to play against opposing teams – I saw a gap and went down to the council and saw that Wednesday nights were relatively free of sports on the main ovals and thought Touch Football could be our answer – and with time, it was!

I wanted Touch Football to be an easier avenue for people to play games like league or union and with the shorter format, no weekend commitments and smaller team numbers needed, it really flourished in our town and still does. The first person I spoke with about the concept was Barbara Barrett from Touch Football Victoria. We met at the local service station, and we began discussions. This was about 30 years ago and then a couple years later, in 1996, we held our first tournament.

Can you tell me what is it about Touch Football that lured you into the sport and has kept you around for so long?

Touch Football was an initial means to get people into playing union/league in Sale. It appealed to many with no training or travelling, a midweek pick-me-up. Since then, it’s been unbelievable for our town. Sale has around 14,000 people and we are a sporting town, it keeps people involved, fit, making friends along the way! We’ve had a huge impact from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) over the course of our Clubs history and have had many great helpers; Martin Stevenson, John Catel & wife his Kiren to name a few.

Touch Footy has reached so many people across regional Victoria, and this is what keeps me intrigued by the game. We’ve travelled to Tubbut (up near the NSW border) and ran matches for people with mental and physical disabilities (All-Abilities) at Bairnsdale (75km from Sale). After these events we used to come back to my place for a BBQ to celebrate the conclusion of the program and connect with those involved, it was always a great time.

The game itself, I’ve never played, and to be frank am not the best with the rules either, I’ll always defer to the referees, but I love watching and spreading the game through my reports.

You have a regular Touch Football report in the Gippsland Times, how did this come about and is it still going?

Initially I did my research on which of the major four newspapers would be the best to get reports/journals into and landed on the Gippsland Times (or Gippsy Times as we locals call it) I had some contacts with this paper as I have been involved with them, as I research history. During the span of a year, I write 40-odd articles dedicated to Touch Football and spreading the benefits of this sport!

They keep a space for me and call me to check if a story is coming. Sometimes, of course, I get a bit carried away honing in on people, who they are and their successes in Touch Football.

Nowadays times have changed and of course we’re on social media, keeping up with the times - but there’s something resolute about the old ways, they’ve been kind to me, and I’ve stayed true to them – so I do enjoy writing up my articles.

Can you talk me through the Sale Knockout, where it began and where it is today?

It’s really something outstanding we’ve built here in Sale, starting back in 1996, the event commenced with 24-30 teams and has now doubled in size with over 60 teams joining from all over.

We held the first two events at St Pats Oval, then a couple at Gippsland Grammar and since then we’ve held it at the home of Sale Touch, Stephenson Park. Across the 2-day event we’ll setup 8 fields with Male/Female competitions running on the Saturday and the Mixed competition on the Sunday. It is an event in the truest sense, people journey into town for this from all surrounds. On a handful of occasions, we’ve had a civic reception where the council (Wellington Shire) put on a function for stakeholders to welcome in the players and commence the Sale Knockout.

Just a quick stat to share, as I am into my history, this event has generated over $3million for the Sale economy since, its inception. We’re very proud.

Congratulations that’s a fantastic effort.

Now, you’re a life Member of Touch Football Victoria, an honour bestowed upon only 5 others, tell us about what that means to you?

It means a hell of a lot to me, to be really seen and appreciated by the sport and town in such a way is very important for me. The other element which sits well with me is that fact that it is awarded to people whilst still involved in the sport or around to be thankful for it. I’ll be 80 shortly, so to be able to reflect in such a way has been powerful and I’ve been able to realise the gravity of it all.

Awesome to hear how involved you are! What is next for Laurie Smyth and Sale Touch?

As I mentioned I’m 80 soon, but I’m keen to still keep going! We’ve been successful for a long time, and I don’t want that to diminish. We’ve recovered from COVID (touch wood) and recruited additional teams in our current season so I’m keen to keep helping this growth.

VOM Feb (1)

Finally, if you were to win the Bristol Paint Volunteer of the Year award and $5,000 worth of paint does a project comes to mind?

Wow, awesome prize – Well the clubrooms have been recently painted so I'd like to think of something meaningful to support in the community.

As our volunteer of the Month, Laurie is now eligible for the Bristol Paint TFA Volunteer of the Year (VOY) Award. The TFA VOY will receive paint to the value of $5,000 for a project of their choice, thanks to our friends at Bristol Paint.

DON’T FORGET  All Touch Footy participants are entitled to 15-20% OFF Bristol Paint products. Download your exclusive discount card on our website here.

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