Excitement is building for Hakoah FC’s 2024 First Grade and U20s NSW State League One football season which kicks off on February 17, and the club’s NSW youth league and SAP (junior) seasons – in what may well be the last season before the football club finally moves from its current home of Hensley Field, to the state-of-the-art Hakoah FC White City redevelopment, that’s currently under construction.
An indicator of that excitement building up, and the close-knit, family feel of this proud 85-year-old club, was the almost 600 players, parents, volunteers and sponsors who packed Moriah College’s auditorium on February 4 for the club’s official 2024 season launch.
Highlights of the night were a personal congratulations to Hakoah legend Jon Pillemer, for earning Football NSW’s most prestigious award late last year, the Charles Valentine Medal, for his massive contribution to football, at club, state and national level, spanning decades.
Special guest speakers included former Hakoah junior and recently retired player Ryan Blumberg – whose football career included a stint at English club Charlton Athletic – and current Sydney FC defender and Socceroos 2022 World Cup squad member Joel King.
Hakoah SAP and youth team members enjoyed the thrill of being handed their new 2024 Hakoah playing shirts on the stage by King and Blumberg, gaining plenty of inspiration ahead of their final pre-season trial games.
The club also thanked the board members, volunteers and all its existing and new major sponsors, including main shirt sponsor HSN Property Group and season launch sponsor La Trobe Financial.
Hakoah FC chair Paul Heilig said, “What an amazing turnout for our season launch – it is really heartwarming to see.
“Hakoah has a long and proud history – our heritage and culture has been shaped by the Jewish community in Sydney and beyond.
“And as a sporting club, we have always warmly welcomed players and families from different communities and cultures and we will continue to do so.
“This is why sport is so special – it unites people from different cultures and backgrounds and makes us feel like one big family.
“I want to thank all of you who have shown your unwavering support and solidarity to our Jewish community at this time.”
Heilig wished all players well for another season of success, personal development and growth in the state and youth leagues and SAP program, and had this advice to all: “If you go out on the field and you leave nothing in the tank, we will be proud of you, whatever the outcome of the game.”
Hakoah’s president of youth and SAP football, Ofer Greenberg, said, “Yes, results are important and we want to win, but how we do it and in what way, is more important and is what sets our club apart.
“What makes this club so special is our history, our culture and most importantly, the feeling of family across our club.
“This year marks our 85th year – from a group of Hungarian and Austrian Jewish immigrants [founding it] to becoming NSL and NSW Waratah Cup champions, going deep in the Australia Cup, and now being perhaps a year away from entering our new spiritual home at White City – what a journey that is.”
Greenberg said the quality of the club’s coaching staff, and in particular its pathways program, continues to bear fruit, as players rise up the ranks from SAP level up, such as Ethan Hirst, who is in his last year in youth state league football, in the U18 squad and has played more than 200 games for Hakoah.
Hakoah’s teams from U9s through to U18s have a large contingent of Jewish football talent, comprising up to two-thirds of the make-up of some teams for season 2024.
Jewish players in the current U18 squad total seven – Eli Briggs, Daniel Gordon, Ethan Hirst, Bailey Reid, Anthony Rozman, Moar Rubinstein and Ryan Seligsohn.
In the State League One, while Hakoah’s U20 squad currently does not have any Jewish players, the club’s first grade men’s squad features Jewish players Zach Pillemer and Josh Fuchs.
They face the Dunbar Rovers in a round one away match on February 17, followed by a second round home fixture at Hensley Field on February 25 against the Bankstown Berries.
Hakoah’s first grade coach, Craig Sharpley, said his squad had a productive pre-season, winning two out of their three trial games, “and importantly, the boys are starting to gel” ahead of round one.
Captain Yianni Spyrakis said, “I think we have a good balance of experience and youth in our squad, which is something Hakoah does well.
“So I think we’re going to be a team that challenges up the top this year, which is really exciting.”
The season launch was also an important fundraising event for the club and some impressive bids were made in a live auction, for items that included a boot worn and signed by Argentinian legend Lionel Messi.
For more information, visit hakoahfc.com.au, or follow the club on Facebook or Instagram.