The demise of North Queensland Fury in 2011 left football fans across the country frustrated and angry as the planned expansion of the game stalled painfully.
But there was also a much more immediate, personal effect, as those employed by the club saw their livelihoods taken away and their connection to elite football severed. Despite the last-ditch attempts to keep the club afloat, the decision not only took the Hyundai A-League out of far north Queensland, but left those involved searching for a way to stay in the game.
Former Fury captain Gareth Edds was one of those people. Returning to Australia after 15 years playing in England, Edds signed with the Fury for their second season, when the financial pressure on the club was beginning to tell. When FFA revoked the club’s license at the end of the 2010/11 season, Edds was just one member of the squad who found himself without a job.
You’d think it would be enough to send anyone packing in search of new horizons. But two years after the club closed its doors, the Fury is still burning in Townsville.
Edds is now player/coach for the Northern Fury in the National Premier League, as well as running the Gareth Edds Soccer Academy for young players in the region, as he attempts to tap into that community passion he saw during the final days of the old Fury.
“I decided to stay because of the support of the region and the kids,” Edds tells footballaustralia.com.au. “I saw how much they wanted [the Fury] to succeed and I thought I could give something back to game in a different way, developing some talented kids to enjoy the game.
“I saw that passion when I first arrived. I came at the start of the second year, the club had already been around for a year and there was a buzz around the place – and when it closed down there was the sadness people felt.
“Those most affected were the kids. Suddenly they had nothing to support or follow, and that hurt. You become one of their heroes and then it’s gone.”
Edds declines to go into detail about how his family managed following the collapse of the Fury, other than to admit it was a “very difficult time”.
He still keeps in touch with a number of his former teammates, following those who forged a path elsewhere in the A-League but can’t hide his frustration for those who had their pathway taken away.
“I’m pleased to see Jack Hingert doing well, and a lot of the young players – Isaka Cernak and that – are still getting game time. It still hurts that a lot of those players that didn’t get an A-League opportunity, because you don’t get many cracks at it.
“I’d had my career, I wish I could have had a bit longer but for some of those young kids they’re the guys I really feel sorry for. It’s a difficult period for them I just hope they can keep pushing on and keep the hunger and the drive. They deserve it.”
With a career that included spells with English League One sides Milton Keynes Dons and Tranmere Rovers, it’s more than likely Edds, still only 32, could have found himself another team had he decided to leave Townsville. Instead he stuck around and built his own path back to the game, one that he hopes will provide a chance for developing players in the region. It will be a proud moment when Northern Fury kick off their first NPL fixture.
“It will produce a pathway over a period of time,” Edds says. “It’s going to take a while to get things set up properly and to create a good culture. We can produce players and give them an opportunity to play at the highest level, but the big thing is players not having to leave the region.
“That’s always been a big problem where a player from the north ends up going down to Brisbane and hopefully in the long term we can look to get an A-League licence back. That would be great for the kids - We have to produce our home-grown talent, and that’s not just for Townsville, that’s for the whole of Australia.
“[We need] the community as to get involved in the club, and I’m really keen to focus on that with my senior players, to get them into the community and get the kids to come and watch the game, because they’ll be role models. We’re not at the top level yet but that’s a long-term plan for the club.”
The vision of returning to the A-League with a production line of local talent is a grand one but Edds isn’t getting carried away. Already a holder of the UEFA B Licence and a specialist course in youth football in England, the focus is turning a recently announced squad into a competitive team and getting to grips with his role as senior player and head coach.
“I’m relishing the opportunity; it’s been fantastic to be involved. The players’ attitude has been brilliant, they’ve been working hard.
“We’ve got a young squad - the average age is around 19-20, and we only have two players in the 25-26 bracket, so they’re going to need a lot of support on and off the park. It’ll be hard to get my legs going but my body’s good and I still feel I can contribute, and give them confidence to express themselves with a bit of experience around them.”
So the Fury aren’t dead. Long live the Fury. Only one question remains – will Edds be inspired by former coach Franz Straka and start sporting a cream jacket to inspire his team?
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the cream jacket,” he laughs, “I won’t be slipping it on. I have my own style. I’ll leave that to Franz.”