Pitch perfect: How one soccer fan’s ingenuity is giving rural kids a fair kick of the ball

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Paul Quarmby’s passion for coaching soccer and a vision for developing local talent led him to turn a humble Biloela backyard into his very own field of dreams

[This story was originally published in View of the Valleys, November, 2020]

By Jen Gourley

IF YOU were to fly a drone over the backyards of Biloela, you’d expect to see trees, shrubs, swing sets, sandpits, the occasional swimming pool and maybe even a treehouse or two. But would you expect to see an indoor soccer pitch? Highly unlikely, right? Well, in one Biloela backyard there actually is an indoor soccer pitch, and it’s the creation of dedicated soccer coach and former professional football player Paul Quarmby.

When Paul and his partner Michelle Wilshaw moved into their new home late last year, they discovered a yard that was full of dirt and bindies, but also full of potential. So, Paul started to picture using that space for something very special, a place for his stepson Dylan, 11, to play his beloved football, and for Paul to offer specialised coaching. In January, Paul started sketching a vision of what he had in mind, drew it up and started costing. Then he pitched the idea to Michelle, who gave the project two thumbs up. But it was the Covid-19 pandemic that really got the ball rolling.

Paul tried to Google how to build the football pitch, but as there aren’t exactly a lot of indoor soccer pitches constructed in backyards (in fact, this is quite likely the first in the world), he didn’t have any luck in his online search for instructions. So, Paul came up with his own design and plans, gathering people who could excavate and help get the ground flattened for the pitch. Then, when Paul and Michelle weren’t doing shiftwork as paramedics with the Queensland Ambulance Service, they were out in the backyard turning Paul’s dream into a reality.

“Michelle and I did all the work putting retaining walls in and shuffling cracka dust through it, and then I bought all the synthetic grass at auction and got that brought up from the Gold Coast,” Paul said. After getting the foundation right, the vision grew from there. “We put fencing around it so it’s all indoor so the kids can work off the fence and be able to play continual football, and then got goals made and whatnot … and we decided to enclose it so the ball’s not going out anywhere, it’s always in play, the kids are engaged more and more.

“Michelle’s shaking her head by now, going, ‘we’re in for a penny, in for a pound’.”

After four months of juggling shiftwork, raising Dylan and his sister Abi, 8, and soccer coaching responsibilities, and with a lot of help along the way from fellow Valleys football team members, the football pitch was finished. “We put a name to it,” Paul said. “Dylan Foster Wilshaw Stadium (DFW stadium) so Dylan’s pretty chuffed he’s got a little stadium named after him.” Since then Paul has started inviting in local junior soccer players who show potential for specialised, technical training where they can sharpen their skills.

Soccer is in Paul’s blood, having started playing at just three years old, and he’s now in his 49th year of playing the beautiful game. At 17, after completing the HSC, Paul went to Aberdeen in Scotland to play professional football, going on to play for various clubs in the UK. He then returned home to play for Blacktown City in the National League (the equivalent of the A-League now), before going back overseas to play for various clubs in London and Manchester. Paul then turned to coaching, building up his qualifications and credentials, and started coaching full-time at John Paul College in Brisbane.

The school didn’t have enough hours for Paul so he ended up joining the Queensland Ambulance Service in 2009, moving to Biloela with Michelle and the kids two and a half years ago. So now Paul has brought a world of coaching and playing experience to a Biloela backyard with its unique, fully enclosed soccer pitch, passing on his skills to young up and coming players every week.

“According to shiftwork, I throw a text out to certain parents of kids and they’ve just embraced it. I’m not charging them – it’s all a free service,” Paul said. “The kids just don’t get the opportunities like the city or metro kids get, here in the country, so this is something locally the kids are able to benefit from and the parents are chuffed to bits.”

Building the soccer pitch has been a real labour of love for Paul as well as being the stuff of dreams. “Having grown up playing football all my life, I just think to myself, I wish I had had this opportunity and it sort of hits home more as growing up in the city I had all the opportunities to do really well and travel abroad,” Paul said. “It’s now just giving that opportunity to country kids. And look, we pay up to $2000 for Dylan to go over to Gladstone to be in a skills acquisition program through Football Queensland and lot of families can’t afford that. Their kids might be talented but they just don’t have the money to go across.”

With the new football pitch and Paul’s coaching skills available, local children are now presented with a wonderful opportunity to grow as players.

“I get a kick out of the kids really developing. I can see a real improvement in kids’ abilities in three months, and the beauty of it is that the ones who are invited here, want to be here. They listen and don’t muck about. I teach age groups from seven to eight year olds, up to 12 to 13 year olds. I had the 12 year olds here the other day from 3.30pm to 6.30pm and they still wanted to keep going after three hours. I was like, ‘You’ve got to go home! I’ve got to go coach the seniors now’,” Paul laughed.

So, how does Paul feel about this amazing construction in his backyard? “I love it,” he said. “I’m a big kid as well so I like playing in there. I’m proud of it, obviously, and I appreciate that we can afford to do it, we had the space to do it, and the time.” Paul and Michelle have also been considerate of their neighbours, regularly checking in that the floodlights aren’t bothering them and they’re not disturbed, but everything seems to be pitch perfect with the local residents. “Everyone seems to be on board with what we’re doing,” Paul said. “The neighbours are happy that the kids are happy.” And who wouldn’t get a kick out of that?

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