THE Grafton City Soccer Club (GCSC) has sensationally pulled out of the North Coast Football first division, paving the way for the relegated Westlawn Tigers to re-enter the region's premier football competition.
The GCSC's turnaround on the last day of registration has left North Coast Football officials 'gob smacked', but has left everyone at the Tigers grinning from ear to ear.
“Westlawn has been offered the opportunity to play in the premier league ... and we have taken it,” Westlawn Tigers president Ann Pursey said.
“We are a club that is geared to play at the highest level and our focus will be the premier league.”
The GCSC's 11th hour withdrawal was due to their inability to meet the player criteria demanded by North Coast Football of first division teams.
Indeed, it was the lack of players in the club's mandatory youth league team which eventually built the unscaleable bureaucratic wall on the path to the first division. To rub salt into the wound, the criteria the club failed to meet had only recently changed from a mandatory reserve team to the compulsory youth league.
“We would have easily made the old criteria,” GCSC first team coach Dennis Pearce said.
“Last year we had the reserve grade team, but now we will have to focus on building the compulsory youth league.”
Pearce said the withdrawal had shattered many at the club and admitted another shot at promotion would not be an easy task.
“We've come a long way in two years ... and always aspired to play in the first division,” he said.
“A new season is a new event and promotion is a sought-after prize.
“We'll just have to regroup and have another go.”
However, for Westlawn, after the pain of last year's relegation, entry back into first division is a dream come true.
“We were extremely disappointed last year ... the players, the coaches were all gutted,” Pursey said.
“Last year was very, very competitive and relegation was no reflection on the skill of the players.
“We just had to grin and bear it, but it (spot in the first division) came back to us.”
With the first division beginning next month, Westlawn has already started to ramp up its preparations to ensure a relegation repeat is not on the cards.
“We were lucky our quality players have stayed loyal ... and being a premier league club we have been able to attract a number of players,” Pursey said.
“The coaches have ramped up training and are focusing on the areas which need improvement.”
Pre-season training at Barnier Park has had an immediate impact with the youth and first division sides running out winners against Casino 3-2 and 2-1 respectively last weekend.
Pursey said there were still playing positions open on the club's various teams and anyone interested should contact coaches Terry Stewart (0438 630 104) or John Nelson (0408 687 459).