Even during the club’s darkest times there was one thing keeping Warren Gillespie going.
For his club, his community and, most importantly, for the game.
After 20 years as secretary of NEWFM Northern League One club Singleton Strikers, Gillespie has decided to step aside.
It is a relationship that started as an under-16s player in 1989 and eventually saw Gillespie inducted as a Singleton Strikers life member. A goalkeeper, Gillespie went on to play 365 first grade games for Singleton and more than 500 in total.
He took up the secretary role in 2000 while still playing, taking over from Michael Akrill.
Finally, 20 years later, Gillespie has walked away from the club after the highest of highs, with Singleton winning the NEWFM Northern League One competition for the first time in almost 30 years last month.
“I just think it’s time. I wasn’t actually going to do it this year but we didn’t have anyone to step in. I’m glad I did now given how the year went,” Gillespie said.
“The club has been a big part of my life. I’m getting a bit older now and it’ll be nice to get my weekends back a bit.
“But also I think it’s time for a new voice, a new direction, a new way of thinking. It’s time for a change to take the club forward.”
As Gillespie says, he has worn many hats in his time at Singleton. First as a player and then secretary. But while upholding his secretarial duties Gillespie was also thrust into a number of other roles including gear steward, canteen manager, goalkeeper coach and player agent.
There was even one year where the Strikers were without a president. No prizes for guessing who stepped up.
“I remember when I started we were at the AGM and I thought ‘it couldn’t be that hard’,” Gillespie said.
“I took on the role and here I am 20 years later. You start out just doing the minutes and taking notes for the club, sending out club emails. But over the years the role develops and depending on how much help you get, whether you’ve got a big or small committee and how big your volunteer network is, it can become difficult.”
If anyone needed proof as to Gillespie’s love of the game, he still plays over-35s football on a Friday night having played first grade football with Singleton into his 40s.
He credits helping the club attract a major sponsor and securing Singleton’s finances as among his highlights as Gillespie helped steer the Strikers through some of the darkest of times.
But nothing can compare to the emotional highs when Singleton downed premiers New Lambton in the first grade grand final at Magic Park last month.
“We’ve been through a lot of tough times. We’ve been down and been laughed at and ridiculed,” Gillespie said.
“I’ve just always tried to lead from the front, just saying we’ve got to keep on moving forward and the wheel would turn for us. And obviously it did this year and it was just fantastic.
“All we wanted was a home semi-final. Then we dared to dream and, [COVID-19 pandemic or no COVID-19 pandemic], we had a strong team and we felt like we got what we deserved this year.
“It meant so much. It was such an emotional day. We sold out our tickets on the Wednesday before the grand final. There was a lot of interest in town.
“I’ve always believed that football is a sleeping giant in Singleton. We don’t get a lot of a run with the union and league in town but with them not playing [this year due to the pandemic], that success we had, everyone loves a winner.
“To see the support we got and grown men in tears after the game, the joy on people’s faces. Ex-players, teammates of mine were there who we hadn’t seen in years. It was fantastic I think for football in general but also for Northern NSW Football in that we were able to give some of the big guns in Newcastle some competition.
“I had a private moment to myself that day. I’m all nervous and tingling just thinking about it. It was very emotional. And very satisfying that all the hard work over the years paid off. We’ve got a lot of long-suffering supporters so it was great to reward them and do it for them.”
Gillespie will remain on hand for the club should they ever need him for guidance or advice. For now though, Gillespie is looking forward to putting his feet up and enjoying his weekends.
But he will always cherish the fondest of memories from his time as a volunteer at a club where he gave such a large portion of his life.
“Clubs and Australia are built on volunteers. They’re the backbone of the country,” Gillespie said.
“I do what I do and there are thousands of others out there like me. You like to see the players take the field representing your club. It was always most satisfying for me that we’ve got a football club people can be proud of and who they want to represent.
“Being a volunteer is enjoyable, you get a lot out of it. I don’t do it for the fame or the fanfare and certainly not the money because there is none. It’s for the love of the game.
“I’ve always enjoyed it. It can be frustrating at times. I’ve met some great people and been involved in a club I have a great passion for. I’ve played so many games for the club and it will always have a special place in my heart.
“I just love the club. We haven’t had much success and I don’t judge it on trophies or anything. We’re just a good little club with good people who work hard and love the club and the game.”