From Paul Okon to Mark Schwarzer and ZeljkoKalac to Harry Kewell, the streets and backyards of Western Sydney have produced some of Australia’s finest football talent.

It is hard to put your finger on a reason why. Perhaps it’s the ‘can do’ attitude of the region; or its strong links to the European migration to Australia in the 50s and 60s. One thing’s for sure, the region’s passion for football continues to endure in the current generation of Australians with participation numbers high and a football culture that emanates from the region’s vast array of playing fields.

It is why the PFA was delighted to introduce two Heroes programs to schools in the area in  2011 (St Clair High School and Colyton High School).

Having just completed their 6th session in the 10 session mentoring program, PFA Executive Member and St Clair Heroes Mentor Liam Reddy and teaching coordinator Joe Badrov spoke about the difference PFA Heroes has made to the school.

“It’s been brilliant,” said Reddy. “I have been inspired by the difference mentoring can make to the lives of these students.”

Reddy made particular reference to lesson 5 where player mentors and students work together to identify the elements in life they value, the groups they represent and go on to create a logo that symbolises this importance.

“It was great to see the relationships that we have developed in this program come together in the form of a team logo in lesson 5,” he continued. “Our group discussed the importance of family, friends and sporting clubs in their lives. We also had a good discussion about respect, behavior in the school ground and how you should treat people the way you’d expect to be treated yourself. The discussion reinforced the values contained in the Heroes program.”

Teaching coordinator Joe Badrov has been impressed with the players’ commitment to the development of the school’s students.

“The players come to each lesson on time, prepared for their role in the class and with an enthusiasm that inspires all of our students,” said Badrov. It has been a joy to watch their relationships develop in a way that teachers and parents seldom achieve. Liam (Reddy), Scott (Jamieson), Bruno (Cazarine) and Mark (Bridge) have made a sensational difference to the way we go about learning at St Clair.”

Badrov – who grew up playing his junior football with former St Clair student and Socceroo great ZeljkoKalac at Sydney United – also spoke of an enhanced commitment to work from the students involved in the program.

“We had an unexpected fire drill interrupt our session last week,” said Badrov. “It meant that the kids were forced to leave their Heroes session with the players to assemble on the school oval. By the time the drill was over, it was the end of school and I expected our students to leave for home as they usually would. It was fantastic to see that all of the students involved in the PFA Heroes program returned to their session and stayed for an additional 30 minutes to complete their work. They were just so happy to spend the time with the players that they did not want to leave.”

The St Clair PFA Heroes program will now visit Sydney FC to experience the life of a professional footballer on Thursday 22 September. The day will see students receive a tour of Sydney FC’s training facility, lectures from Sydney FC staff on nutrition and finance and the opportunity to play football on the club’s training ground.

In addition to this, the school will host a presenter from Heroes partner Woolworths that will provide the class with a practical session on the coordination of project teams to reach a common goal.

The PFA Heroes program is an 8 lesson learning module that uses both PFA Members and football to teach fundamental values to Australian school children. The program culminates with the We Can Be Heroes Football Festival – an event designed and managed by Heroes students for their school community.

PFA Heroes is supported by LUCRF Super, Woolworths, and the Victorian Department of Education. The program is currently running in 8 schools in NSW and Victoria, directly touching 200 students and indirectly touching an estimated 40,000 more Australian’s involved in the school community. The program involves 38 players in mentoring roles and includes both a visit to the players’ place of work (an A-League club) and a visit to a local Woolworths Distribution Centre.