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On the ball . . . Players brought impressive skills to the first two rounds of their shortened season. PHOTO: TWYLA KINGAN

Football players – and spectators – are excited to be back on the fields on Saturdays, Football Waitaki president Twyla Kingan says.

“The kids were quite ready to be playing and see their friends,” Mrs Kingan said of the season, which began on June 20 after a long delay caused by Covid-19.

She estimated there were about 260 children playing in the competition for ages 6 to 13. That was “down a little bit” because of the season’s late start. Some families, especially in the rural sector, were busier now than in the usual starting month of May, Mrs Kingan said.

The children’s skill levels had not suffered from the lockdown. From the first play, they were “outstanding”.

Many of the children play football at school together for fun, where they have become proficient at passing the ball and talking to each other – both important on the field.

Football South, one of seven federations overseen by New Zealand Football, sent three development officers to the opening day.

“They’re really good with the kids,” Mrs Kingan said.

“They get involved and took photos.

“Another one came last weekend.”

The season would last just 10 weeks, finishing at the end of August as originally scheduled.

“The emphasis is getting back out there, participating. It’s shining through already.

“They love it.

“It’s great to see the field lit up with kids, and the smiles on their faces.”

There had been a lot of interest from families whose children had not registered in time for this season, Mrs Kingan said. They were unable to be accommodated once the teams were set and the draw done.

She hoped they would sign up for 2021.

“We’ve got a few wheels in motion for next season. We’ll get the Football South guys involved, visiting rural schools, especially up the Waitaki Valley.

“The way to get the numbers up is to expose the kids to the code.

“We’ll have a Fun Football Festival day, where it’s all about having a go – before registration.”

Some prospective players were concerned they did not know any others, but that was very short-lived, Mrs Kingan said.

They would soon meet children from a variety of schools and make friends within their team.

“I love seeing the friendships, giggles, the encouragement of each other at a young age, and they give that back to others.”

Parents were also keen to help out with transport to games.

“Everyone just chips in.”