By Casey Neill
Doveton Special Soccer School has supported the community for the past 25 years.
Founder Juan Carlos Loyola gathered past players and volunteers to celebrate the milestone at Dandenong RSL on Sunday 18 March.
He said about 90 people attended and the club had fielded 1150 players over the years.
“We got five old players who started with us 25 years ago,” he said.
“It was emotional.”
Mr Loyola, 68, started the club for players with intellectual disabilities after retiring from playing in Victoria’s provisional soccer league.
He said the club provided social interaction, hope and friendship.
“When you start working with these people, you fall in love with them,” he said.
“My highlight was to represent my country as head coach of the international team in Sweden and Germany.”
His wife, Christina, encouraged him to start the school and has been by his side throughout the years.
“It’s a family commitment to run the club for 25 years,” he said.
The couple came to Australia in 1977 and still had only basic English skills come 1993.
“It was really, really difficult for us,” he said.
The club didn’t receive much government support, “maybe because we didn’t know how to approach them”, but slowly became known in the community.
Mr Loyola started to receive awards for his work, including the City of Greater Dandenong’s non-citizen of the year in 1999 and City of Casey’s volunteer of the year in 2001.
He received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the 2009 Australia Day honours, and numerous other certificates over the years.
“They opened the door,” he said.
Mr Loyola personally spends about 100 hours a month on club duties.
“The satisfaction just to see the happiness and the smiles in the players, this is the reward,” he said.
“I feel my duty is to keep going in this community.
“I’m more aware now of the necessity of sport for all these people.”
He worries about the services that will be available in 10 years’ time for the young people at the region’s specialist schools today.
“We are not prepared in sport, in accommodation, in work, in transport,” he said.
“All these four things, they are the strong issues that people with a disability face at the moment.
“The problem is with people today, we are too busy.
“Everything has to be in a hurry.
“We forget sometimes that people really need not money, but a few minutes of our time, even to say hello.”