On Tuesday night in Sydney, Andy Paschalidis, the Founder of the Heartbeat of Football Foundation, along with the Grassroots football community and local Government provided all 23 clubs in the St George Football Association (STGFA) with defibrillators.
Paschalidis, the former SBS Football presenter, has been on a mission to create awareness and provide potential lifesaving defibrillators after witnessing his former Forest Rangers teammate Matt Richardson die from a heart attack.
Last year the inaugural Richo Cup was organised in honour of Richardson and the Forest Rangers club along with Lugarno FC raised just over $20,000.
In response the STGFA donated $16,500. Dave Coleman, MP for Banks also assisted with a grant of over $10,000.
The reason why Paschalidis is passionate about this cause is because he believes defibrillators can save lives.
“In the event of a player having heart attack CPR can give a person a 2% to 5% chance of survival,” he said.
“But with a defibrillator depending on the condition it could increase the survival chances of up to 70%.”
“I want there to be a legacy, I want us to look back and say you know what? We made a difference we saved lives. We created an awareness. We made older players realise that they are not invincible and they are not 18 anymore. But this affects young people too.”
Former Socceroo Peter Katholos witnessed his teammate John Anastopoulos die of a heart attack while playing for Belmore Eagles and he says that through the work of the Heartbeat of Football Foundation more lives can be saved.
“That day when John Anastopoulos passed away I was there on the park,” he said.
“He was two metres away from me. It was a devastating experience to see someone pass away right in front of your own eyes.
“The hope is that people who play Soccer have got a chance to live in-case something happens. If they had a defibrillator at every ground they are able to give them a fighting chance straight away.”
Paschalidis wants the program expanded not just to one football association but across all the sporting codes.
And he hopes the help of governing body can help that come to fruition.
“We want this model to be replicated,” he said.
“With Government funding, fundraising and with association support. Let’s make a stand as grassroots football and let’s say ‘Hey look at what we are doing as a community model’.
“Because at the end of the day I want a defibrillator at every ground available for all sports. It’s not just about defib rollout. I want every referee and coach to have CPR training so if something happens you need a leader.”
Paschalidis added: “We are not asking for money from the FFA. I just need them because of their network of communication. To go beyond the states and the associations.
“We are not telling people not to play. We are not blaming the game. What we are saying is yeah play but take every step of precaution to get yourself checked.”
“Football can be the catalyst for change. Football can lead the way, we can say that we are the biggest game and we are going to be leaders now and we are staring this push. Come aboard join me. That’s what I’m saying."
- Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Click here to see more of his work and check out the latest episode of his A-League Snobcast with co-host Rob Toddler.