Footballer John Baird opens Football Star Academy in Mandurah

FITNESS FUN: John Baird and one of his football clinic groups. Photo: Supplied.
FITNESS FUN: John Baird and one of his football clinic groups. Photo: Supplied.

"Through my life I have struggled massively with dyslexia... but football gave me confidence, so while I was at school - I was alright."

John Baird is a former professional football player who moved into coaching when he moved from Glasgow to Mandurah with his wife and two children.

His own football journey started unlike most - coming from a family who weren't particularly sport obsessed.

"I wasn't born into a family that was into football - it was almost the total opposite," Baird said.

"Somehow a ball ended up in the house one day and I just got into it - this was when I was about five or six years old."

It wasn't long before Baird's family realised the skill he was showing surpassed his years.

"I didn't know at the time, but it became quite apparent at an early age that I was quite good at it, so I joined the local boys club - and then by the age of nine I had professional football corporations trying to get me to sign with them."

Despite struggling with dyslexia throughout his schooling, Baird said football gave him the drive and confidence to keep going, and at 16 he signed contracts to play professionally.

His career spanned across the Scottish first division and Scottish premiership league, playing for a variety of different clubs from 2002-2018.

A change of scenery 

Baird and his family found themselves falling in love with Mandurah while on a holiday visiting friends in WA.

"I had a couple of friends who emigrated with their wives and kids from Glasgow," Baird said.

"They were living in Cockburn, so we hired a car and one day we went on a day trip to Mandurah."

Baird said that when his family sat down for a meal at one of Mandurah's most beloved venues, Murphy's Irish Pub, they fell in love with the place.

"My wife's the boss," he laughed.

"When we visited places, she would say whether she could see herself staying there or not.

"We were sitting and having something to eat at Murphy's, it was nice and sunny, we were having a great meal and my wife just said 'I could stay here' and that was it."

FAMILY: John said he and his family fell in love with Mandurah instantly. Photo: Supplied.

FAMILY: John said he and his family fell in love with Mandurah instantly. Photo: Supplied.

So Baird and his wife applied for a visa to move to Australia with their daughter and son, who were one and three, respectively at the time.

Soon after the application process, Baird was offered the opportunity to play football in Melbourne.

"I was in the process doing the visa anyway - and so I ended up going over to Melbourne by myself. Being away from my wife and kids was really difficult."

In the three months he was in Melbourne, Baird found himself wanting to do something to fill his time after training.

This was when he met with members of Sport Star Academy, a company running sport camps and clinics for youths across Australia.

"I started doing coaching for them on Sunday mornings," he said.

"I really enjoyed the environment - the people were amazing and I got to see firsthand how the operation worked."

Not realising it was a franchise at first, Baird approached the team about potentially coaching in Mandurah.

"I didn't know it was a franchise all over Australia, and there was one in Perth at the time.

"I spoke to my wife and she said absolutely get involved in it and bring it to Mandurah."

When passion meets occupation 

After making the decision, Baird and his family settled into Mandurah, bringing the academy with them.

"It's something I love doing - I have a massive passion for it," Baird said.

"When I think about the coaching I received at a younger age - I would like to give the kids that."

Football Star Academy, a branch of Sport Star Academy, is a community-based academy run in Halls Head, and currently has just over 70 kids enrolled on a weekly basis.

"We also did a holiday camp - and despite the bad weather we had 60 kids show up."

Baird added that the community report he and the academy had received was heartwarming.

"The community has been very supportive and the feedback has been really positive."

His own experiences with dyslexia have driven Baird to ensure the classes are inclusive, and for kids with varied levels of ability.

"We can see ourselves living in Mandurah for the rest of our lives." Photo: Supplied.

"We can see ourselves living in Mandurah for the rest of our lives." Photo: Supplied.

"Some kids come to the academy and they're scared to get involved or won't speak at all, or they can't kick a ball.

"There are boys who are scoring goals now that couldn't kick a ball 2-3 months ago and now they can't stop talking."

Baird said football was more than just a sport to him growing up, and it was more to the children attending the academy.

"Football is not just how far you can get - it's about creating good people," he said.

"When they start off - the parents will sit and watch, and soon after they will feel comfortable enough that their parents can just drop them off and go for a coffee - they don't need to watch anymore."

There are various classes for different age groups from 5-16, and anyone looking for more information or enrolment can visit the Sport Star Academy website.

"It's about being free - it helped me in my life - that's what I want to give back to the community," Baird said.

"We have no regrets moving to Mandurah - we see ourselves being here for the rest of our lives."