Just as he did on the football field many, many years ago, Australian soccer great Craig Johnston can still entertain a crowd.
And, that was never more evident than his appearance at Compass Housing’s inaugural fundraising luncheon for its Grow A Star youth mentoring and scholarship program at Noahs on the Beach on Friday 18 June.
In front of more than 120 people, the Hunter’s multiple championship-winning Liverpool FC midfielder – and guest speaker – shared his “grassroots to glory” story.
Born to Australian parents in South Africa, Johnston grew up in Lake Macquarie.
At the age of 15, he ventured to England to try and become a professional soccer player, while his mother and father moved to a smaller house to help him realise his dream.
Against all odds, and overcoming much adversity, he was signed by Liverpool FC in 1981.
Johnston scored the winning goal in the 1986 FA Cup Final, one of 40 he netted for the club in 271 appearances over eight years.
During his time with Liverpool, he secured the European Cup and five league titles.
He also co-wrote the team’s 1988 cup final song, Anfield Rap.
“My two loves are Australia and football,” Johnston said.
“I love living in Newcastle and am passionate about helping kids be happier, healthier and cleverer.
“The Grow a Star program does just that, so I was very keen to support it.
“You can have goals but the dream is the power that gets you there.
“I said to myself [early on] that I am going to run and run and just keep running – and that’s what I did.
“But, I couldn’t have done it without my parents’ assistance.
“Even though I had a dream, they were going to break all the rules to make that dream happen.”
Johnston admitted pursuing such aspirations could change a youngster’s life.
“It is tougher for kids these days because they are often not as street smart,” he said.
“However, your own self-esteem comes from looking after yourself.
“The best way to find talent in kids is to listen to them.
“You can be better at anything you want to be.
“And, even if you don’t quite succeed, you will be happier and a better person for trying.”
Compass Housing community relations and events manager Michelle Faithfull said the function was a great success.
“We raised some valuable funds [today] to help kids to be stars,” she told the Newcastle Weekly.
“Hunter businesses again showed their generosity and support for programs, which make our community a better place for everyone.”
Grow a Star, which launched in 2012, has assisted more than 400 young people to pursue their academic, artistic and sporting goals at grassroots and representative levels.