THE regular rugby league season hasn't kicked off yet, but the Bellingen Magpies will soon be back on the paddock for their annual clash against the Army Thunder in the Sergeant Matthew Locke MG Charity Match.
The gates open at Bellingen Park from 11am on February 26, with several support games scheduled through the afternoon, ending with the official ceremony at 5:30pm and the main game at 6pm.
Entry is $10 per adult, with a gold coin donation for teenagers and younger.
"The Army women's team are lined up to play a local team, the canteen and bar will be open and we will have plenty of merchandise available to help raise funds for our charities," event coordinator Debbie Locke said.
"We welcome all members of our community to enjoy a great family afternoon and support their favourite team.
"The Governor General of Australia, Mr David Hurley, should be there too. He has been one of our most passionate supporters.
"Everyone is welcome to come; we just ask that people enter through the main gate and sign in or use the QR code so the event complies with all NSW Government COVID restrictions.
"It's outside, so masks are not required but if you feel like wearing one, by all means go for it."
Previously, The Grub Club has worked with the community there to build kindergartens and a four-room schoolhouse that can serve as a primary and secondary school.- Debbie Locke
Organised in honour of Bellingen local Matthew Locke, the main match has seen the Magpies and Army Thunder clash since 2009, raising funds for Soldier On and The Grub Club.
"When Matt was growing up, a family member gave him the nickname 'Grub', because he was always so dirty after being outside, the name just stuck," Debbie said.
"Matt felt strongly about education and the opportunity that it provides, so The Grub Club was created as a not for profit, helping disadvantaged children in war torn regions get an education by supplying resources like books, paper, pens and pencils.
"Efforts were initially directed toward Afghanistan; now the focus is on Timor Leste, which held a special significance for Matt after he was stationed there in 1999 and 2000.
"Previously, The Grub Club has worked with the community there to build kindergartens and a four-room schoolhouse that can serve as a primary and secondary school.
"The locals made all the final design decisions, sourced the materials and built the structures.
"Teachers were trained through the charity, and a private donation helped set up a chicken and fish farm to help pay the teachers' wages and take the initiative a step closer to being self sustaining.
"We have also ensured the kindergartens are fully stocked with books and toys through toy and book drives across the Bellingen Shire."
Matthew was awarded the Medal of Gallantry in 2006, the third-highest award in the Australian war time honours system during operations in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan.
His distinguished military career was sadly cut short in 2007 when he was killed in action by enemy small arms fire on another tour of duty in Afghanistan.
In 2008, members of the Locke family set up The Grub Club charity to help keep his memory alive.
Soon after, Matthew's friend and another Bellingen Shire local Sergeant Nick Mathews brought the idea of a memorial football match to the Locke family to raise money for the Grub Club.
"The match has also become a great meeting place for our veterans; they come to support the teams and support each other."- Debbie Locke
What was only supposed to be a one-off has become a wildly successful charity event, growing in small ways every year.
"Initially, we thought it was going to be a one-off, but it's become so much more," Debbie said.
"This year we have invited veteran organisations to come along to the game and set up a marquee, offering their services.
"The match has also become a great meeting place for our veterans; they come to support the teams and support each other."
The day after the game, February 27, the Army Band will be playing a concert at C.ex Coffs Harbour from 11am to 1pm, doors open 10:30am, tickets are $15 per person.
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