With the long-awaited start to the local AFL season less than a month away, Maitland Saints have been dealt a body blow with their season's gear stolen and clubhouse trashed.
The Maitland Mercury reports the incident occurred on Sunday night - ironically just hours after volunteers had spent much of the day unpacking it all in readiness for the delayed start to the season.
"I can only assumed someone saw us," club treasurer Fiona Grimmer said.
Not only did the thieves take the club's merchandise - playing uniforms including shirts, socks and shorts, as well as polo shirts, hoodies and general apparel - they also poured over the floor all the sanitising products the club had purchased to make themselves COVID-19 compliant.
"It seems like kids to me," she said. "Aside from all that there was also graffiti on the walls - really crude language, the sort of stuff you'd expect from kids.
"We've had the police around and they had the forensic guys there, so hopefully that will lead to something.
"Police said there were a couple of other incidents nearby as well."
The thieves had managed to force up the protective metal safety bars on the canteen to gain entry.
Ms Grimmer estimated that the sanitising products - hand wipes and sprays, hospital grade detergents, sanitisers and so on - much of which was in 5 litre containers, was worth $500 while the playing gear and apparel would have been "two-and-a-half to three thousand dollars".
"That was the purchase price for us, so it would have been worth significantly more than that in sales," she said.
"The problem now is that we won't be able to get the uniforms replaced in time for the season. Our season starts on July 18 and it usually takes about eight weeks for the to arrive, but the season is now less than a month away.
"On top of that with the season reduced we've had to drop the cost of registration across the board, so this will hit us hard financially.
"It's especially hard because a lot of other sports have cancelled their seasons, but we've worked hard to try to get our players out on the field again this season."
The junior and senior club have about 350 members across all ages and grades.
Junior secretary Rebecca Kane said the nearly cried when she heard the news.
"We were there for probably five hours during the day getting things ready, so yes, we could well have been seen," she said.
"It's devastating. We're trying so hard to get kids sport back up and running.
"We certainly wouldn't have unpacked it all and left it there if we felt the sheds were unsafe," she said.
"We thought with the bars on, it was all secure - but obviously not.
"There was even one bag of older stuff outside that they had tried to burn.
"It just make you angry."
This is not the first time the ground has been targeted, mostly by vandals.
"We've experienced it before and our volunteers are used to having to clean up rubbish and condoms and syringes ... that sort of thing," Ms Grimmer said.
"But this is mindless. It's really heartbreaking."
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