- To access all of your local news, visit newcastleherald.com.au directly. Our home page is updated with the latest headlines from across the region and the nation.
- You can even stay up to date by clicking here and signing up for free to our newsletters.
- If you value local journalism, support us by subscribing here
- To download the Newcastle Herald app, click here
A 19-year-old Sudanese refugee has become a goal-scoring, match-winning hero to hundreds of youngsters on the Central Coast.
Alou Kuol has helped lift the Central Coast Mariners and their fans out of a demoralising slump, in which the team received the wooden spoon in four of the past five seasons.
The Mariners - who play Adelaide United on Friday night - now find themselves on top of the league.
A large part of this success is down to Kuol's five goals and attacking prowess.
He scored the winner in a 1-0 win over the Newcastle Jets in the opening game of the season.
In the 3-2 win over Western United earlier this month, Kuol scored twice to secure a come-from-behind victory for the Mariners.
The winning goal was a diving header that sent waves of shock and joy through the crowd.
Kuol and his family left Sudan when he was three because the country was gripped by civil war.
"There was a lot of war. It was war-torn Sudan back then throughout the 2000s until about 2005, so my family left and moved to Egypt to find a better place," Kuol said.
"We stayed there, me and about three other families in a three-bedroom place - about 15 to 20 of us.
"It was very difficult at the time. Dad struggled with work and Mum struggled also. Eventually they managed to get us out of Egypt and moved to Australia and life has been great ever since."
Of his time in what is now South Sudan, Kuol said he could remember "certain parts of it, bits and pieces and stuff from photos really, but not really too much".
"I see what my parents struggled through - they've told me stories - so I get a lot of where they come from and understand it all," he said.
"I went back in 2010 to visit family on Mum's side. A lot of Dad's side have passed away, which is sad for him but he's been through a lot."
Kuol said he felt "strong connections with South Sudan".
"We're all proud of where we come from. Everybody is trying to do the best to represent South Sudan as a whole. In general we are great people and we try to do well in everything we do," he said.
Before joining the Mariners, Kuol played his football in Shepparton in Victoria.
"Yeah, they gave a lot of the African youth a chance back there in Shepparton - released a lot of pressure off parents," he said.
He added that it was great for them to see "where I have come from to where I am now".
"I'm also very grateful for them and what they've done for me."
Mariners fan Paul Vlandis, 13, said Kuol was "the saviour of the Central Coast".
"He brings fans into the stands and inspires young kids because he's still young himself," Paul said.
Mariners fan Yianni Vlandis,10, said Kuol was "a goal-scoring machine and a game-winner".
Theo Vlandis, who has followed the Mariners through thick and thin, said: "For me, he's a breath of fresh air".
"He's definitely given the team a boost of confidence. His talent and goals have made a massive difference and turned the team around. It is a team effort, but we needed a striker that could score goals," he said.
Mariners fan Troy Ferguson said Kuol had the potential to make a "lifelong impact on young impressionable kids on the Central Coast".
"They have a hero who is a proud young black man, who arrived in this country as a refugee," Mr Ferguson said.
He said Kuol had the potential to "shape the beliefs and values" of youngsters.
"This goes way beyond what he does on the pitch," he said.
Mr Ferguson said the kids "wouldn't realise it yet because they probably just see him as a young footballer who is full of fun and positivity".
IN THE NEWS: