EXCERPTS FROM 'NO ORDINARY FOOTBALL CLUB'
2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the La Trobe University Football Club. No Ordinary Football Club: The History of the La Trobe University Football Club was published to celebrate the milestone. While the book was my first editing effort, I also contributed articles focusing on the women of the club.
Like many other football teams, the women of the La Trobe University Football Club have played a critical role in ensuring the ongoing success of the club since day one.
One woman’s name in particular jumps out from the list of founding committee members – Jenny Goldsmith, the club’s first treasurer. Despite the prestigious title, Jenny doesn’t recall any of her financial duties. She was the shy type unlikely to volunteer for a position – in fact, she hadn’t even planned on joining the club!
Early in the year, it came to the attention of the fresh-faced cohort that they had no clubs and societies. While the students were sunning themselves on the lawn, Jenny recalls one student standing up and proclaiming that the clubs “will be the beginning” for the university. Inspired, she allowed her friends to drag her along to the club’s inaugural meeting in Glenn College. “It was a great beginning,” she says. She is proud to be part of a club with a great story and which has produced a number of significant figures in the community.
Jenny’s fondest memories are of being a part of the unofficial cheer squad, together with Glenis Hahn, Kathy MacKenzie, Di Sisely and Jenny Wheller. The girls weren’t just tasked with cheering – they were also in charge of the halftime oranges and, armed with band-aids, antiseptic and cotton balls, the team’s first-aid.
“I just thought it was the biggest fun,” Jenny G says. In the days of the Panton Hill League, the girls could be very involved in the match. They hung out in the change rooms with the team and ran out refreshments during breaks. Jenny thoroughly enjoyed her experience of “rustic” country football.
Unlike footy newcomer Jenny G, country girls Glenis and Jenny W had a very straightforward reason for joining the brand new club. “It’s just what you do on a Saturday, go to the footy!” Glenis says. Both girls came from footy families, where the Saturday pilgrimage to the local footy grounds was a weekly tradition.
Jenny Wheller lived and breathed footy and had previously played with the girls at Yarragon. Her ambition was to become the VFL’s first female coach. Women weren’t taken seriously as players at the time – although given the chance, Jenny would have joined a women’s team “straight away”! Instead Jenny supported the team with the cheer squad, and could often be found sewing numbers to footy jumpers on a Saturday morning.
She eagerly participated the club’s special girls-vs-boys matches. For the boys, it was a social occasion rather than a serious match. For Jenny, it was an opportunity to play her beloved game. She played with guts and determination, praised by teammates as the star of the girl’s side.
When a photo of Jenny playing in the first game appeared in the local paper, it sparked a discussion on the radio. Should women should be allowed to participate in football? Jenny, of course, rang in to add her opinion!
Regardless of Jenny’s publicity, Glenis upstaged her teammate. Glenis managed to take a mark in the back half with slim chances of reaching the goals. Rex Hardman came to her rescue and picked Glenis up on the back of his Vespa! He drove her up the field and dropped her at the goal square. Glenis slotted the ball through the sticks, kicking a goal now eternalised in the club’s mythology.
Come the early 70s, a new generation of La Trobe girls arrived at the club. Goldie Tucker, a cousin of La Trobe players Jeremy and Gavin Drew, was close with her cousins’ partners and was invited to come along to games with them. She had a wonderful time being involved with La Trobe. To Goldie, younger sister to three footballer brothers, spending time at the club was “a bit like coming home”.
Goldie spent around four years helping around the club and attending social events. She was also appointed team manager. Though managing a team of university footballers sounds daunting, the reality of the role was straightforward. “My only memories of this job were filling in team sheets and selling beer tickets after the game,” she confesses.
Goldie later married Don Rowe, a best-and-fairest winner selected for La Trobe’s first Team of the Decade.
Nearly everyone at the La Trobe University Football Club will recognise the McNicholl family name. Maree and Kevin McNicholl became involved in the club when their daughter, Shelley, who was interested in physiotherapy, took on a role as a trainer in 1985. At the AGM (cleverly disguised as an end-of-year party), Kevin was volunteered for an administration role. Due to his and Maree’s commitments at the St Kilda football club, he was reluctant to agree, but by the 1988 season he found himself club President.
The club needed a culture change and Kevin was going to initiate it.
Family was of the utmost importance to the McNicholls, and Kevin and Maree wanted a similar atmosphere at the club. By introducing a colour TV and a table tennis table, and providing the hungry students with a BBQ after training, the club was transformed into a place where people genuinely wanted to be.
The McNicholl family also had a well-established tradition of a Sunday roast lunch. At first, only a few players came along, but the numbers grew and grew until lunch at the McNicholl household was a highly anticipated social event. The guest list, which had started out at two or three players, often numbered up to 14.
In the centre of it all was Maree McNicholl. Together with Margaret O’Donohue, the wife of star coach Peter O’Donohue, the women generously provided lunches and afternoon tea. This often took the form of mountains of sandwiches, which were eagerly anticipated by all the boys.
Maree affectionately referred to them as “her boys”. She followed the results of every game, kept a stern eye on rivalries within the team, and ensured the boys treated the women around them with respect. She also welcomed the partners, parents and families of the players to the club and made it a more inclusive space.
The foundation of respect and strong bonds which the McNicholls and the O’Donohues established had a powerful effect on the players. At the 21st birthday of a past player, to which the four had been invited, his father stood up to thank the four of them. The boy was beginning to veer off the rails until the positive influence of the club corrected his course. “Thank you for giving me my son back,” his father said.
Neither Maree nor Margaret had any obligation to go to such lengths for the club. Both women loved the club and its people and freely gave their time – truly, a “labour of love”.
The Family Culture
In 1999, Club President John Dumaresq decided to utilise an untapped resource: La Trobe’s many physiotherapy and medical students. Kylie Edmunds, a second-year physio student herself, was roped into helping. Kylie’s duties involved attending training sessions and coordinating the three physio students so that at least one of them was always present for each match.
At the first match Kylie attended, the weather greeted her with freezing winds and hail. Nevertheless, she battled through clumsy, icy hands and a student’s inexperience to support the players.
The student physiotherapists braving the elements at the edge of a football oval were a long way away from textbooks and lectures. Most matches only had one physio in attendance, so Kylie and her team were often single-handedly providing care for the entire squad. Though they were thrown into the deep end, Kylie believes it was important experience in their chosen profession for both her and the other students.
The trainers were also included in social events and would party alongside the players after successful matches. Kylie graduated and spent a year overseas, but upon her return to Australia she was drawn back to La Trobe and continued her work as a trainer.
Though the physio students couldn’t play, they were a valuable asset to the team. The La Trobe University Football Club had access to medical knowledge and support that other amateur teams couldn’t even imagine until years later.
La Trobe University Football Club established their women’s side in 2009, with Hannah Kennedy named the team’s first captain. A La Trobe student who played for Darebin in 2008, she describes the experience as “difficult at first, as we were all coming from other sports… Our skills were pretty rough. So the first year was more about creating a great culture within the team and having fun.”
The girls were welcomed to the club by the men’s teams, both groups assisting each other with umpiring duties, providing feedback at training and attending occasional club functions. All in all, the inclusion of the women’s team made for a wonderful atmosphere around the club. The girls bonded over the annual footy shed sleepovers and celebrated the end of the season with their infamous “Trashy Tuesday”.
Come 2011, the young, fresh group of girls had developed into a cohesive and experienced team. Despite finishing fourth on the ladder, the La Trobe team battled through the finals and defeated rivals North Ballarat by 21 points to take home the premiership. Captain Kennedy credits the victory to the team’s athleticism, improved strategy and a fantastic team attitude. “We genuinely wanted to play and win for each other,” she says.
While the La Trobe University Football Club has always welcomed their female supporters, the women are now fully-fledged players with their own team and club history.
Enter The Women's Side
Samantha Greene is a club stalwart and has contributed hugely to the club as both a player and on the committee. In 2016, she played her 100th game for the club, joining the ranks of club greats such as Brad Van Ooi and Dean Sheldrick.
Sam has been playing with La Trobe since the inaugural women’s side kicked off in 2009. However, it was when she joined the committee in 2013 that she really began to make her presence felt, along with that of the women’s side. For the majority of Sam’s years on the committee, she was the only woman there and so became the voice of the women’s team. She unabashedly made that voice heard to ensure that the women were treated as equals.
Before Sam began her “campaign,” the girls were often booted off the oval while they were training or expected to attend club functions the night before a match. Through Sam’s tireless efforts, the girls are now involved in scheduling social events and the LTUFC has moved away from the “boy’s club” attitude. But it wasn’t easy.
“I paddled up shit creek for four years,” Sam says. Asserting yourself in a room full of men often leads to negative labels. Sam ploughed through anyway, and although it wasn’t smooth sailing, she was always going “to get shit done”!
Sam was just as tough on the field as she was off. Playing as a mid-height full-forward, Sam’s aggressive play style rewarded La Trobe on the scoreboard. From 2013 to 2015, she was the league’s leading goal kicker.
Between starring in matches and on the committee, Sam also found time to enjoy herself with her teammates. The girls are an inclusive and tight-knit bunch. The traditional sleepover and party bus are the highlights of the social calendar, as well as the ball which was launched in 2013.
After four years of exhausting effort as both the women’s representative and their captain for the past two, in 2017, Sam has stepped down from the committee. Nonetheless, the future is bright for the women’s side. With the introduction of the AFLW, more and more girls are expressing an interest in playing footy.
“Girls are coming out of the woodwork,” Sam says. Last year, the women’s training sessions often had 15 or so players. This year, more than 30 players have attended trainings, with one session hosting over 40!