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Tuesday, October 16 2018 @ 08:40 pm ACDT

Heart And Soul

General News
The 2015 season in Australia, and many other countries, is done – apart from those resilient and fanatical “Top-Enders” in Darwin where matches will be played, rain, hail, shine or monsoon, until March. Competitions in the Middle East and France keep the flame flickering also. Many now will sit back and reflect on the exploits of their favourite players, teams, matches or subjects other than footy. Discussions may turn to club recruiting, drafting, trading, coaching or a range of other “team” related topics.

But behind the scenes at all levels of the game, volunteers and diehards that keep those players on the field get a small window where other things in life – like resting and eating – can return to a more “normal” state. Clubs and players might succeed on the battle fields of football grounds, but they cannot, simply cannot, succeed without the tireless and generous efforts of their crews behind the scenes.

Take the mythical “Bandicoots” team. A fabricated name for the story, but inhabited by a cast of people that are as real as the sweat and talent on field.

You can start with Brent. The coach of more than one team and club president. Match day comes as a bit of a relief to him. It is two hours on the sidelines barking instructions to his teams, and a welcome distraction from driving around neighbouring suburbs searching for errant players, continually fiddling with whiteboards (or the more upmarket apps on iPads) placing and replacing players. It is two hours where the phone isn’t necessarily in his hand. It is also the “free time” which doesn’t involve meetings with local administrators, tribunals, meeting local businesses to raise funds or recruit interest in the club. Somewhere in and around all of this he grabs a bite to eat, gets a little sleep and might even see the family – although, in fairness, the whole family is involved at the club anyway.

Mary has a son who plays and looks forward to sitting quietly each match and watching him. No such luck. Her week is spent washing jumpers, answering club correspondence, sending out updates with regards to rules, draws, upcoming events, registrations or any one of the hundreds of emails, letters or other messages arriving. Match day and she is busy in the change rooms distributing jumpers, shorts and socks. If underwear were club issue she would have that also. Pre-match she is preparing paperwork, then the match starts and she becomes any role from extra trainer to interchange marshal, scorer, assistant medico and more. For a few fleeing minutes she may see her son, then the chaos returns.

James gallops yon and hither over the countryside in any bus he can get a hold of. Legally! He drives miles and miles every match day finding kids. Many are at home but most are scattered across communities and suburbs. His logic is flawed but simple and generous. Without the kids there is no team, so drive he must. This happens every match day for all grades across the weekend and Friday nights. The mileage on his vehicles is only matched by the mileage in his legs from hot footing it up and down driveways, streets and cul de sacs chasing that most vital team component – players. Come match time, the bus parked securely (and usually legally) behind the clubrooms, he then dons any available role. Water boy, steward, assistant coach, coach…whatever needs doing.

Lorissa and Janet are at training during the week. Not on the field, but in the canteen making sure there are enough food and drinks for this weekend’s home fixture. If not, off they go to chase whatever else they need. When it isn’t a home fixture they are on the sidelines helping in all capacities – half time oranges (or three quarter time depending on needs). Washing jumpers, transporting kids, cleaning kitchens, it is all part of the machine that is footy.

Davo runs chook raffles, or any other birds, throughout the week in local pubs, RSL clubs or anywhere else he can secure community support. When not doing that he is off chatting to locals that might be able to donate this or fund that or just let the club show their poster in their windows. However he can get the community behind the club, Davo will. It in noting unusual to see him driving around town with a trailer full of aluminium cans behind him. Every cent counts when you are trying to keep a footy team on the field.

Bill and Ben (not the Flowerpot Men) arrive each match day armed with sausages, aprons, cooking implements and a box full of numbers for the scoreboard. Coaches from a bygone day at the club, now they spend their time as permanent barbecue operators and scoreboard attendants. They just love their club, and community, and want to be there every chance they get. It’s not like the masses wouldn’t eat without them, but their contribution makes the crowds very, very happy, appreciative and less hungry.

Kristie hardly ever gets to a game, much less a training session. In fact, she rarely leaves the comfort and comparative safety of the home office. Her role is the accounts and balancing the club books. She also spends her time looking up opportunities for grants and other funding streams to bee footy jumpers on the player’s backs, equipment up to speed in the shed, lighting bills paid which makes evening training possible and a host of other financial issues. Without her the club might just shrivel and die.

Then there is Sophie the trainer. After years of being close to liniment and Dencorub she has no real sense of smell anymore. Yet she never misses the moments when she has to either attend to a wound, real or imagined, to keep a player safe. The amount of mythical player injuries uses an enormous amount on very un-mythical tape and bandages. Still, she soldiers on to keep the players in one piece, or at the very least a minimum amount of pieces.

The is a small army of people behind the scenes of every club. The success is often measured in terms of win/loss ratios and the performances of the players. But the fact is, without the heart and soul of the club – the volunteers behind the scenes – none of those games would be won. They might not even be played. A club is a club by virtue of the collective assets which define it – and the greatest asset of all is its people.

The bandicoots get an off season now to recuperate and plan for next year’s assaults. Maybe the team will win matches, maybe not. But a team full of volunteers like those at the bandicoots have already won, regardless of the scoreboard.

And that is the measure of a successful club.

Go, Bandicoots..!!


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