No Dickheads: A History of Melbourne AFL Masters
By Steve Baker
It is autumn in 2009 and the Melbourne “Superules” Football Club is playing at North Frankston – the notorious Pines area. The country is in the grip of a horrific drought with consecutive seasons bereft of vital rains. Cities are hurting and regional areas are being brought to their knees, desperate for something to fall from the sky that will allow them to recommence their livelihoods. Despite this, the Frankston Districts team have had the good sense and forward-thinking vision to lay drought-proof turf to their ground.
As we arrive for the game, the grass is a pale yellow-ish/white. To the naked eye it looks dead. Stepping onto it though, is like walking on to the turf of the MCG; soft underfoot yet reliable. As the away team it welcomes us, yet reminds us that only our opponents are familiar with what it has in store; its cambers, its hidden dangers, its sweet spots. It demands and receives our respect.
It’s now an hour later; the second quarter of the match. We are trailing Frankston, but acquitting ourselves well. It is a bright, sunny day. The wind, not gale-force, but not insignificant either is coming from the south-east favouring the far side of the ground. Frankston move the ball out of their somewhat congested backline and a scrubbing kick makes its way to the centre of the ground. One of our defenders, Stuart McLay – immensely popular and someone who was as instrumental as anyone else in making newcomers feel welcome at the club– sets himself to pounce on the loose ball.
Stu’s a Hawthorn fan and at first-glance looks a little like hard-nosed Hawthorn skipper Luke Hodge. Like Hodge, Stu has eyes only for the ball – as does his Frankston counterpart who’s running directly towards him but similarly focused only on the ball. As Sherrin’s are often want to do, the ball takes an awkward bounce, causing both players to change direction suddenly. What appeared to be a likely, good old-fashioned body-on-body collision has now disintegrated into a classic loose-ball get, as the pill randomly changes direction. Both players fall to the ground, sliding towards the loose ball. As their boots make contact with each other while contesting for the ball, there’s a dull thud, which instantaneously becomes a sickening, ‘cracking’, snapping sound. The unmistakable and horrific sound of a lower leg fracture. There are screams of pain. Play stops; those around the ball know exactly what has happened. One player turns, walks away and tries not to vomit. Those bold enough to look are confronted by the sight of Stu’s lower leg at a horrible, unnatural angle. His screams, understandably, distract, albeit briefly, from the clear tib-fib snap he’s incurred.
Players from both sides immediately stop in their tracks. Everyone knows what’s happened.
The trainers from both teams – unprompted – immediately rush to the scene. Everyone’s hoping that the injury isn’t as bad as it looks, but the reality is that Stu’s screams and the aftermath of the collision all point to a near worst-case scenario.
As Stu is prepped for transfer to Frankston Hospital, players from both sides congregate. Opponents only moments ago, hostilities are put aside as the well-being of teammate (for some), adversary (for others) takes priority. Help of all kinds is proffered from players of both sides. Amidst the treatment of Stu, everyone realises that the game has to be abandoned and there’s no argument. For a suburb with such an anti-social and unforgivingly tough reputation, the Frankston players and officials are remarkably sympathetic and supportive. There is a spirit and camaraderie that shines through in this moment that uniquely encapsulates over 35s football and why we do what we do.
Those who have never played Masters footy would be well within their rights to laugh at the suggestion that playing football is on a par with dedicating one’s life to the service of faith. But there’s an undeniable case to be made that people who play Over 35s football would be able to identify in a number of ways with this calling. It’s one of the few explanations we can come up with to rationalise why our faithful hump it around rain-sodden ovals in the dead of winter when we’ve earned the right to take it easy on a Wednesday night and on every other weekend. It’s why, even with kids of our own now and the responsibilities that come with raising a family and providing for them, that we prioritise time for ourselves –still possessing the same child-like enthusiasm for getting a kick as we had at our kids’ ages.
Whatever the reasons, the inexplicable pull that calls us and our families to the footy field year-in, year-out, is powerful. From former Australian rules legends like Peter Bedford and other elite-level stars from across Australia, to people who’ve arrived at Melbourne Masters from the rugby strongholds of Sydney and Brisbane, or from places as distant to Albert Park as Europe, Canada and the United States and who’ve never touched a Sherrin in their life.
Melbourne AFL Masters is an eclectic, fun-loving club, with a passion for success. Flair, personality and character thrive at the Lions, and are the cornerstone of what makes our club great. This is what drives us to ensure that all are made welcome regardless of skill or ability.
Everything starts sometime.
It is 1985. The Cain Government controls Victoria. In Canberra, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating are dragging Australia’s industrial relations and financial systems kicking and screaming into a modern era. Words like competition, de-regulation productivity and Banana Republic are firmly part of the national vernacular.
Brian Naylor is the undisputed king of Melbourne’s TV newsreaders. Wheels magazine is about to announce the Mitsubishi Magna as its time-honoured Car of the Year and Essendon are the reigning VFL premiers. A young, brash, sexy singer from New York – calling herself Madonna – was about to dominate the charts with songs like Borderline and Like A Virgin. The Uncanny X-Men were the darlings of 3XY’s Top 40 Countdown and David Bowie and Mick Jagger – for reasons that escape all understanding – decided it was a good idea to cover Dancing in the Street and be filmed in outfits that should be relegated to the floor of a deep and unforgiving ocean.
The South Melbourne football club, only three years earlier had been unceremoniously yanked from their Albert Park Lake home and transplanted in the Harbour city, and the gloriously iconic Red Rattler trains still clanged their way from Flinders St to St Kilda and back every 15 minutes or so.
And a few blokes decided to start an Over 35s football club.
Under the banner of Collegians Superules Football Club, the club was a founding member of the Victorian Metropolitan division of what is now the AFL Masters, Victorian Metropolitan League. Almost a decade before the redevelopment of Albert Park to accommodate the annual Formula 1 circus took place, Harry Trott Oval – located much further to the north of the park than it is now – was home to the fledgling club.
There’s nothing easy about life at a grass-roots sporting club – or any grass-roots organisation for that matter. You have to care; you have to have a passion for it. Times at Collegians were by any measure, tough for the club. Player shortages – as they can be at any club – had a severe impact; heavy losses were not uncommon and training was often cancelled due to a lack of numbers. But little did these blokes, led by Coach and defacto President Ted Carroll with help from people like Tom Doran, know that they were on to something. Despite the defeats and the day-to-day challenges, a core of dedicated people began to gravitate to the club. This core developed a culture that prevails at the club today: no matter the skill level, no matter your endurance levels, no matter the financial resources, you’re welcome.
It took time – plenty of time – but the club eventually grew. As the notion of a Superules (over 35s) competition gained popularity, more and more people slowly found their way to Harry Trott. From struggling to field a side, the club grew large enough to field a number of teams. The associated responsibilities and professionalism required, eventually led to the establishment of a committee, which embraced emerging technology to identify and attract new players.
Amongst the new players at one stage emerged a group known as ‘the jockeys’. Having spent most of their adult lives controlling 500 to 600 kilos of horseflesh for a living, playing footy was a walk in the park by comparison. The unique attitude and the undeniable levity that this clique and their ilk brought to the club, that they brought to the training track and that they brought to the playing field, while simultaneously playing as hard as they played off it, had a significantly positive impact on the growth of the club and again, the culture that defined it.
As is the way of most sports clubs, the off-field bonds strengthened too. Annual footy trips to Surfers Paradise became an integral part of the club’s season; the Annual Victorian Bus and Coach Driver’s Conference on the Gold Coast further developed a sense of community at the club, with names like Ken Sanders, Jimmy Kafritsas, Tony Stewart and others – not to mention Kevin Radford’s legendary breakfasts --quickly becoming part of the club’s folklore over the better part of a decade or so.
As the club grew, so too did the calibre of players. While AFL Hall of Fame-er – and South Melbourne icon Peter Bedford – had long been a part of the club, names like James Durnan, Simon Meehan, Carl Dilena and even star Carlton midfielder Wayne Johnston for a brief time, helped the club improve its on-field performances.
With a strong, capable and ever growing playing group, the club tasted success in the early part of the new millennium. After losing the 2003 Division 2 Grand Final, Collegians went one better the following season to record the club’s first ever premiership in 2004. After years of beltings, inconsistent player availability and the usual week-to-week struggles, the club found itself in new territory. It was time to match it with the big boys. Welcome to Division one.
Belonging to something; belonging somewhere.
The Victorian Masters league was expanding, now comprising three divisions and a Masters section for those amongst the fraternity with more miles on the clock. Despite striking a partnership with South Yarra to establish its Masters team, the gap in class was too big and within a short space of time the club once again found itself on the wrong of some horrible defeats. Collegians soon found itself back in Division two but still as hungry as ever for success.
All things, it is said, must pass. And Collegians wasn’t immune to this age-old maxim. In the history of every club, no matter what sport or at what level, there is a moment when things change forever.
As the first decade of the new millennium progressed, the club experienced a number of significant and far-reaching changes; the ramifications of which, it is argued, still reverberate to this day.
Between the joy of its inaugural flag in 2004 with Ted Carroll at the helm, the all-conquering, undefeated Legends in 2011 and a Supers premiership in 2012 engineered by Steve Ralph, a near revolutionary set of changes took place. After a two-decade relationship with Collegians and Harry Trott Oval, the club changed its name – officially becoming Melbourne Superules. A new Ken Sanders and Kane Davies-designed guernsey was launched that retained the purple and gold colours of Collegians but included the addition of navy-blue and later, a Lion monogram. The club also changed its home ground and now called the neighbouring Ross Gregory Oval home. In the midst of this change, Melbourne Superules – having, by mutual agreement disbanded its relationship with South Yarra – attracted an unprecedented number of players to the club, fielding highly competitive teams across all three grades: Supers Masters and Legends – and record healthy operating profits.
The price of this progress at Collegians/Melbourne was high. Relationships within the club became strained, with many of the founding fathers, as well as a host of current and ex-players becoming estranged from the club. To this day, there are a number of those without whom it’s arguable that the club would exist, who remain absent from Ross Gregory Oval. Such is the way of these things. Time, it is hoped, heals all wounds, and doors always remain open for those who choose to cross that threshold.
At the heart of this fundamental series of changes, was a new committee, including Ken Sanders, Rob Zanotto and Brett Adamson. The establishment of this new regime was not without animosity but ultimately became responsible for keeping the club from coming apart at the seams during this tumultuous time in the clubs history. They appointed Steve Ralph as Club Coach and in 2009, handed over the reins to a new committee including Mark Bourke as President and treasurer Dean Waters who would guide what was now the latest incarnation of Collegians into a new era.
In 2015, the club, still located at Ross Gregory Oval, officially became known as Melbourne AFL Masters (or less formally, “Melbourne Masters Football Club”)
The journey for Melbourne AFL Masters since its inception in 1985 has been remarkable.There have been many ups, considerable downs and everything in between but at its core is a spirit and a passion for the game, a community, a place that calls you, a place that welcomes you.
We love this game, and despite the years and the inability of our bodies to do what they once did, despite the changes that go in our lives away from the field and probably despite all good sense, it calls to us. And we can’t help but come to it. Sometimes, as it did for the club’s first ever premiership side in 2004, the undefeated 2011 Legends side and the 2012 Supers premiership team, it provides a sense of joy, a sense of achievement and creates lasting bonds that are rarely found outside of family life or in the professional world. Sometimes, like it did for Stuart McLay and others, it asks of us a significant and exacting price. But as we stand arm in arm and the first “Oh” of Lionland rings out across a mud strewn changing room, our cup has runneth over.
The tireless work of people behind this club over its 30 year history– from its beginnings as Collegians Football Club and later Melbourne Superules, to its current incarnation as Melbourne AFL Masters - have created something that has called and welcomed so many. This club has provided us with the opportunity to experience a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of achievement, a sense of belonging to something; belonging somewhere.
It provides meaning.
AFL Women's Masters Comes To Lionland in 2018
Melbourne Masters footy club is excited to announce the introduction of an over 30’s Womens side.
As a founding member of the Men’s league, we are proud and honoured to be a part of the first Vic Metro, Womens AFL Masters league. Our side will be one of four teams participating in this inaugural completion alongside Werribee, Waverley and Coburg. In the spirit of our club culture and ethos of inclusion, the girls will be training alongside the boys and no doubt giving us all a run for our money.
Welcome ladies, we look forward to your contributions to the club and the Jumper. Go Lions!