home Aussie Rules, Community Sport The Many Hats of a Community Football Club Member

The Many Hats of a Community Football Club Member

In her Siren debut, Kel Rowe documents the many roles she has at her community footy club, highlighting the importance of passionate volunteers to clubs.

Kel Rowe (middle) has found a home at her community footy club. Image: Supplied
Kel Rowe (middle) has found a home at her community footy club. Image: Supplied

There are two things you should know about me. One: I love footy, and two: I don’t do things by halves. 

Together, in recent years, these two things have comprehensively re-shaped my life.

In 2019, after an extended period away from team sport, I reconnected with footy. I’d moved to a new city following some time overseas, and while I was enjoying life in Melbourne, I felt like there was something missing. A chance conversation with a mate over the roar of an AFLW game led me to a balmy Tuesday night training session at the local footy club. 

And that was it. I was hooked.

Part one of my footy story is defined by a season in the backline. I found 30 new friends, and for 16 rounds we revelled in the strength, skill, and potential of our own bodies. We found joy in the tackles, spoils, hangers, and goals. The euphoria of owning our local oval for 80 minutes of footy. I bloody loved it.

Kel might have started in the backline, but now finds herself regularly lining up in the ruck. Image: Supplied
Kel might have started in the backline, but now finds herself regularly lining up in the ruck. Image: Supplied

Community sport exists off the back of countless hours of volunteering. People who give their time freely for the good of the club and the local community. It’s no great secret that local footy clubs are often the heart of their communities, from AusKick to Senior Football, people are drawn together by the sport they love. 

I was all in. After a single season. I put my hand up to be on the club committee and additionally, to manage the club’s social media. Footy had already given me so much, so when any opportunity presented it was a no-brainer. I was keen to get involved. This is where part two of my footy story begins.

After the great false start that was last year, we were able to come together for the 2021 season. By this time—and probably to fill the void of a year without footy—I am now a player, a leader, a committee member, a social media manager, and a volunteer league reporter. I happily wear these hats and do it all for the love of the game, my team, and my club. But as you might imagine, my average week gets pretty busy…

The Player

Twice a week, I walk up the street with a spring in my step, towards the bright glow of the oval lights. At a few blocks’ distance, they shine like beacons—a familiar and welcoming sight that draws us all in like moths to a flame. Training nights are my favourite. 

I can’t put into words just how joyous it is to run around with a footy and 30 of my best mates. Absolutely a tonic for the soul. It is the best way to start my week and I look forward to catching up with the girls, even though it’s only been two days since I saw them last.

Community footy teams become family. Image: Supplied
Community footy teams become family. Image: Supplied

If we’ve had a big win, we ride the highs and relive the great moments of the game, the energy is nearly always contagious. If we’ve suffered a loss, the mood can be equally catching—we feel it as a team. The first session of the week is important for morale, it will always set the tone, so it’s crucial to make sure it’s a good one.

This year has seen some great changes at our club, the boys have a new coach, and we now share the oval 50/50 on training nights. We have a standing invite to join their warmup, and the boys always get around anyone who jumps in. I’ve been carrying a hand injury since a pre-season practice match, so for now I’ve reluctantly benched myself from these, wary of their heavy-fisted handballs.

On Thursdays, the club is always buzzing—game day is only a few sleeps away—skills are good, talk is up, and everyone is raring to go. After the session is done, we’ll drag ourselves in from the cold and sit down for a club dinner, getting around each other as all three senior teams are announced for the weekend ahead. 

The vibe in the rooms also feels different this year, it’s been great to build on our connection with the other teams and share in the highs and lows of footy as one club. To feel a sense of ownership and pride in that space, and most importantly, a sense of validity. The women’s team is a relatively new addition to the club’s team roster—only three seasons old—so it’s encouraging to feel so at home already.

That sense of comfort means that our home games are particularly fun. We’ll rock up to the club, proudly dressed in our gameday polos and black jeans, standard uniform. We’ll watch the boys take it to their opposition as we chat to familiar faces and lean into the pre-game nerves. 

Often our matches draw a solid crowd of friends, family, players, and even old clubbies who follow our season with enthusiasm—they all cheer us on furiously from the boundary.

There is a magnificent thrill in bursting out of our makeshift race to the roar of the crowd. Standing tall, moving seamlessly through the warm-up as our captain runs off to take the toss. Kick-to-kick, handballs, bumping—all whilst keeping the chat up, channelling the energy into a peak. Our opposition will be down the other end of the oval doing the same, but we’ll nearly always remain oblivious. It’s our turf. Our game. Nothing compares to running out in front of a home crowd.

The Leader

After just a year on the team, I was surprised and chuffed to be voted into our leadership group. It’s a really special thing to be recognised as a leader by your peers. We have a group of five—a Captain, two Vice Captains and two Emerging Leaders (hi there, that’s me!). Each of us brings something different, but all approach the role with a deep sense of care and responsibility. 

Off field leadership is just as important as that presence on the field in community footy. Image: Supplied
Off field leadership is just as important as that presence on the field. Image: Supplied

We help to drive enthusiasm and engagement at training, lift each other up on game day, and make sure that everyone is along for the ride. In a team of 30, you can’t make everyone happy—but we try to make sure that everyone feels heard.

During preseason, we worked together with the team to develop a set of values, something to guide us as leaders and keep the team accountable. It was a great process to go through, and although the playing group is a vast spectrum of individuals, I like to think it summed us up into three words—fun, fair and fierce.

On a personal level, this role drives me the most. At the end of the day, I want to make sure our team has everything we need to play footy and have fun doing it. 

The Committee Member

After the excitement of my first year of footy, I decided to go all in and join the club committee. Originally it was just on the premise that I would help run the social media, but I very quickly came to the realisation that I’d be called upon to help with anything. Many hands make light work!

The year off gave me a bit of time to get my head around the commitment, and now, halfway through a full season of footy, I feel like I’ve got a handle on the demands of being a community sport volunteer. Between the social function calendar, big footy weekends at home, and any other committee business that might arise—spoiler alert—there is always work to be done. 

There's more to community footy than what happens on the field. Image: Supplied
There’s more to community footy than what happens on the field. Image: Supplied

This season, we have five women from the team on the committee, and the value that we bring is huge. Having a hand in decision making, giving visibility to our team, and keeping everyone accountable. It’s game changing. It helps to ensure that our playing group CAN play footy and have fun doing it. And in return, we are always happy to roll up our sleeves and muck-in, show up and support the social events, and are particularly well-versed in a Bunnings sausage sizzle fundraiser. 

The Social Media Manager

Alongside general committee duties, I also look after social media for the club. I’ve been a graphic designer for over a decade and when the role came up, I felt my communications background might be a handy resource. A little bit of professionalism can go a long way.

It can get a bit tricky working this role around my 9-5 job, and often this will see me juggling it on the fly at odd hours of the night, or on my morning commute. It is a wide-ranging outlet, one that provides club community news and updates, celebrates the wins, and brings us all together for some ridiculously fun social nights (ever played Bogan Bingo?). 

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An average week will see me compile weekly coaching comments and results of the weekend’s matches for our followers to read. I’ll create banner graphics and keep the online events calendar up to date, making sure to cross-promote the Women’s and Men’s matches. I’ll chase up a fellow Committee member for our Thursday night meal options and publish the menu on our pages. I’ll post a shout out to the club sponsor of the week, encouraging our community to get around them if they can.

All of this might seem straightforward, but it presents a fantastic opportunity to build a cohesive brand for our club. It mirrors the one-club culture that we are building towards and provides a platform to positively change the language that we use when talking sport. Sport is for everyone, and we are fortunate to have a supportive online community, one that respects the importance of inclusion and diversity.

The Volunteer League Reporter

This season I’ve also been writing for my league, a new venture that sees me reporting on the weekly rounds of my own competition. Most Saturdays, you’ll find me headed out to a footy oval two suburbs over to watch some of my rival teams hit it out in the brisk morning air. Aside from an easy way to gain some sports writing experience—and a great strategy to handle the pre-game nerves—the gig gives me another opportunity to give back to a community that has gifted me so much. 

Round after round across the league, so many women put in the effort—we train, we run, we plan our lives around footy—just so that we can play 80 mins of the sport we love. That investment alone deserves care, respect and celebration, and that’s what I try to deliver each week in my writing. 

When she's not playing, Kel is at other community games preparing match reports. Image: Supplied
When she’s not playing, Kel is at other games preparing match reports. Image: Supplied

From the opening siren, I’ll be riding the boundary—capturing the atmosphere, the weather conditions, the action—all in scribbled shorthand notes, as my competition goes head-to-head. At the breaks, I’ll drift over to the quarter-time huddle and try to get a sense of each team as they play out their match. “This is our game”, “Don’t drop your heads”, “Keep the pressure up”. For the most part, I try to be invisible and unobtrusive, although I’m fast losing my anonymity as we move through the season.

Getting to know my opposition through this new role has had a huge impact on my own football game too. No longer do I line up against a faceless opposition each week, I have come to know and celebrate the women in my league—I can put names to faces. Sometimes this leads to a quick diffusion of a tense moment in play, but mostly it means good on-field banter and collegiate, post-match chats over a beer or two. The women’s footy community is vast and welcoming, and anything cheeky that happens on-field is often quickly laughed off once that final siren sounds.

Someone recently asked me how life was going—other than work and footy, of course. After half a beat of staring at them blankly searching my brain for a reply, I smiled in response. Footy is life for me right now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Footy has given me focus and confidence, and the space and agency to be a powerful, strong woman. It’s gifted me role models on and off the field, peers to aspire to, and the outrageous notion that I can and should dream big.

But most importantly, it’s brought me into a community of like-minded people—my footy family—who simply give their all for the love of the game. 

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