Hero Stories

Aussie Rules Footy: More than just a sport

University High School-Victoria University Amateur Football Club (UHS VU) is more than just a footy club; foremost it’s a community.

For Tony Boyce, the current club Treasurer, the club has been a second home since he arrived in Melbourne in 1978. After years of playing, Tony has moved from on the field to behind the scenes to ensure the club can continue to provide a sense of community and competition for its members.

“The driving force for me to stay on was that while I played there were people behind the scenes making it possible to play, and now I’m behind the scenes helping create a supportive environment where lifelong friends are made,” says Boyce.

Based out of Brens Oval, Parkville, UHS VU has excellent facilities, thanks to their support from City of Melbourne. But the facilities are not what attracts players from new and emerging communities. Rather it’s the connections fostered by the club.

In 2006 UHS VU developed an affiliation with Flemington Junior Football Club, which has junior teams for U10s to U16s. With no U18 team, many players simply stopped playing when they got “too old”.

Motivated by the need to give these kids an opportunity to continue their sporting careers, and recruit future senior players for the club, the UHS Flemington U18s team was formed with the support from the City of Melbourne.

“The driving force behind this was to grab those kids and see if we could get them to play in the U18s and get them to come into our senior club,” says Boyce.

Additionally, UHS VU offers structure and an opportunity to play sport, make friends and somewhere to go three times a week for kids from new and emerging communities. 

Many of the juniors are originally from other nations like Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, Sundan and East Timor; and AFL is a window to Australian culture and identity.

At the beginning of the 2014 season, the new U18 recruits arrived with a shyness and blasé attitude. But with time and the club’s commitment, players develop self-esteem, assurance and a sense of belonging.

“When they first come to the club they are not committed. They are feeling their way, and it takes them time to adjust,” says Boyce. “Initially they are generally quite silent, as they feel more comfortable they vocalize their ideas more, and leadership develops from that.”

To ensure a smooth transition a senior player is assigned to a junior to check in on how they’re going throughout the season. From support at training, and sometimes game-day, the mentoring system is designed to help new and young players assimilate into the club.

While the UHS VU provides support and coaching, Sports Without Borders (SWB) provides scholarships. For the past three years SWB has been offering the financial scholarships for UHS VU junior’s players from new and emerging communities.

“SWB is an active partner that aids the transition of youth to men in a supported sporting environment,” says Boyce.

The City of Melbourne also supports UHS VU as they recognize AFL is a pathway and gets these boys engaged in a community. Since UHS VU’s affiliation with Flemington FC, half a dozen juniors have continued on to play in the senior sides, providing depth to the club.

It is clubs like UHS VU, and committed members like Tony Boyce that help create a community where sport is the common language- no matter your age or background.

Photos available on the Sports Without Borders Flickr album and Facebook page. Photos by Cesur Sanli.