The 2004 and 2005 seasons were a period of transition and change at the Falcons. With the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games on the horizon, grounds and sporting precincts in the Darebin area were being redeveloped. This meant some clubs would be forced to relocate.
Due to its adjacent ovals, Darebin Council earmarked McDonell Park as the new home of a junior boys football club. So after fourteen years of calling McDonell Park home, the Falcons were forced to find a new nest.
“We [got] contacted by council, and they said, ‘Look, this is what’s happening… go around and have a look and see what ground you want and we’ll allocate that to you’. So that’s how we ended up at AH Capp,” then club president Sal Rees explained. “And it was really quite difficult for us, because… we were offered some brilliant grounds, footy grounds, but we needed a soccer field as well. So that really limited what we could have.”
What sounded straightforward in theory—find a new home and move in—proved to be the opposite in practice. News of the move caused some angst amongst club members and the identification of AH Capp and Robinson Reserves as the Falcons new home was met with resistance from local residents.
“They were concerned that there’d be more cars. Initially, we wanted the clubrooms built between the two grounds and the residents wouldn’t have that. Because we thought, we could have club rooms where you could look out one window and you got footy, look out the other you got soccer. And then they ended up—they didn’t demolish the original rooms that are there now, they left the ground floor and redeveloped that and then built up,” Sal explained.
Claire Flynn, who joined the soccer team around 2000, recalls some division within the club about the move. “People didn’t want to move. And people felt really pushed by the government and the council… and not having power as the women’s only club. Everyone loved Fairfield because they’d all lived locally… and besides, just that thing, no one wants to move from their home.”
The club committee, including Sal Rees, Beth Eveleigh, Nicole Graves, Rachel Brick, Ann Rulton, Linda Musicka and Trish Riddell embarked on a long process of working with council and meeting with local residents. The reward at the end would be a brand new purpose-built female friendly facility to be completed in time for the 2005 winter season. Arguably, the Falcons new home was the first ever female friendly facility.
Janice Lane, the former Leisure Services Manager at Darebin Council explained that at the time the council had a sports policy that not only encouraged women’s sport but supported the allocation of facilities for women’s only sporting clubs, “which hadn’t been done before”. Janice recalled that helping the Falcons to move to AH Capp created an opportunity for the council to live that policy. “So what this brought about was an opportunity for council to actually be a leader and to provide a space for women’s sport which would mean different changing facilities, a different social setting in the club so that the club could flourish and foster.”
While government funding of female-friendly sporting facilities is commonplace now, in the early 2000s it was a different story. Darebin Council received pushback from other sports clubs in the area.
“We received quite a hostile response from the male-dominated sporting clubs in the community,” Janice said. “Women were actually going to have a new pavilion built for them that had been budgeted for. This was happening in the early 2000s. So, if people remember, this is pre any royal commission into family violence. This is pre any language around gender equity as part of the public discourse. It would’ve been easy for the council to buckle and say ‘No, we’re not going to do it.’. But they didn’t. They held the line and they continued to prosecute a case that women’s sport deserves a place in our community.”
Despite the promise of a fresh start, building delays meant that the new facility wasn’t ready in time for the 2005 Aussie rules and soccer seasons. But the club had already vacated McDonell Park, so they needed to find a temporary training base and rearrange fixtures until the facility was available. It was at this time that a fresh-faced 16-year-old from Bright joined the club. Daisy Pearce recalls her humble beginnings as a Darebin player. “…at the time I got there, Darebin was homeless, for want of a better word… we were just training at a temporary makeshift ground that we’d been allowed to play at. And I remember the day I went to training, I got picked that night to play on the weekend and the team selection got read out [and] we’re all standing around in the carpark.”
With the club not having possession of the CR Smithwick Pavilion until midway through the 2005 season, the Falcons were faced with the prospect of hosting matches at AH Capp Reserve without functioning changerooms. In true Darebin style though, the club made the best of a bad situation and the circumstances sowed the seeds of connectedness that would foster success through the coming years.
First year coach Peta Searle recalls “…the facilities weren’t ready and we were still playing games there and we were still training there. So, we’d get the padding off the goalposts and all be lying around on them after the game and socialising and chatting.
“It’s sometimes through those situations that you actually galvanise and I really think that that played an important part of bringing the connect between the Parkside girls and the new girls and the Darebin girls and just gave us an opportunity to start fresh as the Darebin Falcons and what we wanted to be and what we wanted to stand for.”
It’s a similar sentiment shared by Nicole Graves. “There was always a little bit of [sadness] because we loved obviously McDonell Park, yeah, we’d been there a long time and we had a lot of history there and plenty of stories but like anything the stories go with you and you create new stories.”
After countless meetings, months of negotiations and delays, the CR Smithwick Pavilion at AH Capp Reserve was officially opened on Wednesday 6 July 2005 by Councillor Diana Asmar, then Mayor of Darebin Council.
The Falcons finally had a place to call their own and the significance wasn’t lost on the players of that era. “…getting our own clubrooms, as a women’s only sports club, was a really big, big thing. To be promised and to get it. We thought we were fantastic having these beautiful new facilities. You’d probably look now and go, it’s probably a bit outdated, could use some sprucing up. But, at the time it was massive,” Louise Potter recalled.
“It was like winning the lotto basically for the women’s league and for our club to get our stand alone facility,” Kerryn Stephens said.