The round ball game: soccer and the Falcons
In 1997, the Falcons took their first step towards becoming the multi-sport club they are today by starting a soccer team. Sal Rees, then club president, explained that the decision was driven by the club members.
“A number of our players in those early years had come from playing soccer previously, years back, and they [were] actually quite good soccer players. They played [Aussie rules] football and then after a few seasons, it was like ‘Yep, had enough of this’. And they pretty much said, ‘You know, it’d be great if we could play soccer.’
Driving the development of the soccer team were women like Gail Dunkley, Colleen Sells and Jodie Brown. In their first season, the Falcons fielded a team in Division Two of the league administered by the Victorian Women’s Soccer Association. They would win a shield final in that inaugural year.
In the early years of the program, the crossover with Aussie rules that was the foundation of soccer at the Falcons continued. “A few times they might be short, and there [were] some players that had played soccer on one ground and as soon as that finished, they’d run out on the footy field. So it was a bit exhausting!” Sal said.
It also worked the other way. Fiona Macaulay, who had won the Falcons best and fairest in 1990 for Aussie rules, moved over to soccer around 1999. “I remember Shona [Bass], she was our head coach. She used to play for Australia. So we were in awe of her. I remember just being like, ‘Wow’. Someone said to me, ‘I’ve never seen you so quiet in your whole life, normally you give it back.’ But [Shona would] say do a couple [of] laps and [I’m] just like head down and doing [them], because she played for Australia and she was a brilliant soccer player.”
The development of the Falcons junior soccer program
From the very beginning of the round ball game at the Falcons, fortunes had wavered. The club went from fielding three senior women’s teams to fielding one. As the core of the playing group grew older, the sustainability of the program became a concern. How could the club attract more young players, and how could it grow soccer? These were the questions facing the club throughout the 2000s. But it wouldn’t be until 2010 that plans to develop a junior pathway began in earnest.
Jasmine Hirst arrived at the Falcons in 2006. She played a season of soccer before taking some time off in 2007 to have her second child, returning to the club in 2008.
“My girls had been coming down to watch [me play]. They were sort of showing some interest in playing and so I looked around the local area to see if there was another club that had a junior program that they might like to join. And then in the end, there really wasn’t anything,” Jasmine, who is now the club’s junior soccer administrator, explained.
Around the same time, the club had fielded enquiries from some parents looking for a junior soccer program for their daughters. It was the perfect confluence of circumstances. The senior program needed a strategy to bring new and younger players into the club. Jasmine was looking for a junior program for her own children and she wasn’t the only one—at the club or outside it.