In 1997, the Falcons made their first step towards becoming the multi-sport club they are today by starting a soccer team. Then club president Sal Rees explains 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’.”
“It was pretty hard to get up off the ground, but it was about the club wanting to serve its members pretty much. So, if the members wanted to play soccer, we would get a soccer team happening,” Sal said.
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 soccer program, the crossover between 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 Macauley, 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 like, 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, because she played for Australia and she was a brilliant soccer player.”
In 1999, Linda Musicka joined the Falcons soccer team. She would soon become the club’s first soccer administrator. It was a role Linda began casually, just helping out then club treasurer, Ann Rulton.
“I collected fees from the soccer girls and then [the club] established the roles of a soccer administrator, a cricket administrator and a football administrator so that there was somebody in charge of each particular sport. Because the one person couldn’t keep over it all,” Linda said. “So I used to collect the fees, I used to just do the administration really and I was on the committee in that role as well.”
It was around this time that Maggie Koumi was enticed to the Falcons. At the time, Maggie was the head of Women’s Soccer Victoria. When the Falcons started their team in 1997, Maggie was already playing for Melbourne Uni but when she was ready to move on, the Falcons were the obvious choice. “Mainly because they were a local club and I knew lots of people there and I thought it was a good club regardless—a well run club,” Maggie said.
As well as playing soccer and cricket—”I was absolute crap so strictly desperate measures!”—for the Falcons, Maggie had a hand in the name change from the Fairfield Falcons to the Darebin Women’s Sports Club in 2000.
“Ann Rulton was the treasurer and she used to talk about having to do different sets of books for the different sports. And I was a bean counter at the time and I said, why not have one club with different arms and call it a sports club with different sections of it,” Maggie said.
Alongside this very practical reasoning, Sal Rees explained that the name change was also about wanting to reflect the location of the club.
“We were based at McDonell Park in Northcote at that point and…It was also a bit of recognition as well for the local council. Because they really did support us in getting set up in those years. And we sort of went through in the next couple of years after that—we wouldn’t have even known the term back then—but we actually rebranded ourselves without even knowing it,” Sal said.
By 2000, the Falcons were fielding two women’s soccer teams. At this point, women’s soccer in Victoria involved around 30 teams so while this was an impressive effort the numbers in the competition meant that the Falcons were often forced to travel around the state just to play.
“We used to have to drive to Geelong and Gisborne and places like that to be able to play a game of soccer every week. We used to drive as far as Ballarat to play,” explained Sally Wallis, who joined the club as a supporter in 2001 and a player in 2002 before taking on the role of soccer administrator in 2007. Sally recalled by 2002, the Falcons had three senior women’s teams: division one, two and three.
“Most of them were older women. They weren’t young kids. We were all—I think the average age would have been 30, probably,” Sally said.
In 2002, the Falcons sent two teams to the World Masters Games in Melbourne. “A couple of footy players helped make up the numbers. But we actually had an over 30s and an over 40 team,” Linda Musicka said. “I remember Shona Bass actually came and played with us for that as well.” The Falcons were again a part of the games in 2009, sending a joint team with the Brunswick Zebras to the World Masters Games in Sydney.
The Falcons continued to field three teams in 2003 but by 2004 they were down to two teams, with senior coach Kim Busutill taking charge of training for both teams. However, the end of the 2004 season saw a number of players leave the club. The 2005 annual report noted that soccer had been ‘decimated’ by the exodus. It coincided with the move to AH Capp Reserve.
“Soccer kind of took a nosedive,” Sally Wallis said. “Those few years after we moved to AH Capp Reserve, we called it the rebuilding phase.”
Brenda Lang joined the Falcons in 2000. She recalled that the exodus was spearheaded by one player who persuaded a number of the Falcons to join another club.
“We dropped back down to one team and it was a mixed match of abilities and age,” Brenda said. “And so we just, we just had to hang on. So some of those years were a bit difficult, really, in terms of patience, and certainly in aiming for winning and those kinds of things. We just had to nurture it, and actually rebuild it.”
Claire Flynn, who joined the club around the same time as Brenda and would go on to coach, recalled that period was particularly tough for soccer.
“It wasn’t an easy time. And yes, I think it was a struggle time. But I guess, there were enough people hanging on to want to play the game [but] it was a complicated time for the club.”
“I think it was a bit political,” Sally said of the loss of players after the 2004 season. “The fact that we lost a lot of players, I think it was political. And I think maybe losing our coach that had been coaching them for quite some time that they all loved…was definitely another reason why we lost a lot of players.”
Sally, who retired as soccer administrator in 2011, recalled that soccer was supported at the club during this period by a core group that included Linda Musicka, Jasmine Hirst, Staci Timms and Brenda Lang. “We managed to keep soccer alive in that club… the most important thing for me at the time was to make sure that soccer survived because there was a time there where we thought it wouldn’t happen. So that was our main goal.”
Falcons president from 2007 to 2010, Trish Riddell said soccer has long been significant to the Falcons.
“There [were] a couple of years that without soccer, we probably wouldn’t have even survived either as a club,” she said.
While the drop in numbers forced the Falcons to field only one senior team in Division two in 2005, the mood was upbeat and positive. Claire Flynn took the reins as playing coach, a role they would hold for two seasons.
“We had a lot of fun, lots of different groups of people having a lot of fun, giving it their best. Trying very hard [but] not much success playing,” Claire said. “And we at that stage [were] moving into a late 20s-30s kind of bulk of people and then some older 40 plus players. But we were mainly playing [against] teenagers.”
In 2007, Christine Harvery took over as head coach, a role they continued in for three seasons. Despite the challenges that club faced with holding the soccer program together, in the 2008 annual report Chris noted the camaraderie of the team
“Our greatest team asset is the way we come together as a team supporting and encouraging everyone to play their best, whatever that level might be. It can be said you can coach skills and drills, but the spirit of the team is in each player. The Falcons soccer team played a difficult season with true spirit and determination.”
The ‘nosedive’ soccer took after the 2004 season would take years to come back from—the club fielded only one senior team from 2005 to 2010. In 2010, the club appointed their first male coach—it wasn’t a move that was particularly well-received at the time.
“We thought having him as a coach was better than no coach. But he really clashed with the girls. And a lot of them weren’t happy with the way he coached. And just the fact that he was a male too, because up until then, I think they’d always had female coaches looking after them,” Sally explained.
However, 2011 would mark a turning point for soccer’s fortunes. Tracey Hodge returned as coach, and for the first time, the Falcons had enough players to field two teams: Division Two and Metro. It would be the ‘most successful year on the field for the Falcons in the last decade’. In addition, 2011 marked the beginning of the junior soccer program at the Falcons which would eventually grow to an unbroken pathway from juniors to seniors.
The following year, with Tracey unable to continue coaching, the search was on again for someone to lead the teams. In the absence of a suitable candidate, Nicky Leitch took on the role for the Division Two team until a coach could be found, while the Metro team were coordinated by the leadership group including captain Jasmine Hirst and vice captain Ange Mackie.
By 2013, Staci Timms had taken over as soccer administrator. While the Falcons continued to field two senior teams, finding suitable coaches and support on game day continued to be a battle. However, despite middle of the road results for the teams through consecutive years, players continued to make appearances in the league best and fairest awards and 2016 was no different with Rachel Hibbert, Angela Mackie and Roz Ward, Kate Palmer, and Sheila Carter making the top ten of the FFV best and fairest and Kate Palmer, Roz Ward and Sheila Carter finishing in the top five for the Golden Boot Award.
In 2018, the Falcons returned to fielding only one senior team but they bounced back in 2019 to field two teams, in part thanks to players from the junior program graduating through to the senior program.
Despite the crossover between the two football codes that was the genesis of soccer at the Falcons, the relationship between the two sports was not always rosy. “There seemed to be a little bit of a divide between the footy and the soccer,” Brenda said. “In terms of resourcing and things like that.”
“So there was kind of that disparity between [the sports] and not because of anyone’s fault necessarily, but just the way that that was structured and what footy needs as opposed to what soccer needs, but… people like Trish [Riddell] actually made sure that the soccer people were heard and what we kinda needed as well,” Brenda said.
Sally, who was the soccer administrator from 2007 until 2011, said it was sometimes a fight to ensure soccer was heard. “It was a tough time where there [were] just maybe four or five of us that just kind of kept the boat floating.”
However, Maggie recalls that the Falcons’ famous talent nights helped to begin bridging the gap between the codes.
“We started to socialise and try and get together and I think one of the catalysts [was] every year they used to have a talent night and as a soccer team, we put one in and we won the competition. I think that sort of opened the door a little bit as far as you know, soccer players are just as stupid as the footy players when it comes to things like that. And so things like that, where the social side of things started to bring people together made it a bit stronger.”
Despite the challenges that often faced soccer—“there’ve been several years where, as senior players, we’ve kind of had to nurture the less skilled players or the younger players to try and keep them connected to the club, and to build those teams back up,” Brenda says—the code has persevered and found its own identity and place in the Falcon’s nest thanks to the hard work and dedication of the women who took to the pitch.