One small step for footballkind: a morning at Brunswick Street Oval Auskick

Auskick BS Oval 2

It’s a sunny Saturday morning in April. Gorgeous Autumn light. Theo and I get off the 112 at the Brunswick Street Oval in Fitzroy.

It is Theo’s first-ever Auskick.

Already kids and Mums and Dads and toddler brothers and sisters are swarming on the healthy covering of grass. There’s no mud yet. No smelly bare patch in the 10-metre square.

There are prams and dogs and the smell of coffee.

Blokes in red shirts are setting up. Posts go into the turf. Mini-cones are located. Little footies are placed about.

The place is alive.

Theo says g’day to some of his mates: Sam, a Tiger; Henry in his Geelong jumper with his big gummy grin; Docker Fin; the twins Ollie, another Cat, and Meg, a Blue; Bomber Iggy with his Michael Hurley hair. They’re all from the same prep class at school.

All the clubs are represented.

The older kids are getting ready on the other side of the oval. They’re old hands –at six, and seven. They know where to go and what to do, and so do their parents.

I look about. What a place to learn your footy! The great Fitzroy Oval with its grand Victorian stand and its view, beyond the red-brown leaves of the Freeman Street trees, over the terrace houses, to the high-rise of the modern city.

The trams clank by, dinging their old Melbourne-ness.

The kids are nervous, excited, apprehensive, cocky, innocent. They have begun their life-time of barracking, noiselessly herded towards the family team for reasons of logistics and love – even the Richmond ones.

Joe Phegan has the look of a man who is wondering about many things. He takes the kids for a warm-up and quickly we learn this Bell curve is well-stretched: at one end the kids who can kick a torp, at the other the ones who star jump like they’ve had McWilliams Cream Apera on their Nutri-grain; at one end the kid who will shirt-front the wheelie-bin, at the other the kid who is besotted with the perfect shape of a dandelion in seed.

The drills begin. Beautifully earnest faces take in the instructions and then brows crease as they try  to remember what to do. And it’s nearly their turn, and now it is. And it’s not text book, but it is wonderful. And you find yourself wanting to laugh and clap and ring Nanna. Is there anything purer than a five year old’s fluked drop kick?

And now you are thinking about yourself and time passing; your first day at footy or school.

Kids. They make you remember. Cleaning their little faces with the washer you can feel your own mother’s hand, you recognise that resistant movement of the head as your own. Watching them mark a footy you hear your own father’s voice, “Watch the ball. Don’t watch me.”

We pass it on. Our love of the game. We want them to know the sheer joy of playing.

Many will.

Many have. They’ve been playing footy here since 1883 when Collingwood was another world away. A few years later the Maroons were the glamour side of the early VFL.

But I’m not sure this great ground has seen some of the kicking styles on show.

We all survive the first morning, then head towards the barbecue for a well-earned sausage in bread.

Theo is happy, and so are his mates.

His Mum and little sisters arrive. They are proud of him. Like he has played his first game for Geelong. Anna has a kick.

We go home.

And wait for the week to pass.


The Fitzroy Auskick community is invited to the launch of Footy Town: Stories of Australia’s Game at the All Nations Hotel, Lennox Street, Richmond, from 6pm on Friday May 31. [email protected]

Books – Footy Town and all editions of The Footy Almanac (2007-2012) – are available (from the canteen on Saturdays) to Fitzroy Auskickers for $30. Half of the proceeds will go to help the running of Auskick at Brunswick Street. Books are also available at this website. Read Martin Flanagan’s review.

Footy TownCOVER2012.indd



About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    Beautiful. Life has begun . I take it there will be no more snow trips now that Auskick is on the weekend calendar as Theo will need to rest up on Sundays to recover for school on Mondays won’t he ?

  2. Dear John and Theo, welcome to local footy. Lovely yarn and I can see you are now as addicted as Theo. It will be the beginning a great football memories and family memories. Be well all


  3. Great stuff JTH. Make sure you don’t miss the first mark Theo takes on his face – with a wet, heavy footy – in the rain. Sometimes the tears are victorious.

    I remember when Richo came to Auskick when my kids were tackers. I was more excited than them.

  4. Andrew Starkie says

    Cleaning their little faces with the washer you can feel your own mother’s hand, you recognise that resistant movement of the head as your own. Watching them mark a footy you hear your own father’s voice, “Watch the ball. Don’t watch me.”

    Every time. Mum used to rip the washer across my face. I do the same to Eloise; it’s the only way to clean the dried milk off her cheeks. I think of mum every time. dad would say, ‘Take the ball in the blooooody hands!’

    Of all the AFL’s initiatives, Auskick is the best. Heart and minds. Lukey learned how to huddle at Auskick. Dean was coach of his tackers team for a few years. Coaches are allowed on the ground which is a great idea.

  5. kath presdee says

    My son was ecstatic on the weekend when he kicked a goal at Auskick. Actually he kicked three but technically one was at the wrong end so it was a “rushed behind”

    In their little game their Coach (Justin – who seems a really nice kid) called his team together so the other team decided they’d do the same. Proper huddle, the eldest no more than about 8, goodness knows what they said, but it was great to watch.

    They’re off to the Giants for a Club night next week; they’re all looking forward to it.

  6. Pam, Theo and Anna are reconsidering their view on the snow. Not sure why. The propaganda is strong on the home front.

    Yvette, as someone who understands that there are tears at the centre of things, you would weep at the site of the innocence.

    Dips, I am hoping Tony Ongarello turns up one day. The spirit of Butch Gale wafts about.

    Andrew, so many reminders of my own childhood. Theo’s first days at school were like I was re-living the moment.

    Kath, congrats to your young one. The footy huddle must be preserved as a site of community, galvanised effort and Goonish absurdity.

  7. John

    For all the criticism of the AFL, I agree with Andrew that Auskick is something they do really well.

    Brillant to be out there on a Saturday am, great exercise for the kids, learning team work and skills, families getting together from the community, and developing little players who are the life blood of junior footy and eventually the big league.

    My son finished his years of Auskick last year as a grade 6 boy, and like Theo will find, learning at a great ground with tradition (Ben played his years at Glenferrie) means a lot. He got to play at half time in the Cats and Pies 09 Prelim in front of 90,000, which was amazing.

    I still love driving past grounds on Saturday am, on the way to school footy and seeing the little kids getting ready.

    I wish him many years of fun, games on the G at half time, snags on a Saturday morning, kick to kick afterwards and big smiles


  8. Neil Belford says

    Very nice – Resentment from Theo about the fact that there is no tackling will come though :). He will put his foot down at the end of 2014 and demand to play tackers. Auskick is by a country mile the best AFL initiative. I think the AFL has saved the game from globalism with Auskick actually.

  9. Ian Hauser says


    Welcome to the years of being a sideline parent! It’s a beautiful ride. Last Saturday in The Courier Mail there was as excellent piece on how the kids might remember it all in years to come. The writer suggested that it’s all about what happens on the drive/ride home after the game – what’s said, who says it, how it’s said and also knowing when it’s best to say nothing about the game but to talk about something completely different. Very wise.

    You take me back years to watching Liam although it was cricket, not footy. I remember his first run and how he celebrated like it was the one to take him to a ton! The day he got 3 wickets in 4 balls. And the other days of the golden duck, the dropped catches off his bowling… As Orwell said, “such, such were the joys…”

    Enjoy this very special time – you’ll be amazed how quickly it ends all too soon.

  10. Lord Bogan says

    If I had a footy time machine my first stop would be Brunswick St at the turn of the 20th century. I feel that time so acutely whenever I have a kick on that ground. It really does have a vibe.

    Enjoy Harmsy. Theo has picked a good one to follow in Harry Taylor. Happy birthday too, mate.

  11. ‘Is there anything purer than a five year old’s fluked drop kick?’

    Nothing flukey about a five year old doing a drop kick. It’s in the genes, pure genes, of some.

  12. Rod Oaten says

    What a magnificent ground for Theo to have his first Auskick game. I’m sure he will never forget it, or his dad for that matter.

  13. Kath, my 6yo has kicked two ‘goals’ so far in his first year of Auskick – BOTH sweet connections to the wrong end!

    I gotta say, I have found it surprising how the drills and schedule of the morning is almost the same as when I did ‘VicKick’ back in the 1980’s. When I was a development officer at Touch football we employed better ‘game sense’ activities that involved all the kids at once whilst teaching the basic skills.

    That said, the kids love it and I love the time warp back to the best time of my life.

  14. John – great article. The only way you could have improved on your effort here is if you had written that you enjoyed it so much you felt compelled to get involved and pull on one of the red coach’s shirts yourself. Believe me, there’s nothing better!

    C’arn the Swanny Tigers!

  15. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff. My son starts school next year, very much looking forward to taking him to Auskick.

  16. Having enjoyed many of your musings over the years I’ve been anticipating your arrival to Auskick ever since you wrote about Theo’s arrival into this world. Thanks for the great reflection on the little things which happen in life which intersect such such proud history and tradition. I sense a rich vein of content is coming our way thanks to Auskick.

    I think Joe is going to give you the loudest group of kids this Saturday morning, so make sure you’re not too rusty from Friday night.

  17. Great stuff John,

    I’ve spent a couple of years as an Auskick parent at Brunsiwck St, and it surely is as pleasant a way to spend Saturday mornings as I can imagine (that involves getting out of my dressing gown, that is). The old ground has so much more atmosphere than Northcote behind the YMCA, where we put in our first year. Thankfully, The Boy’s school mates were all at Fitzroy, prompting a change of venue.

    You might be lucky to have the luxury of one son :-). When both my boys were playing I had to shuttle between groups, and invariably missed a highlight from one of them, or left myself exposed to accusations of favouritism that only an extra sausage in bread could remedy.

  18. The Wrap says

    As a grandfather I used to take my Tiger Cub for his Auskick. One of the most icon ovals on this planet. He lived around the Johnny Horner in Westgarth. They’ve moved away now and he’s playing for Chelsea. The bangers & the coffee are the same – there must be a franchise – but the wide open spaces aren’t. How I miss those memories of Vic Chanter, Butch Gale & Tony Ongarello imbedded in the turf, and the terraced backdrop.

  19. Lovely little story ….. and the great Brunswick Street Oval features again!
    I pulled out a saying last week that my Dad (infrequently) used on me.
    “If you keep up that sort of behaviour, you won’t be coming to the footy with me on Saturday.”
    Of course I didn’t mean it, but it had the desired effect.
    It’s the first time that I’ve swung it into action. You’re right, kids do make you remember.

  20. When I began in 1992, it was Vic Kick and the balls handed out were blue and white..

    I still marvel at a friend of ours whose father ran our centre, as a result he recieved a late call up to two or three ‘grid games’ per season, when other age groups were one short for their big matches at the G, or Waverley, or wherever we were sent to play! This resulted in what we believe to be a record breaking 23 matches played on AFL grounds, in his seven year career.

  21. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great article JTH there is no doubt that Auskick is the AFLs best Invention as some 1 who is involved a lot in Junior Coaching in both Footy and cricket you have nailed the feeling and spirit at Auskick perfectly the more Junior sport the better to learn about all aspects of life is sensational . To be involved each Sat morning as a youngster takes his 1st Mark kicks his 1st Goal or makes there 1st run is one of Lifes Joys Thank you Harmsy for taking us on the ride

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