The Keilor Sports Club: ‘The Country Club in the City’ (Part 3)

 

 

 

As the previous two articles have highlighted, the Keilor Sports Club has a storied history that connects generations of the Keilor residents, families, and the localised community more broadly. Much of this activity has centred around Joe Brown Oval, the physical home of the Keilor Sports Club and its associated clubs and activities: Keilor Football Club, Keilor Cricket Club, the Keilor Gift, and the Life Activities Club.

 

The prominent history of these clubs and the people that have brought them to life and sustained them have been the focus of my previous articles. For this final piece I want to look at the more recent history of the club and its evolution over recent decades. Points of interest will be the progressive and inclusive environment the club has fostered, examples of individuals that have supported and thrived in this environment, and the positive growth in  club has experienced as a result of these community-oriented attitudes.

 

To paint a brief picture of the respective clubs that call Joe Brown Oval home at present the football club has 24 teams ranging from Under 8s through to seniors including five girls/women’s teams. The cricket club has 17 teams from Under 10s through to seniors including four girls/women’s teams. The Keilor Gift coordinated by the Keilor Sports Club receives approximately 650 entrants per year and the Life Activities club offers a range of physical and social activities for people over the age of 55 and is patronised by approximately 200 members.

 

Much of this growth in participation followed a review of the club structures in 1986. Following the review and restructure the Keilor Sports Club was more formally established as the umbrella organisation for the respective clubs and was positioned to oversee the clubs’ continued efforts to promote inclusive and attractive environments for participants and members. A measure of the club’s positive culture and commitment to the broader community is the significant number of participants that come to the club from beyond its natural catchment area. People who may not necessarily call Keilor and the 3036 postcode home, but who call Joe Brown Oval their home ground.

 

An exemplar of this narrative is Michael Rischitelli. Relatively local to the area, but from outside Keilor, the story goes that as a junior footballer, Michael and his father set out to find a club that they felt Michael could develop as a player and person. After exploring all the options in the district, they identified Keilor Football Club as the club of choice. Michael would go on to demonstrate promise as a junior footballer and thrived in the Keilor Football Club environment. He was later picked up at Number 61 in the 2003 AFL draft by the Brisbane Lions and go on to play 205 games across a thirteen year AFL career.

 

The welcoming and supportive environment has helped foster a number of recent AFL men’s players. Some names of note that have had or are currently establishing careers at the highest level include Ivan Maric, Kyle Hartigan, and James Sicily. In more recent years, through the club’s progressive approach to junior girls and women’s teams the club has begun producing AFLW players. Most notably, at last season’s draft Keilor footballer Montana Ham was selected with the first selection in the national draft by the Sydney Swans. The club has established a positive pathway in which talented players can thrive, while maintaining a constructive balance that promotes teamwork and strong community values.

 

These values and systems have been continued and reinforced by the club’s long serving senior coach Mick McGuane. In his playing days Mick had a memorable career, having played 155 VFL/AFL games, which included the 1990 premiership with Collingwood as well as two Collingwood best and fairest awards in 1992 and 1993. He has since established himself as a quality coach, plying his trade at various country and suburban football clubs across Victoria and Tasmania. At each club he has coached, he has fostered successful senior sides and created a positive environment both on and off the field. In 2008, he was appointed coach of the Keilor Football Club senior men’s team, a role which he has held ever since – 2023 will be his sixteenth year at the helm. During his tenure the club has tasted the ultimate success on three occasions and has been a perennial contender challenging year-in, year-out in the Premier Division of the Essendon District Football League.

 

Mick McGuane in action coaching the Keilor Football Club seniors. Image: Keilor Football Club

 

While Mick’s influence as a coach is well recognised by players and club officials alike, it is his impact at the club and in the community where he goes above and beyond his responsibilities as senior coach that has made him a revered member of the Keilor community. Mick’s profile in football and media has helped bring many notable personalities to the club for various fundraising events and activities which have proved ultra-popular. Like all community sporting clubs, whether they be suburban or rural, fundraising is central to sustainability, and Mick’s support of these initiatives has helped the club continue its positive growth and progression.

 

Club stalwarts are also fondly aware of Mick’s commitment and efforts to ensure that players at the club, be they junior, reserves, or seniors, boys and girls, men and women can share in his experience and attitudes that promote a positive culture between players and teammates. During his tenure as senior coach at Keilor, Mick has also been coach of at least one junior side each year – coaching various junior grades from Under 8s all the way through to Under 16s over this time. Speaking with Mick, he indicated that working alongside the junior coaches and educating them on how to tailor their coaching to the age groups they are working with aids in providing appropriate layers of understanding of the game for players to absorb as they progress through the age groups.

 

Growing players as people first, encouraging them to put their teammates first and ensuring players are having fun are emphasized at all levels. The conscientious dedication to supporting the junior football development pathways is reflective of the overarching mantra of the club to provide equal and inclusive support to all members. This provides a firm platform from which all young players who come to Keilor can strive for whatever goals they have set for themselves in relation to the game. It is these such attributes that continue to attract people and players to the club, approximately 75% of whom come from outside the 3036 Keilor postcode.

 

A focus to engage and support a wide demographic of the local and surrounding populous through the Keilor Sports Club has seen the club continue to grow in recent years. In 2018, the club made an important move to invite the Keilor Life Activities Club to join their umbrella organisation. President of the Keilor Life Activities Club, Joan Ellis, shared with me details of the clubs aims and the activities it offers the community. Established in 2005 and using the Keilor Sports Club rooms as their base of operations, the Life Activities Club is open to people 55 and over and offers a range of social and physical activity programs throughout the week. Such activities include golf, Tai Chi, luncheons, bus outings, choir, dancing, biking, walking, just to name a few.

 

 

 

Keilor Life Activities Club members participating in a Tai Chi session in the Keilor Sports Club clubrooms. Image: Joan Ellis

 

 

A guiding principle of the club is to provide retirees or those people moving toward retirement a space for social connection that can support the transition from full-time working life. Joan noted that for many people in the community, work is a primary point of social interaction, and many retirees can find the transition to life post-work challenging as they lose a regular point of contact with people and friends. This is where the Life Activities Club comes into its own as a volunteer run organisation. It gives retirees from the immediate and surrounding communities an opportunity to engage with like-minded individuals and immerse themselves within a communal environment that promotes interpersonal and social connection. The vast array of activities provides flexibility to interact with people with similar interests whether it be sports, arts, hobbies or simply getting together for a chat.

 

Not only are participants engaged in the range of activities and social opportunities, but through the association to the Keilor Sports Club, life activity members also have a direct link to the respective football and cricket clubs and the Keilor Gift Carnival. Life Activities members often support these clubs and events through volunteer roles that benefit the clubs, and extends their connection with the community and people in the community more broadly. A new member can quickly find themselves occupied and invested in the community that is centralised at the Keilor Recreation Reserve. Again, it is the Reserve and the coordination of the Keilor Sports Club that is central to this community.

 

The final example of the club’s ongoing evolution and the associated legacy it is creating is through the annual Keilor Gift coordinated primarily by members of the Keilor Sport Club committee. The gift was first run in 1933 and up until 1979 was staple of the Keilor calendar, only being interrupted or postponed during World War II. However, in the 1980s a lack of support and volunteers forced the event into a kind of recess.

 

It was Joe Brown, the administrative wizard of the Keilor sports scene who approached Hayden Kelly that initiated the resurgence of the event in the early 1990s. Hayden with the support of Ken Anstey, an experienced treasurer, and a band of dedicated volunteers helped revive the event and in 1991 races were run and won for the first time in 11 years. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength, aside from missing in 2014 when Joe Brown Oval was being resurfaced and the recent COVID years, the Keilor Gift has once again become one of the premier handicap running events in Victoria. In recent years the event has regularly attracted approximately 650 entrants and is amongst the Group 1 fixtures of the Victorian Athletic League calendar, equal in status to that of the gifts in Maryborough, Ballarat, and Rye. This is a substantial standing when it is considers that only the Stawell Gift sits above this tier of events in terms of reputation in the state. More than just a race though the carnival atmosphere of the day filled other events like wood-chopping and kids activities, the day acts as an amazing gathering and reunion of local friends, and families from near and far. Much like that of an agricultural show I grew up with as boy at home in the country.

 

 

Finish line photo of the Keilor Gift final in 2020. Notably the finals are run at night to conclude the carnival. Image: Hayden Kelly – Victorian Athlete League

 

 

When I went to Melbourne to study many years I go, my identity as a country boy was important to how I carried myself in the city. I almost lived by the expression “you can take the boy out of the country, but you’ll never take the country out of the boy”. I feel the same could be said for Keilor. Once a small village which sat comfortably on the outskirts of Melbourne, Keilor has over decades of metropolitan growth been somewhat absorbed by Melbourne suburbia. Despite the city’s expansion, Joe Brown Oval and the clubs and volunteers that call it home maintain their traditional roots and values reflective of its rural heritage. Like many country towns, the community has been connected through sport at the recreation reserve, and as the clubs continue to evolve, they honour the country ideal of their past by continuing to provide a welcoming and inclusive point of social connection.

 

 

Read Nick’s Part 1 and Part 2 of Keilor Sports Club Here.

 

 

 

Notes:

 

[i] https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/203740254/19045785

 

[ii] The honour boards of both Keilor Cricket Club est. 1858 and Keilor Football Club est. 1877, date back only as far as 1946 – post World War II – as records prior to this time were not available when the boards were commissioned.

 

[iii] Tony Wollington, Keilor Cricket Club: History and Recollections, p. 25.

 

[iv] Tony Wollington, Keilor Cricket Club: History and Recollections, p. 9.

 

[v] https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/74982993/7200055

 

[vi] List of all Keilor Football Club Premieship teams is available here: https://websites.mygameday.app/club_info.cgi?c=1-3922-48421-0-0&sID=207120&news_task=DETAIL&articleID=15041997

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Hayden Kelly says

    Thanks Nick a very good piece to finish off your series . For the record my opinion on the best footballer to come out of Keilor is Mark Harvey but methinks James Sicily is closing fast .
    Re cricket keep your eye on Mitch Jamieson .At 17 he is established in the Footscray 1sts in Premier Cricket and captained the Victorian Metro under 19s at the recent National Carnival in Adelaide where he averaged 53 wiith the bat . Still eligible for under 19s next year ,.

  2. John Harms says

    Hi NIck, Thanks for this terrific series. The club seems worthy of this sort of literary tribute, and celebration. It would be good to spend a Saturday afternoon there during footy season. WE hope to read more from you. Best, JTH

  3. Paul Garth says

    G’day Hayden, enjoyed Nick’s articles on the Keilor club history .. didn’t realise the history went so far back.
    Clearly, many generations have created a terrific community club .. cheers, Garthy

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