By Oliver Lees
The Kyneton Football Netball Club made history last weekend, with the side fielding the first inclusive football team in the Macedon Ranges.
The Kyneton Tigers fielded a full side in their inaugural clash against Rupertswood Old Collegians, in what was the curtain raiser for the Victorian Football Integration Development Association (FIDA) season.
FIDA chief executive and Gisborne resident Elle Dow said she was very emotional watching the team run out for the first time, especially given that COVID had restricted the league for so long.
“Being a local myself, it was so special to see such an incredible turn out at the game, all the more so because it was the first FIDA game in 596 days,” she said.
“A lot of the players invited their friends with disabilities so it was terrific to see so many people embracing football for the first time.
“This is what inclusion is all about, this is community at its finest.”
Only three of the Tigers’ team had experience playing for FIDA sides before.
Dow said this was one of the main inspirations for developing a team in Kyneton.
Within her role at FIDA she would regularly hear from players and their families that they wished they didn’t have to travel as far as Bendigo and Wodonga to play footy.
Dow then contacted Kyneton Football Netball Club president Hayden Evans, with whom she went to high school, to see if there was any possibility of bringing a club to the Macedon Ranges. Things moved quickly from there, with Dow and Evans tabling the suggestion with the club’s committee.
The Kyneton Football Netball Club now plans to facilitate four sessions a year where all teams train together; the women’s, men’s and the FIDA side.
After seeing the response from the game over the weekend, Evans said the FIDA side has had a positive impact across the whole club.
“There were some [FIDA players] that were very nervous, but after the game everyone was just so excited, they loved it,” he said.
“It was very special to see the smiles on their faces.
“One of the biggest impacts is having the juniors having these positive interactions with people with disabilities.
“Football clubs are no longer places just for A grade players.”
This year FIDA is celebrating its 30th season anniversary.
The league first started casually at a clinic in Glen Ferrie through the Hawthorn Football Club, but now has clubs playing across the state.
FIDA matches are played with 15 minute quarters and specially trained umpires, who make an effort to get everyone involved, which Evans said is the club’s focus, too.
“We’re really striving for participation,” he said.
“It’s all about getting people that wouldn’t usually be out there, everybody gets to have a kick.”
Despite losing the match by two goals, both Dow and Evans said the game was a celebration.
Both teams ran through a customised banner, prepared by a member of the community who’s also a member of the Richmond Tigers cheer squad.
Reflecting on the match, Dow said there was one moment that really summed up the spirit of the day.
“A player with cerebral palsy fell face first and it was actually the opposition players that helped him get back up again,” she said.
“But no one was laughing at him.
“It was a great lesson for all the kids there, that everybody falls and it’s OK to get back up again.”