By Rod Gillett
Inclusiveness and diversity were not terms widely used in football in 1980 when the joint coaches of the newly formed Glebe Greyhounds junior club, John Muggeridge and Simon Kelly applied it in practice with the recruitment of five Vietnamese boys.
The boys were crossing the training field alongside the greyhound track at Wentworth Park to their family home in Pyrmont to do work after school peeling beans when the two coaches convinced them to join in and play footy.
“Muggers” who went on to carve out a stellar career as a language educator in Asia visited their family home and managed to convince the parents to let their sons play the Australian game.
The two founders of the Glebe junior footy club were guests of honour at the club’s 2 X 21 = 42 birthday party last Saturday (30 July) – yet another celebratory event delayed by Covid.
The party was attended by former presidents, coaches and officials as well as the current club leaders at the Gallon Bar in Pyrmont hosted by comedian Merrick Watts, a club volunteer and parent.
Muggeridge and Kelly were team-mates at Balmain playing in the Sydney first grade competition at that time. “Muggers” was working as the administration manager at the
NSW ANFL at the time while Simon had just embarked on a highly successful business career in life assurance.
In addition to the Glebe Greyhounds the boys got a junior club in Redfern up and running, but it has been the Glebe club based at Balmain’s old home ground, Jubilee Oval, that has endured and with the changing demographics in Glebe from students and wharfies to young professionals with families that has enabled the club to survive and grow.
The club now has just over 600 boys and girls registered from age 5-17 in 35 teams – including Auskick. It has become an integral part of the close-knit Glebe community.
The “culture” first unearthed by Muggers and Simon has become enshrined at the Glebe Greyhounds – the name bestowed by Kelly given the location of the club’s training base. The colours of black-and-white stripes were surprisingly not chosen by Kelly, a renowned Collingwood supporter, but were donated by the Annandale club, which had folded.
“Inclusion, participation, and development leads to retention”, according to long-time club official Simon Tracey who together with his wife Kirsty Bass have been key figures in the club for the past fifteen years, “and ultimately that leads to success, both on and off the field”.
The Greyhounds strongly promote a rotation policy, particularly in the younger age groups where they players are still learning the game, to ensure all players have the chance to play the game and develop as they grow up and not be stuck on the bench or in the back pocket.
Simon, relationship manager with a higher education tech company, grew up in Albury where he learnt to play footy at St Pat’s College, came to Sydney in the late 1990’s.
Simon is now serving as vice-president after a long stint as president and continues to coach the U17 Div 2 team while Kirsty has been a long-term Auskick co-ordinator as well as serving on the committee.
“Most of the kids in our current Under 17 boys’ team came through our Auskick program”, Simon told me in an interview for this piece.
“We have a real connect with our local community, an excellent relationship with our co-tenants, the Glebe Hockey Club and the cricket club, and are on very good terms with our landlord, the City of Sydney”.
“And we honour our past, particularly our founders John and Simon”, he added.
I have had a close association with both John and Simon in football; both have been major contributors to the advancement of the game, at various levels.
I played under ”Muggers” when he took on the coaching job at bottom-side Urunga in 1984 after leading Woolgoolga to the premiership in the North Coast league. He later coached “Woopi” to another flag in 1987. He wrote columns for the local newspaper, helped out with the fledgling junior competition, and coached representative teams.
Earlier this year he was awarded a local service award by AFL North Coast.
While Simon was a long-serving Balmain club stalwart as a player and official he played a pivotal role in the foundation of junior clubs in Sydney and also as a team manager for representative teams. He is a life member of the Balmain Football Club.
I got to know Simon when newly appointed NSW AFL general manager Craig Davis initiated a Sydney AFL radio show in 1991 on community broadcaster 2SER hosted by media guru, Kevin Taylor.
The show went live-to-air on Saturday mornings at 9am – a challenging time for Simon who usually enjoyed a big night out on Fridays and he sometimes came straight to the studio. It was a lot of fun to do and generated strong interest amongst the local football community.
I was particularly delighted that the Glebe Greyhounds honoured my “fellow travellers” John Muggeridge and Simon Kelly at the club’s 42nd year celebration.