By RUSSELL BENNETT
WHEN the sun finally burst through the clouds at Fountain Gate’s Max Pawsey Reserve on Sunday afternoon, it shone a light on the best parts of Aussie Rules footy.
Junior players from across the south east gathered to celebrate the multicultural round, with a game between Noble Park and Fountain Gate junior football clubs highlighting the diversity that exists in a community that is tied by one common bond – a pure, unabashed love of the game.
Multicultural round was celebrated in parks and stadiums, both small and large, throughout Victoria.
The Sherrin doesn’t care about skin colour, race or religion and the action at Max Pawsey Reserve provided undisputed proof of it.
Players from more nationalities than there are positions on the ground run out across that white line each Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning with one common goal – just getting out and having a kick. Simple, really.
Sunday’s atmosphere explained in a nutshell just how welcoming footy is of all cultures – there was African drumming, and Scottish bagpipes blaring to the tune of the Australian national anthem.
Jawed Hussaini’s family is of Afghan heritage. One of his Fountain Gate Junior Football Club team mates is Laiver Qerim, of Albanian descent. The 16-year-olds are classmates, team-mates, and just all-around great mates.
“That’s the main reason I play,” Jawed said.
“All my mates play it.
“With the group we’ve got, we’re a real team and everyone is in it together. I love that.
“We’re all just here to play footy.”
Laiver said one of his favourite parts of playing was “seeing all the different faces you see out on the ground getting a kick”.
Jawed and Laiver’s Fountain Gate White ‘Gators’ lost by 52 points on Sunday – 12.14 (86) to 5.4 (34) – and were thoroughly outplayed for three quarters.
The Noble Park boys were just too big, too strong.
“Our intention for this week was to beat them, or at least keep their (winning) margin down, but they played really well,” Jawed said.
“We played hard in the second quarter, but we weren’t really prepared for them.
“It was really disappointing in that way but we tried really hard.”
Laiver said the build-up to the clash could have worked against the group.
“When you get told at the start of the week that the media is going to come out and watch you play, you build yourself up to play well and when you don’t, it’s disappointing but we all had a lot of fun out there,” he said.
Noble Park is one of the most multicultural clubs involved in junior footy, with a seemingly endless range of cultures making up its teams.
Gemechu Kabato’s family is Ethiopian. The 15-year-old Noble Park player used to play rugby until he switched codes to play with his mates.
He played in explosive bursts off the bench on Sunday in a huge boost for his side.
But he doesn’t care how he plays, as long as the game is competitive.
For those who haven’t experienced Aussie Rules footy, Gemechu’s advice is simple.
“Just give it a shot,” he said.
“It could be daunting at first, but it’s a great sport.
“I love it.”
Team-mate James Real’s family is of Cambodian heritage. The Keysborough local loves the simple things of the sport, like “committing to a team each week”, and the “togetherness” that football provides.
Mouneer Ghanem’s family hails from the Gaza Strip.
The 16-year-old Noble Park resident echoed a common theme when describing just why he loved junior footy club culture.
“I get to play with my best mates in a sport that brings so many people together,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be unhappy if I didn’t make it to the AFL.
“I just love playing footy with my mates and having fun, and I’ll do that as long as I possibly can.
“My family just wants to see me happy.”