By sports editor Russell Bennett
A kind spirit, a caring soul, a warm personality – these are traits that Chris Brew is known for.
And they’re just what make the Lang Lang Football Club president so ideally suited to a new, ground-breaking project that has him connecting with community sporting clubs all over the state.
A devoted family man who genuinely lives and breathes his community-minded mantra, Brew has developed a podcast based around a very simple notion – to connect, authentically, with like-minded leaders of clubs across the state.
Coming from his own perspective of leading a developing club at Lang Lang, Brew connects with his subjects – he can truly relate to their triumphs and pitfalls.
‘The Country Footy Prez’ podcast was born out of one of Brew’s strongest personality traits – his sense of empathy.
“I’d spoken to a few club presidents in the lead-in to when the (2020) footy and netball season was called off,” he explained.
“It was just about keeping in touch at first, because I was well aware that a few people in decision-making roles at clubs had been put on JobKeeper, and I was thinking to myself just how hard that would be for a volunteer president of a club to all of a sudden have that added stress and pressure of providing for their families while having so much uncertainty in their lives moving forward.
“So, I was concerned for these people in these roles as presidents and volunteers – the stress and pressure that they’re under, knowing they feel so passionately about their own clubs too.
“The podcast is about how we respond and regroup together and go forward through these incredibly tough times – together.”
And while the theme of resilience is an ongoing one through the podcast, it really does centre around that word – empathy.
“My dad didn’t bless me, genetically, with a big, strong athletic body to play footy, but I’m proud that he taught me that sense of empathy – that ability to really care for other people,” Brew said.
“I probably take other people’s problems on a bit too much, but that’s just me and who I am as a person. I want to help people throughout the community – I want to help people at a grassroots football level because, for example, there’d be some people in suburban clubs doing it even tougher than some of those in the country right now – given the lockdowns and restrictions in place.
“I’m originally from Lake Tyers in east Gippsland, so I’ve got strong connections up there and I’ll be doing episodes with people out that way, but this isn’t a podcast just for country people. I also want to get to the suburban clubs and see how they’re going – and I want to get to the northern and western parts of the state too, because I just know there are so many good people right across the state with so many fantastic stories to tell, in spite of the struggles they’re facing.”
The episodes in the pipeline give an indication of just how wide-reaching his podcast will be – talking to representatives of clubs everywhere from Spotswood to Wodonga, from Foster to Echuca, from Bruthen to Geelong.
But the show’s very first episode hits a little closer to home – with a raw, honest, heartfelt, and at times hilarious chat with fellow EDFL club president, Nilma Darnum’s Ben Lucas.
Still in his early 30s, Lucas put his hand up to help the Darnos after just two years at the club. His is a story of an inspiring young leader who’s never pretended to have all the answers, but is working day in, day out to continue to have a positive impact on not only his home club, but the broader community.
The second episode features Bruthen president Adam Lonnie from the Omeo and District Football Netball League. He has ridden an incredible rollercoaster since falling in love with the club and the town.
Bruthen’s first ever three-peat of premierships – from 2017 to 2019 – was immediately followed by the devastating bushfires and, of course, the non-season of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Adam’s story was incredibly moving, but his perspective and ability to draw a positive from a negative is such an inspiring attitude,” Brew said.
“The way he described the club and greater community pulling together in the aftermath of the fires, along with the support they received from people – statewide – that he had never met before, was something I’ll never forget.
“The show is about creating a platform for people to share their stories of success and struggle – whatever they may be.
“We can learn from people’s struggles, and empathise with them and relate to what they’re going through, and we can also learn from the good things people have done – and celebrate those things as well.
“It really is just an opportunity for everyone to gain an understanding of people from so many other clubs who are going through those same, normal emotions.
“I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting two presidents who played over 500 senior games, and some of the tales these guys shared have just been so much fun.
“The one thing I’ve discovered that every guest has in common is a deep and genuine love of the game, as well as a desperate want for the 2021 season to arrive so that they can reconnect with the people and the community clubs they love.
“I’m excited to meet these people because, from the small sample size of other club presidents I’ve already met along the journey so far, it inspires me to want to meet more people and encourage them to share their stories as well because there are so many people with interesting, genuinely fascinating stories to tell.”
But Brew also wants to touch on the light-hearted moments and characters of these clubs, because every club has them and that’s what makes them so great to be a part of.
“Hopefully listening to these amazing people will inspire as many people as possible to return to the game at grassroots level in 2021,” Brew said.
The Country Footy Prez podcast is – fittingly – a real family affair, with Brew’s wife Kalina and 12-year-old daughter Olivia involved with the website construction, and artwork for the show.
The first episode will be available from Thursday. For more information, or to get involved, visit www.thecountryfootyprez.com, and the show’s social media channels – @TCFP7 on Twitter, or ‘The Country Footy Prez’ on Facebook.