Melbourne , Australia

Kangaroos, Football and the Local Community

North Melbourne Football Club

July 26, 2011

An Aussie-rules Football team rebuilds by bringing the community with them.

A passionate fan base brings excitement, local colour and box office success to most of today’s top sports events. Sports teams all the world over have built reputations for volunteering within the community, promoting local events, and occasional gifts of philanthropy in the form of scholarships, equipment and free passes.

But how often do they build the facilities to bring the community to them?

Disaster Strikes

When a 2006 fire destroyed part of the historic playing field belonging to the North Melbourne Football Club, the Australian rules football team was already facing numerous challenges.

The Kangaroos is the unofficial name of North Melbourne’s football team, an inner city team that had made the sport a ‘religion’ in the working class community.

The team had been suffering financial difficulties since the 1990s and had even held its ‘home’ games in cities like Sydney, Canberra and Carrara. It was having difficulty in growing its audience as the Australian appetite for sports was skewing older (Sports without Borders).

Another issue was changing demographics. Forty percent of North Melbourne’s population was now born overseas; in some neigbhourhoods, more than 60% spoke a language other than English at home. The area has the highest proportion of residences with no internet connection while the median income is among the lowest in the City of Melbourne.

Finally, the league had even tried to relocate the Kangaroos to a more lucrative market in Queensland in 2007.

Starting Fresh

After the Kangaroos survived the league’s push to move, the Club began a new effort at rebuilding its North Melbourne identity. The challenge of how to recruit local support to redevelop the Arden Street facilities into a new training centre quickly morphed into a more strategic conversation about how to make the project relevant to the local community.

It helped that the Club had brought in a new chair, board and chief executive who recognized the importance of reconnecting to the community around the team. Conversations with other Kangaroo supporters brought on board the Scanlon Foundation (with their interest in football as a way to promote social cohesion) along with the Australian Multicultural Foundation.

Their support along with funding from the state of Victoria allowed the Club to unveil plans in June 2008 to build a state-of-the-art Learning and Life Centre in June 2008 as part of the redevelopment specifically to benefit residents in the area.


The aim of the project was to create a unique and rewarding community and sports club relationship through the ‘Learning Centre’ in the proposed Arden Street redevelopment.

To achieve this, the club undertook extensive community consultations in three stages in 2008 to ensure that the program and learning activities delivered through the centre were relevant and appropriate in meeting the needs of the community.

Stage one was a general community consultation, followed by one specifically oriented to youth led by the Centre for Multicultural Youth. The last consultation was aimed at youth and families living in local housing estates.

A key objective of the study was to determine the scope, type of projects and potential partners for the Centre. It was determined that the Centre was to be a place where schools and community groups would use; engaging with our multicultural and indigenous communities; as well as using sport and education to promote social cohesion.

“Our major reasons for doing this is to make North Melbourne [Football Club] relevant to Melbourne and to engage the multicultural community using education and sport as the unifying force. The best investment for us is our members and the community,” said Eugene Arocca, the club’s chief executive.

Success – Not just about Football

Now known as The Huddle, the Learning and Life Centre opened in March 2010. As a department within the football club with the specific task of engaging the local community, it includes the Huddle classroom, a multi-purpose court, meeting rooms and a lecture theatre.

The programming at the Huddle is not just about football, but has a much broader focus through three streams to engage the community.

  • The Education Program includes full day programming for students aged 8-16 years from local primary and secondary schools with tailored activities for newcomer students.
  • The Homework Program has tutorials and education support for teenagers with limited or no internet access as well as classes during the school holidays, such as study skills, driving courses and recreational activities).
  • Finally, the third stream, Community Programs, provides recreational programming for community.

“All programs are free of charge to participants which is one of the obstacles facing the multicultural community,” said Sacha Herceg, Manager Community Programs.

“We offer netball, volleyball, and journalism and photography workshops. We are unique in the Australian Football League that we don’t provide programs focused solely on football.”

The football component is still important part of the Kangaroos’ work. Leaders of diverse multicultural communities have been appointed as North Melbourne Community Ambassadors while program participants from targeted communities are invited to attend games and undertake game education sessions.

The players themselves also participate within the classes. The Huddle even has its own blog where a young player drafted by the North Melbourne team, who was a Sudanese refugee, writes about his family’s journey from Sudan to Australia.

Engaging community has become an intrinsic part of  the club. At a recent league event celebrating multiculturalism in the sport, many fans wore The Huddle’s “Our Club, Our Community’ t-shirts while community ambassadors sent out messages via twitter in languages such as Hindi and Mandarin.

Making it Work for You:

  • Know your community- each community is different.
  • Seek like minded organisations/clubs as partners.
  • Build trust with your community.
  • Maintain consistency with your programs- time, venue.
  • And last but not least- make it fun for everyone…

Themes: Live, Sports

For this Good Idea contact:

Sash Herceg, North Melbourne Football Club
Manager, Community Programs
PO Box 158
North Melbourne, VIC 3051 , Australia,
Direct Ph. 03 9320 2476

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