Soccer Memories with Robyn Metcalfe

2022 marks 40 years of women’s football at MUSC, for which we hosted a fabulous celebration last Sunday at Princes Park. For those who have only been at the club recently, the idea of not having a women’s competition would have been hard to imagine. Robyn Metcalfe was one of the women who played in our first ever MUSC women’s team. In 2017, she wrote a piece recounting her experiences after attending the club-wide 70th birthday. Read of her amazing story below and tell us your story!

I was delighted to watch the Melbourne University Women’s 1st Team on the occasion of the 70 Years of Soccer at Melbourne Uni on June the 10th. I observed a strong skilled team that over ran the opposition and revelled in their victory and team performance. I later learned that the club was having to consider turning away players such was the desire for women at university to play soccer.

As a youngster I never considered the possibility of playing soccer. I grew up in a rural community and I was immersed in sport through tennis, netball, athletics and the annual women’s football game. I had not even heard of soccer until I moved schools to compete year 12 and observed another newly arrived student to the school, Michael Metcalfe, leading a group of students over to the hockey pitch to kick, head or chest a round ball. I thought that both he with his broad Yorkshire accent, and the game, were very strange. The week before our year 12 exams we decided that we might like each other but it was another two years before I was introduced, as a spectator, to soccer and the Melbourne Uni Soccer Club. where Michael was a regular player. I enjoyed watching the game and made some life long friends but it still never occurred to me that I might be able to play. I observed the game from the age of 20 years to 30 before a member of the men’s team tapped me on the shoulder and said the Uni was trying to set up a women’s team and would I be interested in playing. The only soccer experience I had was observing the men and kicking the ball with my then five-year-old son Chris. I was not very confident but decided that I would like to give it a go.

I don’t believe I had even had the opportunity to train with the team before my first game. All I can remember is waiting outside the Beaurepaire Sports Centre for a lift to a game scheduled to be played in Watsonia. I met Kathy Bourke who was organising the group at the time and found myself on a soccer pitch with very little idea of what I was doing. Except for a couple of formidable players our opposition was not much better than us but two of the players had formidable shots and as a defender I found myself trying desperately to defend our goal supporting our capable goalie Mary. We lost the game but not disastrously.

We began to train beside the men’s team. John Gioskas supported by Dave Cutler were original coaches and providers of transport to games. I think there were originally six teams in the competition, Watsonia, Greensborough, Dandenong, All Suburbs, Hoppers Crossing, and Melbourne Uni. A big blow to the team came when Cathy Bourke injured her knee. That led to an operation and the end of her soccer playing days. Cathy attended a few games on crutches but left the club soon after. Tragically our first goalie Mary was killed in a car accident near the end of our first season.

After the first season the club began to grow with some active recruiting on campus. Many of the early players transferred their hockey, polo and skills learned from playing with brothers on the soccer field. Ray Hair, a friend of one of the players, became our coach and introduced some structure and breadth to our play. The team still trained on the same evenings as the men and Noughton’s became the meeting place for both teams after training. The men’s team sat at a long table in the lounge and the women at a smaller corner table with stories and chatter crossing between the tables. The Melbourne Uni women prided themselves on the hospitality offered to visiting teams and nothing less that home cooked scones or cakes were acceptable as after match fare.

In about my third year at the club it was decided that all coaches of the uni teams should have at least attempted to gain coaching qualifications. I was the only woman along with about a dozen of the men players who took to the uni hockey pitch and rooms in the Bailleau for the week long level 2 course. We had instructors leading the course one of which was friendly and supportive to my participation and a stern formal man who made it clear that I wasn’t welcome and was lowering the standards of the course. None the less I completed the course and although I didn’t pass, maybe one or two participants did but not many, I was satisfied with the same level of assessment as Michael.

The following year I took in an assistant coach role in the club supporting Tom Jovonoski who was the leading coach. We shared the coaching responsibilities and team morale was high. The following year I coached in my own right. Near the end of the year I broke my ankle warming up to play an indoor game. I tried to continue coaching on crutches but it was not a popular move. A new coach was appointed for the following year. I tried to continue supporting the club as a spectator but felt a huge sense of loss and it was time to support our son with his soccer development.

I became a committee member for the George Cross juniors and immersed myself in supporting the development of young skilled players one of whom was a young Kevin Muscat. I kept in touch with the uni teams through Michael who continued to play and coach. When Chris left George Cross he became the coach of the men’s team and played until he departed to work in Europe.

Watsonia, Dandenong and Greensborough were the dominating teams in the early days. Our nearest rivals were the All Suburbs team. We joked that we wouldn’t be able to get onto the soccer pitch with all of the dogs that accompanied All Suburbs. Every player seemed to arrive with at least one or two dogs to each match. One memorable afternoon the uni team organised themselves for a corner kick from All Suburbs. Two players quickly went to guard each corner post. Suddenly there was a cry of dismay from Kathy Herrick our Canadian defender. It didn’t take her very long to shake of the doggy wee from her leg and re-join the game.

Some names I remember from the early days are top left Sue Slattery; goalkeeper Mary, to the right of Mary is Cathy Bourke. Teresa Pong is on the bottom left I am at the bottom right of the picture and next to me is Jane Bourke. The coach is John Gioskas.

My advice to young players, budding coaches, referees or committee members is “give it a go”. There is always something to be learned and gained from the experience that may lead to something further.

Go Melbourne Uni!

Robyn Metcalfe.

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