IT'S CALLED FOOTBALL
It wasn’t until around 2010 – just a decade ago – that our club took on the name as we now know it. Before then, it was known as the Balmain District Soccer Club.
Now, at last, we came into ourselves as the Balmain District Football Club, with an updated logo to boot.
A SPORT FOR ALL
By the mid 2000s, BDFC’s furthered its mission to make football a sport that all local kids could play. Spearheaded by Special Needs Co-ordinator Ellen Fanning, the club began a campaign to launch an All Abilities program, which would enable special needs athletes to take part in the joys of the game in a fun, safe and less competitive environment.
Interest in such a program was high, and growing exponentially. But, as Fanning told the Daily Telegraph, the biggest hurdle was finding a suitable space to play.
“It’s 2015 and there is not a single, public ground in the Leichhardt Municipal area suitable for disabled athletes to play soccer,” she said. Birchgrove Oval, where the Balmain team played, had no disabled access or facilities to speak of: “no ramp to enter the field, no disabled parking, no disabled toilets … Disabled athletes have to be carried onto the field at Birchgrove, they have to be carried to the toilets.”
Fortunately, Leichhardt Council was on board with the club’s proposal to improve field access. With their support, the club applied for a $75k department of sport and recreation grant.
In May 2016, the first All Abilities season began.
The club is indebted to Fanning for her tireless work in bringing the joy of football to those typically excluded from sporting activities like these. The annual award that goes Most Improved Player in the All Abilities program is named after this incredible woman, with Ishani Roy being the first to the Ellen Fanning Award in 2016.
SPACES TO PLAY
“Where will the people play?” This was the question on many minds in the inner west, as the multi-billion dollar Bays Precinct Development Plan looked to create 16,000 new dwellings in the area, projected to bring in 32,000 new residents, with no plans to match this influx with active recreation space. Fields and facilities were already under incredible strain, and there were real concerns that the added population pressure – more than Balmain, Rozelle and Annandale combined, no less – would cause the fitness and well-being of the residents to suffer.
In 2015, a Sporting Alliance – including football, netball, athletics, cricket, rugby union and rugby league – banded together in a campaign for Spaces to Play. Among its demands were at least 7 sporting fields in the 80-hectare redevelopment site.
“We need to have more viable grounds for all codes of sports,” veteran BDFC goalkeeper Hans Kumpel (75) told the Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s been going on for yonks and that applies to many teams. When I played for Marrickville FC, and now with Balmain, we often have to play on other grounds in our district when we’re meant to have a home game.”
“The failure to guarantee new sporting facilities as a fundamental principle of the major new housing projects in the City of Sydney catchment is an extraordinary failure of leadership at both the political and planning levels from Council, the State Government and its development agencies,” BDFC president Glenn Burge, who was also convenor of the Spaces to Play campaign and infrastructure advocate for Canterbury District Football Soccer Association (CDSFA).
Launched by former Matilda’s Vice-captain and football official Moya Dodd, the alliance and its supporters rallied at Balmain High School in February. Seven months later, the draft plans for the Bays Precinct were finally made public – with the campaigns request found to be ignored. With Leichhardt mayor Darcy Byrne on side, the lobbying campaign continued amongst the codes.
A BETTER, SAFER HOME GROUND AT CALLAN
By the mid-2000s, Callan Park was beginning to look like a goat’s track. Increased usage, inadequate maintenance and natural degradation was making it an unsafe and insufferable place for BDFC members – as well as any other athletes and clubs using the field – to train and play. The grass would yellow and tear up, the surface would become boggy with just a little rain, and the risks of injury for our players was rising to a level of considerable concern.
In 2016, a proposal passed for Balmain DFC to work with then Mayor Darcy Byrne to upgrade the fields. Temporarily stalled by the state government, it was reprised in 2017 following fierce campaigning.
The Callan Park upgrade comprised of two stages – both of utmost importance for Balmain DFC. The first: let there be light! It took a while, but on June 2018, modern lights at the park were turned on. For the first time in its history, Callan Park could be used for night training and games.
A year later, the $2.5m upgrade to the sporting fields was officially complete. Two playing fields had a new surface installed, with a modern irrigation that included sub-surface field drainage and irrigation tanks. The fields were fenced, and new cricket nets and wickets were added.
These developments came together to create a better, safer playing surface for all. It is because of this upgrade that our teams aren’t “washed out” as often as they were just a few years ago, and the fields are open for more days of the year.
We’ve always loved our home ground, but this critical upgrade made us love it all the more. But the story doesn’t end there. With the successful opening of the new fields, BDFC President Paul Avery officially declared the next dream to achieve: to rejuvenate, repair the old, disused repatriation hospital and turn it into a club house for the club and community at large.
Once opened, this club house will also be a proud home to some of Balmain DFC’s history – a place for donated or discovered memorabilia and artefacts – which any current or past member can visit and learn from.
FROM BALMAIN TO ZAMBIA
In 2012, over 250 old Balmain Tigers shirts were shipped off to Eastern Zambia. They were dropped off at the Tikondane Community Centre in Katete, and received with big smiles by the ‘Tiko Tigers’ mens’, youth and girls’ teams. The region was, and remains, one of the poorest places in the world, with much of the community relying upon subsistence farming to survive.
The club was proud to support this and many other communities less privileged than our own. We made a habit of regularly donating soccer equipment, and in 2013-5, raised $26,000 for UNICEF.