If Ellerslie AFC was a dude I’d buy him a beer. Maybe two. He’d be the kind of guy I’d like to hang out with.
I’ve been to Michaels Ave a couple of times in recent years as part of a visiting team. Both times we were smashed, but the atmosphere in the clubrooms afterwards was warm, respectful and genuine. You don’t always get that.
You can tell a lot about the culture of a club, and the people involved, by the vibe you get when you pay them a visit for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. It’s telling.
I’m not going to launch into a tirade about the clubs I hated visiting (there were a few). That can wait for another time. But I will pose a question: why does your football club exist?
After I ceased my involvement with Matamata Swifts, where I was the President until early this year, I’ve kind of been pondering this question, on and off, and when time allows. We tried to do things a certain way at Matamata and it pretty much unravelled over the summer. That wasn’t pleasant but, with the benefit of hindsight, anyone who was paying attention probably could have seen it coming. Why? Because what we said we wanted to do was different to what we actually did.
At the most basic level a football club is there to offer people the chance to play football. Obvious. That’s its basic purpose. But any group could do that.
A club should be more than just clubrooms, some fields and small groups of people milling around on a Saturday afternoon, though. A fully flourishing club needs to be the hub of its community, in whatever way its particular community is defined. Greater than the sum of its part and all that.
At Matamata we actually defined this: the club was to be the beating heart of our community. But we didn’t faithfully live that purpose, and we didn’t always make decisions with that purpose as our guide. And that’s where we fell down.
That doesn’t mean Matamata Swifts AFC has disappeared. Far from it. The problems have been identified and a new path charted. Only time will tell whether that path brings the club back into the NRFL. To my mind the NRFL thing is not nearly as important as the club living up to its purpose and serving its community authentically.
Results-wise, football clubs rise and fall all the time. The clubs that endure successfully, both on and off the field, are those that know intensely what they stand for and live their lives accordingly.
And that brings me back to Ellerslie. My observations, admittedly from a distance, are that this is a stable, well run, community club that is 100% self-aware and unashamedly promotes its own unique values and culture. I saw that when I visited the clubrooms after being bashed on the field. I experienced that with the fans on the bank two weeks ago. I imagine a big dose of it would have been needed to establish the new Michaels Ave #1.
All this is more important than results on the field, but I’d also suggest these two things come hand in hand and you don’t consistently get later without the former. Keep doing what you’re doing Ellerslie.
Now, about that beer…
* Obscure early-80’s musical reference.
This article first appeared in Ellerslie AFC’s programme for their game against Bay Olympic on Saturday April 27, 2013. Culture, purpose and values is a theme I’ll expand on at some stage as it’s a fascinating topic.