They are sanctums that provide a community to supporters, players, and fans alike.
While for some it’s about wins and losses, for many it’s the great people you meet that make it worthwhile.
However, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
‘Footy culture’ has gained negative connotations in modern terminology, essentially becoming synonymous with exaggerated masculinity and sexism.
There have been times where I’ve questioned the culture at football clubs in general – and I’m sure I’m not alone. The imminent ‘bloke culture’ that permeates the ills of sexism and ‘being a man’ can overshadow the companionship and community that a football club provides.
While I would be lying if I said this ugly side had been totally invisible to me in my experiences as a suburban footballer, there was one moment at my club where my overall view of football clubs changed forever.
They say that the character of a person can be determined in moments of tragedy. In this instance, the character of an entire organisation – and more broadly, the positive interpretation of ‘footy culture’ – was realised.
My club, Vermont – situated in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne – had two Under 19’s teams. Both had enjoyed wins on what seemed like a normal Saturday in July.
But the news we would hear in the next two hours would change our lives – and the lives of many others – forever.
There was a player in my side by the name of Joseph Moschetti. He may not have been the best footballer, but he would turn up to every training and welcome everyone with his famous looping handshake and a kind greeting. He was the kind of fella who cared about everyone, and just loved the community environment that sporting clubs provide.
Admittedly, I never spoke much to Joey, but when I did, it was almost always about our beloved Richmond Tigers. His passion for them was clear every time I spoke to him. He was always hopeful, contrary to myself – the eternal pessimist, who would predict the worst.
The big thing about Joey was that he would try his heart out and give 110% in any contest he was put into. If he failed, he would give 110% again. And again. And again.
In no time at all, he became a cult figure of the Vermont U19’s. A person with the sort of determination, honesty and compassion that typifies exactly what makes a football club great.
Moey, as we all called him, had been ill for three weeks after being diagnosed with Colitis. The bowel condition had caused him to lose a number of kilos in hospital. After being absent from training during this time, he was up at the club for team selection on a Thursday night, supporting us in characteristic Joseph Moschetti fashion. He looked to be on the mend.
The next day, Joseph went to bed with the intention of watching his side – the Feagles (Forest Hill Eagles) – play the next morning.
But he never woke up.
Most of us found out about his shock passing an hour or so after our match on Saturday. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. There was no way that it could be true. How could this happen to someone so young, so full of life, so full of love?
How were we never going to experience that unique handshake ever again?
We were all called up to the football club, and the feeling was indescribable. I sat there next to one of my best mates, Sean, and I just didn’t know what to say or do.
“At first, it was disbelief,” Sean said, looking back on that day. “We refused to believe it, because we couldn’t accept it being true – we needed our mate Joe. I took it upon myself to call my friend who had passed on the news, and just by hearing his voice on the other end, I knew it was real. My heart sank.”
Footy clubs are sometimes referred to as ‘boys clubs’ by outsiders. A place where men must ‘act like men’. A place where emotion is supposedly kept inside, and ridiculed when it is displayed.
While at times there is truth to this statement, that day was nothing like that.
When the news was officially announced to the group by our coach John Brown, no one could breathe, let alone speak. As time flowed on, tears began to fall. We started giving each other hugs, comforting words, and pats on the back, supporting one another in a way many wouldn’t expect from young footballers.
“It was horrible, one of the worst days we’ve all ever experienced, but aspects of it were so powerful. I can’t speak prouder about how the entire club supported us players, and how we supported each other,” Sean said.
As a group, we decided that we would hang around the club to support each other and celebrate Joseph’s life together.
Sean sent a letter to Joseph’s parents days after his passing, detailing his relationship with Moey and offering words of support – despite being virtually unknown to them. The enormous courage shown by sending this letter, alongside his attitude towards life and his peers, earned him the inaugural Joseph Moschetti ‘Moe’ Award for club spirit on Vermont’s 2016 Best and Fairest night.
The criteria for the award proclaims: “the ‘Moe’ is awarded to a person who has lived our values and has enhanced our culture through their hard work, honesty, sacrifice, empathy, team-first approach and mateship” – a fitting description of our mate, Moey.
There was no one more deserving of the honour.
“When I heard my name called for the award, again my heart sank. But this time, it was different. It meant more to me than you could ever imagine. To receive that award from Joseph’s father – I was so honoured.”
Even though Joseph’s parents Rob and Jane didn’t know Sean personally, his heartfelt message meant so much to them.
“It blew us away – many things blew us away but that was from the heart. It spoke volumes about him as a person. We’ve shown that letter to a number of people and we can’t believe it was written by an 18-year-old boy,” Rob said.
The entire team alongside members of the football club attended his funeral a week later, joining hundreds of people throughout the community who had the ultimate privilege of knowing Joseph.
Vermont Football Club held the wake at their precinct. In the eyes of Joseph’s parents, their overall support was a bit of a surprise.
“We were new to the club. Joe was there just the one season, but they were above and beyond helpful. They were outstanding.”
Vermont South Cricket Club, the EFL Umpiring fraternity and Joseph’s former football clubs Waverley Blues and Glen Waverley Hawks were also “brilliant” in their support, according to his parents.
Rob and Jane say it’s highly suspected that a problem with the electrics in Joseph’s heart was the cause of death. We will never really know for certain, though, with no medical explanation for his passing.
However, there’s one thing that is certain.
Moey’s legacy will live on, in the hearts and minds of everyone that had the pleasure of knowing him.
Vale Joseph Thomas Moschetti. 6th July 1998 – 30th July 2016.