By NATALIA HAWK
But this week, I wanted to talk to a very different kind of female involved in sport. The one that’s not on the actual field, kicking goals or wielding a cricket bat.
This article is about the females that are so often overlooked – the ones on the sidelines, with water bottles and biscuits. The ones driving kids to hockey and dance classes and washing their uniforms and reminding them about footy practice.
Behind every successful athlete out there, is a female that has helped them get to the level. For some, it might be a coach. For some, it might be a mother. For some, it might be a mother figure.
That’s who Mel Lamber is. Along with her husband, she works in welfare for the GWS GIANTS – an AFL team based out of Western Sydney that consists of 52 boys, the great majority aged between 18 and 21.
As a team, the GIANTS have a pretty amazing story. They entered the AFL at the start of 2012, and having such a young team means that their first couple of seasons have been a little bit slow – they’ve only won three games so far. But they’re developing quickly and many experts are predicting big things for the club. The Mamamia team even went along to a game, with writer Kahla telling me:
As somebody with a basic – okay, virtually non-existent – knowledge of AFL, watching the GWS Giants in action was enlightening on many, many levels. Here’s what I learned: AFL teams have awesomely rousing anthems; yelling out “Go son!” and “Ball!” is an appropriate reaction to good play; and the Giants’ corporate box has a lolly table to rival any Pick ‘n Mix stand you raided as a child. It was also really cool to witness the team spirit and excitement the Giants players drew from their supporters – it’s clear the folks of Greater Western Sydney are proud of their talented young men and were ecstatic to see them win.
But here’s the thing: the GIANTS team wouldn’t be able to operate without Mel Lambert. The great majority of the players have come from interstate and don’t have anyone around to help them out. So Mel teaches the players how to cook, how to clean and how to do their washing. She takes them for driving lessons and helps them fill out applications for rental properties. She chats to them about relationship issues.
She’s essentially Mum to an entire team of football players.
Oh, and she’s also got four children of her own. Because she hasn’t got enough to do with her time.
I chatted to Mel about exactly what she does and how she found herself involved in such a supportive environment…
MM: How did you get started in welfare?
My husband used to play AFL, many years ago – he was with the Brisbane Lions and that’s where he started in welfare. We’ve got four children, so I was at home with the kids, and he was doing welfare and basically he would invite a few boys round for dinner for him to get to know them better and work out their personalities. I ended up cooking once a week for five or six boys who would come over. And that ended up being every Tuesday – I would cook dinner, on average 18 players would come over.
MM: That must be a lot of food…
It was a lot of food, a lot of chicken schnitzel and a lot of pasta. So that just started from there, and then we were asked to come up and do that sort of thing for the clubs in Sydney.
MM: What does an average day look like for you?
There’s no average day. You know, I sort of wake up every morning and say, “Okay, pretty quiet today!” and then by 10 o’clock I have six or seven phone calls from different boys wanting different things. It could be anything – just last week I was repairing washing machines for the boys, pulling them all apart, sorting blockages and then putting them back together.
I remember with one of the boys – he was complaining that he needed to get his car repaired cos it wouldn’t start; he thought it had a flat battery. So I met the mechanic with his car, in the pouring rain. We were standing there with this car trying to get it started and the mechanic pushed on the back of the car and he actually had no petrol in his car. I was like “Really? You don’t want to check the gauge?” And he goes, “well there was at least like another five km’s of petrol in there.” Oh my goodness gracious.
Also – the boys were complaining because the oven wasn’t working in their apartment. And there was a switch, like a power board, that had the kettle plugged in one side and the toaster plugged in on the other, and between those two there was a switch which was clearly the oven, which was switched off. So I flicked the switch, turned the oven on and went, “Magic!”
They’re dead funny, dead funny boys, they’re a bit interesting when they’re cooking, not knowing how to cut onions and that – some of them are wearing goggles whilst they’re cutting up onions and they cry – but yeah they’re very funny boys.
MM: And how do you manage everything with your own kids as well?
Our kids are actually great because they’ve grown up in the football club. They actually love it when the boys come over, and the boys come over quite a bit, at least one or two of them are over every night, sitting on the couch and having a chat. Sometimes the boys if they’ve got time will come and watch our boys play footy as well which is really nice, so it’s a big family environment.
MM: And do they all call you Mum?
A few of them have my number in their phones as Mum, and if they ring up they’ll be like “Hi Mum!”. They’re very funny boys.
They’re also very respectful boys too, they put in an order for a big bunch of flowers for Mother’s Day, so that was really nice.
MM: Do you have any suggestions for people who’d want to get involved with helping out but don’t quite know where to get started?
I reckon just go into the local footy club and be supporting either your kids, grandkids, whoever, nephews, nieces’ sporting clubs and getting involved that way. There’s lots of ways to get involved in local levels. You can also just become a member of a club and offer to help if they need it.
So there you have it. Mel is amazing – and she’s not the only one. There are thousands and thousands of women out there supporting our major athletes that don’t get nearly as much recognition as they deserve.
If you know a woman that deserves some thanks – please use this post as an opportunity. I’ll kick off with my own mum, who let me sign up to sailing even though she was ridiculously scared of the skiff flipping over and me getting stuck under it and drowning. Hey mum – thanks for sitting through all those regattas, thanks for paying for all the accommodation and travel, and thanks for always being there when I got off the water, waiting with a sausage roll in one hand and a soft drink in the other.
Anyone you’d like to thank? Go ahead and leave it in the comments.
And in other sports news this week:
The first Ashes test for The Southern Stars (the Australian women’s cricket team) has ended in a draw. Both sides shared the points in a new Ashes series format. Still to come – the One day and Twenty20 matches. You can read more about the Ashes here.
Speaking of cricket – Sarah Elliott, who managed an international debut century at the Ashes, did it all while breastfeeding her nine-month-old baby. She had to get up four times during the night before a game during which she scored 95 runs stumps – plus she breastfed during lunch and tea breaks. Check out this tweet from her coach:
Best quote from #supermum “expressing (milk) at lunch time & then getting back out there.” Not bad, 95*! Do u think the guys could do this?
— Lisa Sthalekar (@sthalekar93) August 12, 2013
Earlier in the week, the Football Federation Australia announced that former Socceroo, Ante Juric, will be the new Assistant Coach for the Westfield Matildas, and will also become FFA’s Assistant Technical Director for Women’s Football. Incidentally, the Matildas have risen to their highest-ever FIFA Women’s World ranking of Number 8.
The Australian women’s basketball team, the Opals, won 66-50 over New Zealand at the Oceania championship earlier this week, putting themselves in a good position for the women’s world basketball championships. Their next game is set to happen on Sunday.
On a global level – Marion Bartoli, Wimbledon champion, announced her retirement from tennis on Wednesday. The 28-year-old French tennis player is the world’s seventh-ranked women’s player, but retired due to injuries.
Have you seen anything on women’s sport this week that you want to talk about?
And, while you’re here, here’s a message from the awesome Victorian Roller Derby League:
VRDL are having a cracker of a year so far and things show no signs of slowing down. And in just over a week, they’ll be hosting another double header at Darebin Community Sports Centre!
This is your last chance to see the All Stars, VRDL’s top tiered skaters, before they head off to bout in WFTDA Division 1 Divisionals in Oregon in September. These are some seriously talented skaters. In fact, if you’ve never seen a roller derby bout you’ll be wondering where it’s been all your life!
When: Aug 25
Where: Darebin Community Sports Stadium
What time: Doors open at 3pm with the first game starting at 3:45.
How much: Online Ticket Prices (including booking fees) start from $11 (kids under 5 free) and on the door starts from $15.
Where to purchase: You can pay on the door, but it’s cheaper online. Head to http://vrdl.
For more information, check out VRDL’s website: http://www.vrdl.org/
Support your local roller derby team!