Country Club Chaplain

In 2010 two members of the Jeparit Rainbow Football Club meet with traumatic death when they were electrocuted when installing a windmill.

Not only did family members have to face this devastating ordeal but also the football club who lost their President and long serving member.

The community expressed their deep gratitude to the VCFL for their Chaplain helping them deal with the deep and lasting emotional trauma of the loss. Rather than retreating and isolating themselves many reflected on how the Chaplain helped them better heal together as a community by providing timely and genuine emotional support.

Club officials were also grateful having someone who understood how to care for people in tough times.

Local Club Chaplains

Phil Martin has been a friendly and familiar face since 2005 at the Trevor Barker Oval in Sandringham. He serves as a volunteer Chaplain for the club giving a listening ear to the many players, coaches and club people who would otherwise find it hard to talk about the ‘life stuff’ they are regularly facing or helping others through.

Pastor Martin joined the football volunteer staff after the death of club champion and Melbourne Football Club player Troy Broadbridge in the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004. He got to share the emotions and pain with the club following the tragic incident. Martin reflected, “Since then, it’s been my experience, that, blokes in particular, want to talk about ‘the life stuff’ privately yet casually around the track rather than formerly with a counsellor. They’re looking for the friend-over-the-fence conversation.”

After the club lost its President few years ago a senior member of the Board was asked to take on heightened responsibilities at the club. This coincided with some major changes at his work. Martin said, “Thinking about the pressure our club leaders were facing I went ahead and made a phone call to him.” The timing of the call proved to be significant. Noting that the Board member publicly acknowledged, “No one will ever know the difference that phone call made to my life.”

Chaplain Martin regularly finds himself supporting people who are experiencing grief, loss, depression, anxiety and relationship issues. Club General Manager, John Mennie said, “Phil has been great at providing the care our club needs when life goes a little pear-shaped. And it does – we see it all the time. He’s been great for a number of our boys and staff and an invaluable help for our club over the years.”

Chaplains to Women’s Sports

Earlier in the year a Women’s Footy Chaplain received a distressing phone call from one of her club’s young players. Affectionately nicknamed ‘Chappy’ works retail in the city during the day and travels home of an evening. As she has done most weeks for the past 2 years, Chappy left her family after dinner, drove 35km to the northern suburbs, to meet with her player.

The young girl, a key member of her side, was deeply distressed and troubled about personal relationship issues. Not knowing who to turn to, and experiencing unresolved bitterness and anger she called her club chaplain to help ease her ongoing anxiety and depression.

Chappy spent 3 hours with her that night – followed by regular catch-ups, phone calls, chats after training and referral for professional help. The chaplain’s care was instinctive, authentic and sustaining.

A parent of another player approached Chappy on game day distraught and fearful. She was desperate to talk to someone who would listen and offer support. Her child was displaying suicidal tendencies.

Sadly, and understandably, these people never disclosed their pain to anyone in the club. Chappy just ‘being there’, on their turf, the footy club, made a life difference to the growing few silent sufferers. As one player said, “We’re so glad she’s here.”

High Performance Club Chaplains

Local Anglican minister Steve Webster was appointed Chaplain at the Carlton Football Club in 2004 during troubling events such as players accused of illicit drug use and the South-East Asian Tsunami that impacted many football clubs around Australia. Steve was given the dual role of assistant to the property steward at the club which soon evolved into assisting at training sessions.

Steve regularly spends time with players and staff giving a listening ear to their personal and professional challenges. For some Steve offers a sounding board and others a chance to off-load and seek understanding on non-football issues. He spends anywhere between a few hours to a couple of days during the week depending on circumstances and needs. He could be seen handing out water bottles at training, jogging a few laps with the rehab boys, kicking or hand-balling during drills, conducting weddings for staff or players, visiting a sick staff member in hospital or sitting with a player’s family on game day at the MCG.

"The Rev", as he is called by the players and staff, also serves as chaplain to the AIS-AFL Academy which provides training and development to 30 scholarship holders aged 16 and 17. Steve attends camps in Canberra and Melbourne during the year. As a volunteer he serves the team providing pastoral care as a compliment to the various other professional roles at the Academy.

The Day We Needed A Sports Chaplain

Ross Stewart the President of the Wickliffe / Lake Bolac Football & Netball Club writes to us his club account of the day they needed a chaplain when one of his boys died in a car accident.

Dear Reader,

The Day We Needed a Sports Chaplain.

I was President of the Wickliffe Lake Bolac Football & Netball Club for the 2010 season. The club was going along well, enjoying good social times and having moved up the ladder to be sitting just outside the top five.

Our momentum and good times were shattered when at about 2 o’clock on the morning of July 2nd we received news through the CFA of a car accident about 10 minutes from home. My son-in-law Fraggle and I got up and went to see if we could help. On arriving at the accident scene it was cold, wet and raining. The car was upside down in a creek with water more than halfway up the sides. We recognized the car as one of our footballers and he had 3 passengers with him – and we feared they may all be dead. It was about 4.30 in the morning before SES volunteers were able to get 3 of the boys out safely – but tragically the fourth had died.

All the 4 young men in the accident were players in our senior team; the 3 survivors were taken to hospital. We couldn’t get the news of the accident and the death of David out to the rest of the players, supporters and the community until after 7 o’clock in the morning.

Everyone was I shocked and distressed at the news.

As this was a Friday we decided that it would be in the players and supporters best interest if the Saturday games were called off. No one, players or support staff, were in a fit mental state to play a game of football or netball. We thought it would be better if all the players and supporters could get together rather than being in little groups in different places. So we let the players all know there would be a BBQ on at the club rooms at lunch time that we wanted as many as possible to come along.

We weren’t sure how to deal with the situation, we knew everyone would be struggling emotionally, struggling to talk and convey their feelings to each other – but it would be better off if we were together to start the grieving process.

Fraggle suggested we get a Sports Chaplain to come to the group. I was somewhat hesitant, thinking they would come pushing the religious barrow too heavily that this would have the reverse effect on a group of footballers and netballers. However, he assured me this bloke was very good and didn’t work that way. So John Russell (a Sports Chaplain) was contacted. We were very fortunate that he could come.

Most of the players and supporters were able to come along sometime during the afternoon it was very quiet for the start, tears were shed, handshakes and hugs were everywhere. We all moved into the social room and John talked to us. He talked about grief, how people would have different ways of dealing with grief. There are different stages you will go through.

His talk with us was excellent, he had copies of literature dealing with grief and coping with loss available for everyone.

A sub group of “mini chaplains” was set up – a leadership group that players could approach – and if they couldn’t answer the questions or help they could refer onto John.

After John talked, others stood up and spoke including David’s brother Matthew, it wasn’t easy but it was a huge step. With John’s help the Club I took a huge step forward in dealing with their grief and tragic loss of David.

John was available for anyone to talk with. He talked with the 3 players who survived the accident and some of their family members. He has been available for any of us to contact since the accident He was at David’s funeral to support us and the survivors of the accident.

We were out of our depth in knowing how to deal with this trauma but with John coming along with his knowledge, experience and down to earth approach we a club and community benefited hugely.

At the start I said we needed a Sports Chaplain for a Day – we needed John for more than a day and he was always available. We called on him in one of our most troubled times, and he came. We cannot thank him I enough.

I think clubs and communities would benefit if we had Sports Chaplains involved not just in the tough times but in the good times as well.


Ross Stewart