FFW 2021: Meet small club making a huge grassroots impact

The small town of Lochinvar, nestled just outside of Maitland in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, had an official population of just 784 people in 2016, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Despite this modest population base, over the past five years the town’s respected football club, Lochinvar Rovers FC, has become a magnet for female footballers of all ages and abilities courtesy of its focus on inclusion and opportunity, and commitment to driving genuine connections with Australian players and teams at the highest levels of the sport.

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Through the efforts of the Rovers’ Committee, and hard-working women including Club Secretary Lisa Duhig and President Anita Lopez, the club from the end of Robert Road has achieved over 1,000 per cent growth in its female participation numbers in the last five seasons – rising from just eleven female players in 2015, to 131 female footballers in 2020.

Players from as far as Denman – over 90 kilometres away – now make the weekly commute to Lochinvar to train, play, and connect with the global game at the grassroots.

This tremendous growth in both female and male participation (boy’s and men’s participation numbers are up over 100 per cent over the same period) may never have occurred if Lisa, together with her partner Dan, hadn’t seen and responded to a Facebook post from the club in 2015 as it searched for new volunteers.

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(L-R) Lochinvar Rovers FC President Anita Lopez (left) with Club Secretary Lisa Duhig (right) in 2021

“Our eldest child was about to turn five and we saw a Facebook post with Lochinvar Rovers looking for Committee members,” Lisa, who is not from a football background but has grown to love the game, explained.

“At the time, my husband had just taken a redundancy, so we went to the emergency AGM at the Lochinvar Pub thinking we’d put his hand up. But there wasn’t really anyone else there, so Dan and I both got involved, with me becoming Secretary, a position I remain in today.”

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A year later, Lisa sensed the opportunity to engage more local girls with football through Female Football Week. Tired of hearing some women at mother’s group claim that their girls couldn’t play sport, she decided to ask Northern New South Wales Football what chance there’d be to have some Newcastle Jets Westfield W-League players visit the club to promote the game.

That outreach resulted in a visit from long-serving Jets utility, Cassidy Davis, as well as former W-League attacker, Jenna Kingsley. It also served as the catalyst for the start of a close and mutually beneficial relationship between the Rovers and Jets – one that has extended to the Westfield Matildas.

“The visit from Cass and Jenna was the beginning of great things,” Lisa added. “We have since had more visits from both W-League and A-League players and taken our teams to Jets games for ‘Half-Time Heroes’ opportunities and to be player mascots. Our girls have played at Jets and Matildas games and were mascots for one of the Matildas games in Newcastle.”

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Anita Lopez in 2021 with one of her kids with Jets W-League player Cassidy Davis (from last week’s club clinic)

“We also had a visit from Chloe Logarzo, which came through a Football Australia competition. There was a survey to fill in, so I literally rung or spoke to the parents of every girl in our club to make sure everyone did it. We ended up winning, and received a visit from Logarzo, who is now my daughter’s favourite player.”

“The visits from the Jets combined with Hunter Valley Football kicking off Girls Only MiniRoos teams has definitely contributed to driving female participation at our club, and allowed the flow-on of female coaches, and Mums playing.”

Over the last few years, the Rovers have made a decision as a club to utilise their social media platforms not only to share their club’s news and updates, but to magnify all that’s good about Australian football.

From the Jets, to the Westfield Matildas and Socceroos, and the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia/New Zealand 2023™, the Rovers proactively, and just about daily, amplify Australian football content as a means to provide broad support to the code.

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“The reason for the social media promotion is definitely to give back to the Jets and Australian teams who give so much to the community,” Lisa said. “We really appreciate it and do what we can to watch all their matches and attend their events.”

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Westfield Matilda Chloe Logarzo visiting the Lochinvar Rovers

Just last week, over 15 Lochinvar Rovers – including Lisa’s and Anita’s kids – took part in a Jets W-League clinic at No. 2 Sportsground in the heart of Newcastle.

No. 2 Sportsground serves as the Jets’ Westfield W-League home ground, has been used as a Westfield Matildas training site, and could host training activity when the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ arrives in Australia in just two years’ time.

With Lochinvar just a 45-minute drive from candidate Host City Newcastle, and a stone’s throw from Maitland and Cessnock, two towns that have been nominated as Base Camp options for the 32 competing nations, the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ may well provide further stimulus to the Rovers’ participation base.

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