The Meeting: When the Victorian Women's Soccer Association was born

On the cusp of Football Victoria commemorating 50 years of organised Women’s football in 2024, Tony Persoglia looks back at the events leading up to and including the general meeting which birthed the Victorian Women’s Soccer Association.

The months that followed the now iconic Doveton v Bayswater fixture at Olympic Park in July 1973 were pivotal in building interest in Women’s football. While relatively young as clubs, Doveton and Bayswater were well advanced in their development of the Women’s game and others were beginning to sure up numbers in the hope of a competition being formed.

In some respects, the south-east had become the formative heartland of Women’s soccer. With many British migrants settling in the region, it was no surprise that mothers and daughters were following their compatriots in the United Kingdom in taking up the world game. Frankston Pines and Repco Clayton, along with hosts Doveton and Bayswater, remained from the Gala Day of 1972, but they would be joined by an ever-growing cohort in Melbourne’s north-west.

Melton and Werribee had pulled enough numbers from the outer western region to form teams over the latter part of 1973 and they were joined by Green Gully Ajax, Broadmeadows and Albion Rovers in the growing western corridor which now forms the heartland of the Hume-Brimbank municipalities. With dedicated Women’s teams now thriving in several parts of Melbourne, the push for a competition to formalise the regular friendly matches into something more substantial was as strong as ever.

While the Victorian Soccer Federation (VSF) had been pleasantly surprised by the Doveton v Bayswater curtain-raiser, it had no genuine desire to bring the Women under its umbrella. Dedicated Women’s Associations had already formed in New South Wales and Western Australia, thus it was clear that any appetite for organisation would require the Women’s clubs to stand alone.

The formation of a sub-committee to draft a Constitution and Rules of Competition was key to ensuring Women’s league competition would become a reality in 1974. Fred Habbe, Sporting Goods Store owner and Industrial League founder, was instrumental in that process. Habbe drew upon his experience in establishing the Industrial League, which as an associate member of the Federation provided a working model that would benefit the VSF and the Women so desperate for competition.

Lynette McKernan
Though diminutive in stature, Lynette McKernan was a key protagonist in the birth of organised Women's football in Victoria.

Lynette McKernan, who had formed the Doveton Women’s team some three years earlier, was another who brought invaluable experience to the table. McKernan had organised a Women’s Gala Day in October 1972, which involved clubs in the south-east in a day-long festival, most likely the first event of its kind in Victoria involving Women. Having faced the challenges of starting a club with little or no support, she understood the hurdles the collective would need to overcome.

Thus, a General Meeting for the first Wednesday in December was called, and while there was excitement amongst those keen to play, it was still uncertain how many interested clubs would be in attendance let alone stump up the investment required to get a league up and running. Any fears were soon put to bed, with ten clubs in the room and one other declaring their interest.

As far as General Meetings go, the gathering lasted a little more than an hour, with the first item on the agenda confirming the ten affiliate club members. Habbe, nominated as acting Chairman for proceedings, was able to pass the nominated Constitution and Rules of Competition, with some consternation from the Melbourne club, who deemed the constitution too ‘fussy’ and queried the use of the ‘modern’ method for calculating goal difference.

Jacqueline Ager was the first woman to hold an officer bearer position with the VWSA and was later recognised as a Life Member for her efforts.

With scrutineers appointed, a vote was called for the selection of office bearers, Habbe handing election duties to Bayswater representative Eric Holbrook. Ultimately, the key roles were elected unopposed, Habbe assuming the role of Chairman, Kip Sumner as Vice President, Jacqueline Ager as Secretary cum Treasurer and Lou Szantho as Publicity Officer. The remaining committee members were elected from a pool of six, and included Lynette McKernan, Gloria Taylor from Frankston Pines and Chris Zaharin from Bayswater.

The biggest challenges moving forward were a problem synonymous with the sport in a broader context today – access to facilities, pitches and better coaching. These hurdles were even greater for the fact that Men were hardly forthcoming in offering their assistance. Ager illustrated the difficulties in aligning with their Men’s counterparts in a press interview a mere fortnight after the VWSA was formed, “When we approached Frankston Pines they were taken aback – in fact the idea of affiliation horrified them.”

With the 1973 festive season fast approaching, little time remained for clubs to organise their own committees and recruit enough players for the start of the inaugural season in 1974. But the wheels were  set in motion, and the Victorian Women’s Soccer Association was now officially the governing body for Women’s football in Victoria.