The Club's Evolution
The Flying Bats Football Club’s beginnings were due to the drive and energies of a small group of determined women who wanted to play football, have fun and provide a sense of belonging for other women at a time when sexism, a lack of visibility and homophobia could blight the lives of many. As the Club moved beyond its first decade though, and growing numbers of players sought to join, it became vital for the Club to evolve and to professionalise so that it could flourish.
Forming a Flying Bats Committee
In the 1990s, Sue Kerr was confirmed as the Club's first president and worked to establish a more formal structure to the Club, including office bearers and greater involvement with the Association. Sue Kerr remembers how the shift to the Gladesville competition meant that the Club had to organise more professionally. She remembers feeling “we had to get much better and we had to be a better member of the association to make it imprint upon them that we were a worthwhile member of the association. Up until that stage, all we’d done was our regular canteen duty, all of that sort of stuff. But we’d not actively contributed much to the association."
Responding to an advertisement in LOTL magazine, Annette Ussher joined the Club soon after Sue Kerr and became Club secretary. She was followed closely by Gayle Hannan who became Club Treasurer. Sue Kerr retired from the Club around 2000 and Annette and Gayle continued their work. Together, these women were tireless contributors to the Flying Bats. They ensured the stability of the Club through these transitional years and have been credited as essential to the Club's survival and shaping women's football in NSW.
"The reason that the Flying Bats has been able to probably last and continue and prosper is because of all the hard yacka, the many meetings that we sat through, ... volunteering to do stuff, all of that sort of stuff because that had to be done.”
-- Sue Kerr
Sue Kerr recalls: “what happened was that Annette and Gayle…got involved with the actual association committee.” Sue herself “used to regularly go to the association meetings.” As the Flying Bats became more aware of the structure and processes adopted by other clubs, they realised “every other club had presidents and secretaries and stuff like that – we decided we had to do that. So we went down that path.”
Bats vs St. Joans
In the mid-90s, the Flying Bats were an organised and consistent presence. They were regularly playing against St. Joans, another predominately lesbian team, that started up after the Bats.
St. Joans wore a celtic green and white jersey and were less structured and serious than the Bats at this time. They played against the Bats between 1996 and 1999 as part of the Mardi Gras Summer Soccer Tournament. Jane Castle, a member of the Flying Bats in the early years, played for St. Joans after the Bats as some of her friends moved to this team.
Continued Growth of the Club
Following Annette and Gayle's retirement from the Club, Julie Purser became a key figure in maintaining the Club in the role of President. Julie served as President for around eight years and has since been awarded Flying Bats life membership for her dedication. She was President when the Bats participated in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and established the first formal Club constitution. Her memories stress the leadership qualities and communication skills that help those fill the role of President. She also mentions the support of Caz Wilson (also a Bats President), Tina King-Garde and Georg Hibberd during this period. Caz Wilson played a vital role in establishing an early website for the Club.
Anna Flynn, who first played in 2002 and has played every year since, except 2014 when she was pregnant, saw the Bats move from a smaller and less structured Club into the more organised Club it is today. In her first year of playing, there were “just two teams. How many do we have today? “About five or six – seven? Wow. Which is massive.” Furthermore, in the early 2000s, the Bats “didn’t really seem to have coaches in the respect we do these days. So, you had a team manager, but it was a player as well. So there was no real coaching experience. So we’d do some pretty good training exercises and then really you’d rock up on Sunday and everyone would play the match. Not that much discipline. People would turn up about ten minutes before. No warm-up and just get out there and do what they could really.” Tina King-Garde, who is one of Club's longest participating players, echoes Anna's thoughts about the Club's significant growth and evolution. "I think that the Bats has, in the last 30 years, proved itself to be an extremely well-run, well-organised football club, firstly, with an extraordinary amount of talent."
"The different presidents as they came through, and we have had quite a few in that time, have each brought new things to the Club." -- CJ Donovan, player for eleven years
Anna Flynn also served in a number of roles and remembers that committee roles evolved over time. “The committee has grown, got smaller again, got bigger, depending on who’s in charge and who decides on what positions.” She also credits various Club Presidents with helping the Club evolve in different directions.
Coming Out Online: Building a Web and Social Media Presence
Danielle Warby served as Club President after Julie Purser, as well as community liaison for the Club and other roles. Dan is a Flying Bats Life Member and according Anna Flynn, “brought in much more of the identifying as lesbian aspect.” Julie Purser also emphasises that "people like Dan have actually brought great change in the club and positive change. The Club's really grown. It's much more diverse." During her time with the Flying Bats, Dan introduced a revised Club logo and was instrumental in driving a greater website and social media presence.
The growth of the internet and social media has also allowed the Club to communicate more easily to its members and the community. Anna Flynn remembers Facebook being an important shift for the Club. “There was a lot of debate around it.” Today though, it plays a central role in helping the Club to organise socially, which is still a crucial part of the Club’s purpose.
Alicia Rich, President for the first time in 2011, was also critical in enhancing Club communication and outreach with the wider LGBTIQ community. In 2009, prior to her presidency, she used her initiative to develop the 'Bat Wrap' summarising the results from the weekend games. She also made a video of the Division 3 and Division 5 teams who had both made the grand final that year. Alicia remembers "what I learned from my work and what I tried to bring in as President was that people just want a voice".
Flying Bats at the Gay Games
The Flying Bats have also formed relationships with other LGBTIQ sporting clubs and even participated on the international sporting stage. In 1990, early members of the Flying Bats (then playing for St. Joans) went to the Gay Games in Vancouver, Canada. It was the third time the event had been held and was the first time the Games were convened outside of the U.S. In 2010, two teams of seven Flying Bats travelled to the Gay Games in Cologne, Germany. CJ Donovan recalls this trip fondly: "That was fantastic. It was really fun. Anna Flynn organised it essentially and we did some fundraising which involved dancing in Eurotrash wear. It was quite a trip."
Strengthening Outreach and Consolidating the Club
Links with other Clubs have been consolidated since 2011. Alicia Rich says "we've got a brother club, I suppose the male version of the Bats is the Sydney Rangers." The Sydney Rangers had been running the Justin Fashanu Cup since 2008 and in 2011, the competition was opened up to include women's teams. The Bats also now co-run a Mardi Gras six-a-side tournament with the Rangers. The Pride Football Australia (PFA) Tournament, alternating between Sydney and Melbourne, has also been played between the Flying Bats and the Melbourne Rovers since 2012. Teams compete for the Julie Murray cup (named after the former Matildas captain). The end of year PFA trips have been a highlight for many players.
The Flying Bats stall at the Fair Day that is part of Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival has proven to be a successful way of promoting the Club to new members. Ellen Scott, who joined the Club in 2004, remembers going to Fair Day the morning after moving to Sydney. "That's where i found the Flying Bats, at Fair Day. So before I'd been twelve hours in Sydney, I was enrolled with the Flying Bats." The Flying Bats stall has now become part of the Fair Day Sports Village.
Coaching has also become more of a priority for the Club and significant efforts have been made to recruit coaches and assistant coaches. Alicia Rich remembers that from 2011, "I wanted to have a coach for every team and preferably a non-playing coach. Because I had been in one of those teams where my coach was a player and we sometimes had a coach and sometimes we didn't. So that wasn't immediately possible, unfortunately, because as a volunteer organisation, you have to take what you get a lot of the time. But I was very proud of the fact that we did manage to find a coach for every single team." Fiona Kavanagh, who has played for fourteen seasons, is proud of the improved training the Club is able to offer contemporary players. In 2016, she ran two courses sponsored by Marrickville Council which "were basically all skill work" for women who had not been exposure to soccer before or wanted to improve their skills.
Reflecting on the evolution she has seen in her time as a player, Tina King-Garde asserts that "I love to see all these young women coming in with their energy and enthusiasm. I love to see people interacting and I love that the Bats are still there. I think that the Bats will continue to do that. As long as people want to play football, the Bats will continue to do it. I've seen the changes in integrating with other groups, with the one-off competitions, the pride competition, the Mardi Gras competition."
For those original Bats, the Club’s growth and survival is inspiring. Tracey Atkinson, who played the first season, thinks it’s “fabulous that we’re hearing and seeing it all still going…it’s just sort of taken off…” Tracey remembers a 2009 conversation she had with Linda Patterson, widely acknowledged as the driving force behind the Bats’ formation. She says Linda was “really chuffed about” the club’s continued growth and success.