Eastern Lions Soccer Club, a proud roar reaches 60 years
In 1963 a group of British expats laced their boots, keen to indulge in their favourite winter sporting pastime.
Clinging to memories of the homeland they’d left on the other side of the globe, after embarking on a brave venture to start a new life in a sunburnt land Downunder, they answered an advertisement that had been placed in the local newspaper, the Waverley Gazette.
The Waverley City Soccer Club was born.
Moving into its seventh decade, now known as the Eastern Lions, the club is holding a 60th year celebration event on Saturday, 29 July marking the proud history of the Waverley City, Old Scotch Waverley and Eastern Lions soccer clubs.
Event organisers are hoping to reunite several championship and cup winning teams while special guests will be in attendance, old photographs and newspaper clippings will be on display and there’ll be recognition of hall-of-famers and club legends.
And the tall tales told are sure to get that little bit taller as the night progresses.
“And now with the video footage we have, there’s some classic stuff on there,” long time club stalwart and Lions legend Norm Wilcocks said. “We’re really looking forward to it. Some of the old timers are coming back for it and we’ll interview them on stage. It’s so important to look after the club’s history now, while we still can.”
Bill Blackley, the club’s original captain/coach, will be one of the guests of honour.
“He’s 95 now and he’s coming,” Norm said. “We can get a photo of him with the current coach - won’t that be great?”
Since joining the club in 1985, Norm has served in a number of capacities including nearly quarter of a century at the helm as president. Like many, the opportunity to meet fellow-expats was an important reason for joining a soccer club when he first arrived in Australia from England.
“When I first came out with three little kids, I played at Doveton because I was living at the Springvale Hostel at the time,” Norm said. “That helped me so much to meet people.”
After moving to Waverley City, Norm was to be the first of three generations to play for the club, followed by sons and grandsons. It’s that kind of place.
“There’s a lot of people who’ve been here a long time,” he laughed. “We call it Hotel California (after the Eagles song of 1977) – you know ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’.”
Long service is not unusual at the club with John Milway, Godfrey Troath and Eric Richardson all members for more than 40 years while life members include Alex Sterland, Bruce Eastaway (dec), Bill Blackley, Joe McHugh (dec), Anne Whitlam (dec), Reg Wall (dec), Alan Roberts, Vic Binding, Eric Richardson, John Milway, Godfrey Troath, Norm Willcocks, Atha Pavlou, Graeme O'Neill, Noel Parkin and Nigel Reed.
John Milway, who joined the club in 1981, agreed that it provided an important meeting place for those newly arrived Downunder.
“It was to me, and I think to a lot of people like me around the club,” he said. “People wanted to come here (Australia); they wanted to work, they wanted to raise a family and they wanted to play football. And that all rolled into one and became Waverley City Football Club.”
Success was immediate for the newly formed Waverley City, winning Metropolitan League Division 4 in its very first season, and by the late 1960s it had reached the upper levels of Victorian soccer.
In 1997, Waverley City and Scotch College amalgamated to form Old Scotch Waverley before, in 2003, the club changed its name to the current moniker of the Eastern Lions.
Though barren times followed, and the Lions tumbled as low as Division 3, fortunes were eventually revived and the club enjoyed, arguably, the most successful era in its history.
The decade from 2010-20, under the mentorship of club coaching great Jimmy Williams, saw the Lions claw their way back up through the rankings before entrenching themselves in the second tier of Australian soccer - the National Premier League.
During its 60 years, the Eastern Lions have become a well-established community-based club with approximately 20 teams across senior and junior competitions.
Upgrades at Gardiners Reserve
In recent years, Council has worked with the club to upgrade Gardiners Reserve with the aim of continuing to grow the sport in Monash.
A new all-weather synthetic soccer pitch was opened in June 2018, the $2.3 million project including a FIFA-certified one-star synthetic pitch that can be split into two half-pitches or four small-sided fields to cater for greater usage.
The synthetic pitch requires less maintenance and can withstand more use than a natural turf surface. This has increased opportunities for training and games for local clubs, as well as for recreational users and school groups, and helped alleviate overuse of neighbouring sports grounds.
More recently, portable change rooms were installed to help accommodate the promotion of the senior men’s team to the National Premier League in 2020. For promotion to the top flight in Victoria there is a minimum facility standard required. The southern pavilion at Gardiners Reserve previously had two change rooms for players and a change room for referees. The installation of the modular change rooms met the Football Victoria requirement of a four-change room facility with a change room for referees.
Designs for the reconstruction of the main pitch, including lighting, have also been completed with works scheduled for the 2023-24 financial year.
Join the Lions’ celebrations
What: Eastern Lions Soccer Club – 60th year celebrations
When: Saturday, 29 July (7pm)
Find out more (and book tickets): Eastern Lions’ 60th year celebrations