Middle Park Football Club-Four Decades and Counting
From little things do big things grow. Middle Park Football Club is certainly a testament to this. What started out in 1969 as a small group of guys wanting a casual game of soccer, has grown into a football club comprising four teams, with an eye to even further growth. However, MPFC is not just an excuse for grown men to get together to kick a ball around a couple of times a week. To steal a line from FC Barcelona, Middle Park is more than just a football club, it’s a family.
Way back in 1969, Mick Christy, being a ‘soccer fanatic,’ wrote to the Victorian Railways Institute to tell them that they needed a soccer team. They responded by placing a notice in the VRI newsletter advising any interested players to meet at a set time at Flinders Street Station. Only ten people showed up to the meeting. Little did those ten guys realise that despite not having enough players to field a full team, they would be the founding members of a club that is still going on strong today.
Known initially as the VRI Soccer Club, the new team began training on a cold, windswept pitch in Parkville, behind the Children’s Hospital. They soon moved to Middle Park Oval 7, which became the fledgling club’s home ground. Using an old WWII bunker as change rooms and strategically positioned cars to provide light for training, the facilities were Spartan, to say the least.
In the early years, the club only played friendly matches, often on ‘pitches’ which required the pre-game shooing away of cows before the match could start. This changed in the early-seventies, when VRI SC began to compete in the Amateur and Industrial Soccer League (later to become the Amateur Soccer Federation of Victoria-or VicSoccer). Through the hard work and dedication of men such as Mick Christy, Malcolm Luckins, Paul Webster, Peter Crowe, Mick Tanner, and Joe Clayton (amongst others), the club continued to grow.
VRI-SC to Middle Park Soccer Club…
More and more, this growth attracted new members who were not necessarily VRI workers. This lead to a conflict with the VRI, when in 1976, NSWRI organised a national tournament in Sydney for the Railway Institutes of the various states. Citing the high number of outside players in the team, VRI refused to sanction the club’s participation in the tournament. The decision was then taken to break away from VRI and the club was re branded Middle Park Soccer Club.
All through this period, the two pillars upon which the club were built remained constant. The football side remained strong with both senior and reserve teams winning a string of honours. Even more so, the social aspect of the club became its greatest hallmark. Attracted by the openness and inclusiveness of the club, many of the better players from rival clubs would defect to MPSC. The club’s presentation nights and End of Season Trips were becoming legendary. The culmination of this era came in 1988, when for the first time in club history, MPSC became the champions of the top division of the Amateur League. This achievement was further enhanced with a championship for the reserve team.
The 1988 championships were to prove to be the end of an era, though. With many of the club’s original stalwarts taking the opportunity to hang up their boots, and a number of the club’s senior players breaking away to form a new club, Barnstoneworth United, Middle Park was in need of a fresh injection of new blood. It came in the form of ‘90s mainstays such as Jock Ballantyne, Tony Kelleher, and a youthful Bobby Franklin.
A new era – exponential growth…
With the coming of the Formula 1 Grand Prix to Melbourne, the club also found itself a new home. Having been bounced around to various different grounds throughout Albert Park over the years, MPSC made a permanent move to Oval 16. The new pit building also became the site of the new clubrooms.
MPSC would soon have a new name, as well. After constant nagging from a certain Phil Dibbs, the decision was made to drop the word ‘soccer’ from the club’s name, to be replaced with ‘football’. Just as VRI Soccer Club had given way to Middle Park Soccer Club in 1976, Middle Park Soccer Club would henceforth be known as Middle Park Football Club.
The dawn of the new millennium ushered in a Golden Age for MPFC. Buoyed by the move into its new home, not to mention the injection of Grand Prix grant money, the club went from strength to strength. A third team was added in 1999 and driven by a hard-working, forward-thinking committee and led by first-team manager, Vinnie Campelj, MPFC became the flagship club within VicSoccer, reeling off titles and setting the bar for off-field organisation.
On Cup Final day in 2006, Middle Park sent all three teams to contest finals, winning two cups. In 2008, a fourth team, Middle Park Veterans, was added and promptly ran away with VicSoccer’s inaugural veterans’ competition. 2008 also saw both Senior and Reserve teams handily win their league titles.
MPFC – today and beyond…
It was becoming clear that MPFC had hit a ceiling in the Amateur League. A move to the more prestigious and demanding Football Federation of Victoria beckoned. At an Extraordinary General Meeting in August 2009, the club membership resoundingly voted to empower the club’s committee to pursue a move to the FFV. In January 2010, MPFC was accepted as a member club of the FFV.
Forty years after those first ten men embarked on a new football adventure, MPFC is once again looking to make a bold leap into the unknown. One thing will remain certain, though. The spirit of Middle Park Football Club, the familial bond that holds club members, both past and present, together, will remain.
It’s a grand old team to play for…