On its annual Footy Day in term three, the playground at Lalor Primary School becomes a sea of Black and White jumpers and scarves.
It’s no different to any other school in Victoria, or, indeed, across Australia.
But since 2009, Collingwood’s involvement with Lalor Primary has seen the Multicultural Schools Program help develop a love for the game of Australian football in the minds of many children who hail from culturally diverse backgrounds.
The club’s involvement in the Program has grown from involving a few senior classes to dealing with the entire middle and senior School over the last two years.
“The Multicultural Schools Program has given our students the opportunity to develop a keen interest in footy, which is particularly significant considering many of them grew up in an environment where Aussie Rules was not played or even discussed,” says Dwain Barakat, a grade 5/6 teacher at Lalor Primary.
“Prior to the commencement of the Multicultural Schools Program, many of our students would play with students of similar backgrounds during lunch and recess breaks,” he explains.
“Soccer was the game of choice, with students reluctant to join in playing 'kick to kick' or 'markers up’ due to being simply unfamiliar with the sport.
“Thanks to the Multicultural Schools Program, all students were given the chance to learn the basics of Aussie Rules and build on their skills until they were comfortable enough and enjoyed playing.
“At Lalor Primary School we noticed quite quickly that students began to integrate much better in the yard and proper games of Aussie Rules started to become more commonplace.
“Our annual Footy Day during term three has also benefited and grown due to the program. The sudden surge of interest in the game resulted in a much stronger showing of team pride amongst the students with club colours, scarves being worn by the majority of students – pleasingly for me, it’s always a sea of Black & White!”
The school’s story takes on particular significance this week, with the AFL celebrating its Multicultural Round and the roles played by the many cultures that contribute to making the game what it is today.
It’s not a phenomenon that is restricted to the playground, either, as Barakat explains.
“Since our involvement in the program more and more students are joining local footy clubs instead and are really enjoying themselves.
“The majority of the students that have joined local clubs like the Lalor Bloods come from a Middle Eastern, Lebanese and Syrian background, which is pleasing to see, especially when the Lebanese community has been represented over the generations by the likes of Mil Hanna, Robin Nahas, Peter Yagmoor and Adam Saad.
“Seeing members of their extended community performing at such a high level and the encouragement given to them by Collingwood and the Multicultural Schools Program will no doubt see more and more kids from a multicultural background take the sport up.”
But Collingwood can’t rely on the program alone to encourage the students to join the Magpie Army.
Fortunately, Barakat is a diehard Collingwood fan. It makes his task a little easier.
“Being able to say I support such an amazing club is an honour and growing up in a Lebanese community where the overwhelming majority barrack for the Blues I have been challenged at every opportunity,” he enthuses.
“The friends I have made through banter and rivalry is what the game is all about – bringing people together in a positive spirit.
“I love the fact that Collingwood is the biggest, the boldest and that we are so passionate about our team. You grow up watching generation after generation of players put on the Black and White stripes and feel a sense of belonging.
“The fact that we are hated by so many is a testament of how hard we have worked and how united are as a club. Win, draw or lose, we are one-eyed till the very end.”
Collingwood joins the AFL community this week in celebrating Multicultural Round, embracing the stories and cultures that comprise the rich tapestry of Australia’s game.
The weekend’s focus will be on the MCG, where Collingwood and Carlton will join forces to stage the Multicultural Festival in Yarra Park.
Commencing at 11.30am, the Festival will give fans the opportunity to explore many wonderful cultures with traditional dance performances from around the world, a great selection of delicious multicultural food or a chance for kids to practice their goal kicking at the AFL playground.
There will also be a range of live entertainment, including Pop Asia, Hip Hop dancer, African drummers, Bollywood and many others.
AFL Multicultural Festival
Date: Saturday 8 August 2015
Time: 11:30am – 5:30pm
Venue: Yarra Park, MCG (outside Gate 3)
Curtain Raiser: Collingwood v Northern Blues, VFL, 10.20am
Senior Match: Collingwood v Carlton, AFL, 1.45pm