It’s a moment young footballer Nick Kellow will never forget.
- A 21-year-old player suffered a broken jaw in a violent on-field incident
- Two teenage players were knocked out for half an hour after an all-in brawl in September
- Northern Victoria’s football community says there’s a culture of violence in the sport and White Ribbon Australia says that needs to change
On a soggy winter field in regional Victoria his team had just kicked out and Kellow was running to his position when an opponent gave him a rough shove to the chest.
“I pushed him back and that was when I got a big fist to the left side of the face,” Kellow said.
“I fell down to the ground and then got up shaking my head, thought it didn’t feel too good.”
Staggering off the field and bleeding heavily from his gums, Kellow worried first-aid staff by opening and closing his mouth on an angle.
The 21-year-old was carted off to hospital where doctors confirmed he had two breaks on his left side and a clean snap to the right of his jaw.
Almost eight weeks after the incident and surgery to reconstruct his jaw, a sharp pain sometimes courses through his mouth when he chews.
“I love my footy, but this has ruined my social life and there’s a bit of fear with going back,” he said.
“I didn’t really take much notice before but now that this has happened, it’s definitely put a different aspect into the game.”
Echuca footballer Nick Kellow (left) is still recovering 8 weeks after he was punched during a heated game (Supplied, Nick Kellow)
Teenagers lying concussed on a field
Northern Victoria’s football community is demanding harsher penalties as it grapples with two separate punching incidents within months.
Players and spectators have warned of a culture of serious assaults being “swept under the rug”, where leagues fail to implement preventative tactics for violence.
In September two teenage boys, aged 15 and 17, were left motionless at the edge of a Finley football field after a violent on-field scuffle.
The clash happened during an U17 grand final match between the Cobram and Rumbalara football teams.
The players were lying concussed on the field until an ambulance arrived half and hour later.
Chris Roe, who was at the game, said Rumbalara had been the favourite to win the game that day, but luck turned towards Cobram.
“They were two or three goals in front and we got to the last minute and then there was a breakout out the front of the Cobram bench,” Mr Roe said.
“It was just minor at first and then players started to tear in from a long way off and upwards of 50 people became involved.
“I didn’t see the actual blows being landed, but I certainly saw the players on the ground afterwards and it was dead-set scary — they simply didn’t move after they were punched.”
Not enough done to prevent serious assaults
A second spectator, who didn’t want to be named, called it a “crazy environment” and said some parents feared sending their children off to football.
They said they believed the Murray League needed to do more to prevent violence, and that there had been a lack of security at the grounds.
The spectator said it was not the first time they had witnessed violence during a game.
“I definitely think we have a problem,” they said.
“There will be someone who will die or have serious long-term injuries or mental problems from this, and after seeing it unfold two times in a row, it really makes you sick.”
Despite police involvement in some cases, the spectator said the same players and teams were ferried across to different leagues if they were kicked out of others.
“The reality is that there is a duty of care and a chain of responsibilities and policies that need to be implemented and they haven’t been,” he said.
“You send your kids out to play sport, not to bring them home in a wooden box and that’s the potential if something is not done.”
An independent tribunal handed down an 18-week ban to the teenage footballer responsible, after he pleaded guilty to two strike charges, but it is unclear if the player will be able to play football again.
NSW police are investigating the incident but have not charged the player.
Murray Football and Netball League representative Dale Norman declined to comment until after the appeal date had passed.
Penalties not harsh enough
The player who hit Nick Kellow was given a six-week ban from the tribunal and the incident has been reported to police.
Despite the punishment, Kellow said he did not believe penalties were effective or harsh enough to prevent them happening again.
He said punches and strikes during games often went unnoticed by umpires.
“I don’t think it’s enough when you compare it to what I’ve gone through and the issues I’ve had,” he said.
“At the start of the year clubs and leagues, umpires, everyone needs to get together and make a stance against the indiscretions that happen during a game, because there’s definitely not enough getting done.”
Umpire denies violent culture in footy
Despite hundreds of incident reports filed across country Victorian football in the past year alone, Goulburn Valley Umpires Association president Andrew Moore said violence was not a problem.
Reports can be filed for swearing at an umpire and tripping other players to more aggressive forms of behaviour such as striking, charging, bumps, and sling tackles.
Mr Moore said there were one to two striking charges per week on average across all grades.
“It’s a game of football, people get heated, things happen on the footy field that other people don’t like and retaliate,” he said.
“I’d say it’s extremely rare that people are intentionally going out on the footy field trying to hurt someone.”
‘Being a man through power and control’ needs to change
The AFL has partnered with White Ribbon Australia to address the issue of men’s violence against women.
White Ribbon senior executive for community programs Liam Dooley said the issue interlaced with severe violence during games.
“We often still see a male culture that reinforced violence and aggression as ways that make you a real man,” Mr Dooley said.
“It’s often condoned or it’s seen as behaviour that allows men to measure themselves by, rather than respect or care.”
He said there was a lot of work being done at a grassroots club level, but much of it was ad hoc.
“There’s still a culture that men get exposed to that says the way of being a man is through power and control, so we really need to address that,” Mr Dooley said.
“If we have a culture that accepts violence, that’s going to come out on the football field.”