Heart Beats True: Zac Read

Join us in congratulating Zac Read on his milestone weekend as he plays his 150th at Basil Street Oval on Saturday the 7th of May. Thank you Zac, for putting together this piece about your time at the club and the impact that the club has had on you.

My Heart Beats True: Reflection of a Williamstown CYMS Footballer – by Zac Read

On the eve of my 150th game for the Williamstown CYMS Football Club, a feat that’s taken 13 years to accomplish, I sat down to reflect on what this great Club means to me. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Club, it has been around since 1886 with over 130-years of rich history. At face-value, the CYs, as it’s more affectionately known, is a run of the mill community footy club tucked away in Melbourne’s West. However, to those who have been lucky enough to be involved in any shape or form, it’s so much more.

Now, before I get too self-indulgent, it’s important to acknowledge that I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who has been fortunate enough to grow up around footy my whole life. As a heterosexual, English-speaking, white male who was born in Australia, I’ve never been told that footy isn’t for me – a privilege that I’m fully aware has not been afforded to many sections of our community. I recognise that we still have a long way to go in this area but it is exciting to see that we as a footballing community are taking steps in a direction that ensures our great game can be accessible to everyone.

So I sit here writing this reflection with a latte in hand and the NBA Finals on in the background. The likes of Steph Curry and Ja Morant are wowing a packed arena, being paid millions of dollars to do what they love and to live out their childhood dreams. We hear it all the time, athletes like Steph and Ja thanking their sport and their organisation for shaping who they are today. For giving them the life and the career that they’ve always dreamed of. Surely the same can’t be said of an amateur football club 12,000 kilometers on the other side of the world, where players pay-to-play just for recreation’s sake to pass the time away, can it? Honestly, I think it can.

Enough setting the scene, it’s time to ask myself why I have given up 150 days’ worth of my weekends to play for this Club? (It’s actually probably closer to 300 days if you include all the Sundays I’ve spent lying on the couch unable to move because I’m so sore from the game the day before.) Why does Mark Busuttil, who is now north of 40 (sorry Buzz), still drive up from Geelong on a Wednesday night to train in the cold and the rain just to play a game of footy on the weekend? Why does Bess Chan, after 4 ACLs, still give up her weekends to be a runner for the Women’s team? Why does the Club’s cult-figure Bobby ‘Whiskaz’ Ryan still rock up every week without fail to do the time keeping? Why can’t 4-time premiership player Ben Gray give it up after there’s nothing else for him to achieve? Why have I said “I’m not playing next year, I’m too busy” three or four times, only to be sucked back in again? It’s a simple answer: It’s because of the people. The CYs aren’t just a community. The CY’s are a family. Whether you’ve played one game like Murray Ring in the 4ths, or over 300 like Club Legend Ben Hynes, you are part of the CYs family. If you’ve never even pulled on a playing jumper but you volunteer your time or you just come down to support one of the teams in the peanut gallery on the weekend, you are part of the CYs family. It’s a collection of people who are always up for a laugh, happy to offer up a compassionate ear and would even give you their shirt off their back if you asked. This isn’t hyperbole, I know because I’ve lived it.

I joined the CYs as a 19-year-old in 2009 after finishing my final year of under 18s with the Williamstown Juniors in the WRFL. The Willy Juniors didn’t have a senior team playing in the WRFL like many of the other Clubs so I was thinking of joining Spotswood or Port Melbourne so I could continue to play in the WRFL. It wasn’t until a few mates of mine mentioned the VAFA and said I should come and play at the CYs that my thinking changed. I’d lived in Williamstown my whole life (except for a 3-year stint in Western Australia) and I had never even heard of the CYs! About eight weeks before the start of the season I agreed to come down and check out the club and join their pre-season training. At the time, there were only two teams that represented the Club – a Senior men’s and a Reserves men’s. A far-cry from the four men’s, one women’s and two under 19’s teams we proudly boast today.

2009 was a challenging time for me personally. Four weeks out from Round 1, my father passed away after his 3-year battle with Leukemia. My dad was my biggest football fan. He was a master at picking me up if I had a bad game or knocking me back down a few pegs if I had too much of a head wobble after a good game. I remember after an under 15s game, I’d kicked 5 goals and I came off the ground and said to him “how about those 5” with a swagger in my voice. “Those five missed tackles?” he quickly jabbed back with a smirk on his face. After another game a year or so later, I was real flat with how I’d played “geez I couldn’t get near it today” I said. “Yeah, but you got yourself some great looks, the ball just didn’t bounce your way today, it happens”.

After he passed, there were only two places I wanted to be – at home with my mum and family or at the CYs, training with my other family. After a tough month, I was fortunate enough to be picked in the Senior side for Round 1, starting on the bench. To this day, it’s still one of my fondest memories in a year that I would have preferred to forget. I got on the field around the halfway mark of the first quarter and I snuck forward. Club superstar, Cal Richards was on the bottom of a pack, and he fired out a handball to me from ground level. Quickly and without thinking, I chucked it on my boot and snagged a goal with my first official possession as a CYs player. The team came running from everywhere in trademark footy fashion. I felt the love from everyone on the field. It felt like more than a celebration for my first goal, but an acknowledgment of what I’d been through and that they had my back.

We went on to win the premiership that year, in a Grand Final in which we were the heavy underdogs. It turned a tough year, into something special.

Fast forward several years and we introduce one of the most decorated CYs coaches in the modern era, and now life member, Matthew Montebello. Monte was the symbol of change at the Club. He brought a level of professionalism and commitment to the community that I hadn’t experienced before. While we know about his grand final successes as a coach at the CYs, what I think he’d be most proud of is the cultural shift he made across the Club. He was the major driving factor that has seen our Club go from two teams in 2009 to the seven teams we see running around today.

It’s 2014, four years after Monte joined the Club, and his second or third year in charge of the seniors. I was injured, out for the whole year with an ongoing hip injury. I was going to spend some time away from the Club and away from footy in general. However, for those that know Monte, he’s nothing short of determined and he called me up and said something along the lines of, “if you can’t play, why don’t you coach?”. “The 19’s need an assistant coach and it would be great if it’s a face that will be familiar to them when they come and play senior footy”. I’d never coached before, I wasn’t even sure it was something I wanted to do, but sure enough in classic Monte fashion, he’d convinced me to give it a crack.

I went down and joined Con Terzoglou who was coaching the U19s at the time and I had a blast! The bunch of guys we coached were a rag-tag bunch of loveable smart asses, who loved a good time, but most importantly loved each other and loved playing footy together. (I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d go on to play in a Reserves premiership with a number of them a few years later which was pretty special). The 19s ended up getting knocked out in the finals in straight sets that year and our seniors went on to win the grand final in convincing fashion. While I was disappointed that I wasn’t a part of the Seniors Flag, I’ll never regret coaching the Unders. It unlocked a passion for coaching in me which saw me go on to coach the Western Jets NAB League Girls team for five years and now sees me fortunate enough to be an Assistant Coach in North Melbourne’s AFLW program. None of which would have been possible if not for a single phone call from Monte.

We now flash forward to 2016. (I hope you are still with me, I promise I’m almost done). I’m at the Club’s annual $1000 reverse raffle and I’m introduced to a woman who is good friends with a few of my younger teammates. I’d played junior cricket with her older brother a life-time ago and we got chatting. Long story short, that women’s name was Lucy Craigie, my now fiancé and mother of our wonderful baby boy – Reuben.

Luce also went on to play a pivotal role in the establishment of the Club’s inaugural women’s team. Watching her finally get the opportunity to represent the suburb she’s lived in her whole life in a game of footy was pretty bloody special and while I’ll always remind her that she’s fallen around 189 goals short of what I’ve kicked, none of mine have been as important for the community as hers. Young girls in the West now have a clear pathway from Auskick to Willy Juniors to Willy CYs to Willy VFLW and hopefully some will go on to bigger and better things in the AFLW.

In 2016 I was also lucky enough to play in the Reserves premiership, alongside several childhood friends and guys I’d played footy with from Under 9s. Before the game, the Ressies coach and self-proclaimed director of good times at the Club, Matt Wynd asked us all “what does today mean to your families?”. My response “CYs is my family”.

Six years on, and a global pandemic later, I’m 24 hours out from my 150th game for this Club and it’s something pretty special. While many of us running around in the 4ths are relics of years gone by, the club is so well equipped to continue its success both on and off the field. I’m excited to see co-presidents Fin Adamson and Tess Beagley bring a breath of fresh air and a progressive mindset to the administration. Head Coaches Con and Loz are loved by their respective playing groups & our Unders teams are competing against some of the strongest Collegiate teams in the VAFA. I can’t wait to see where this club is in another 13 years’ time.

Playing at the CYs hasn’t made me a household name like the Warriors did for Steph Curry. I haven’t earned millions of dollars like Ja Morant will with the Memphis Grizzlies, but it has certainly had a profound impact on who I am today. It supported me as a teenager, opened doors for my future career endeavours and has helped me start a family of my own. To steal one of Monte’s favourite quotes “it takes a village to raise a child” and the CYs will always be my village.

CYs Baby.

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