The North Geelong Warriors have a storied history in Victorian football.
The club, formed in 1967 by the local Croatian community, have produced several Croatian and Australian internationals and were Victorian champions in 1992 in the men’s version of the game.
However, it’s their current female program that has caught the attention of the footballing community.
In the last six years the Warriors have gone from having a mere seven junior girls and one women’s team, to nearly 120 girls and women across nine female-only teams at Elcho Park.
The club also built female-only change rooms in 2018 as part of its $1.1M redevelopment. Remarkably only $250,000 of this came from government grants with the balance donated by the club’s burgeoning community and passionate fanbase, who were determined to help rejuvenate female football at the club.
“It is a very exciting time to be a part of the Warriors especially as a female, with over 100 females registered to play, we believe we have what it takes to create a strong female culture,” said Maria Spehar, the club‘s Director of Women’s Football.
“We want these girls to play football for a long time and achieve their potential initially for the Warriors and then who knows where their football dream can take them.
“It has been great to see the growth at our club in terms of junior participation, now we want to give these young ladies a chance to play senior women’s football and build their future.”
It is a remarkable display of progress but one that shouldn’t come as a great surprise. In 2016 the club made a conscious decision to not only build a female program but to develop one with quality in it.
The club’s junior girls coaches over the past few years have included the highly credentialled Frank Simovic, Ivan Herceg and Laura Spiranovic.
Simovic was Team Manager of the Warriors’ 1992 Victorian Premier League championship-winning team and is a former League Best & Fairest winner.
Herceg holds an FFA/AFC C Licence and has previously coached in the club’s elite NPL junior boys setup, he was set to coach the club's senior women’s team again this year.
Spiranovic, the younger brother of former Socceroo defender Matthew, won a W-League championship with Melbourne Victory and is a school teacher as well.
To underline the professional approach the Warriors took towards their female program, the club currently have three women on their board of directors headed by president John Didulica, also the head of the Australian Professional Footballers Association.
Spehar has been in her role for three years, while Anne-Marie Simic is Club Secretary and Nicole Krasic is Community Football Director.
While a number of women have worked at the club over its 53 year history, this is the first time a role has been created specifically for women’s football, showing just how serious the Warriors are about creating a strong female brand.
The Warriors do boast somewhat of a proud history when it comes to women’s football. They first had a women’s team in the 1980s and had a State League One team as recently as 2015.
The Warriors have produced the likes of Spiranovic and her older sister Amelia, who captained powerhouse South Melbourne to a Victorian state championship in 2011.
The Warriors also had a hand in developing NPLW players such as Jadranka Erceg, Caitlin Pickett, Britt Elsen, Steph Anderson and Lara Heric to name a few.
Erceg, a Warriors junior product, was glowing in her tribute when describing what the club did for her.
“I played the majority of my youth years at North and then later for the senior women’s team,” she explained.
“I had so much support from the club’s coaches and players which aided me in my technical development.
"I had to play with boys during my younger years due to the lack of girls, and even though this helped me a lot, it is great to see so many young girls at the club now and I can’t help but smile when I see them.
“I take a lot of pride in being a North player, and the expansion of both the male and female teams at the club in a range of age divisions, is a testament to the love and support North people give to their football club.”
What’s impressive about North Geelong is how the younger ladies at Elcho Park have been getting involved in the administration part of the club, something that will hold the Warriors in good stead moving forward.
Erceg was part of the club’s organising committee for the 46th Croatian Soccer Association of Australia tournament which was due to be held in October.
Unfortunately, the tournament was cancelled due to COVID19 but it was due to have a 10 team women’s competition. The Warriors are now bidding to host the tournament in 2021.
Heric is part of the club’s Warriors Youth committee, a group that helps bring the younger members of the Warriors community together to promote events including club fundraising.
This committee also includes several other senior women’s players including Elena Gudasic, Lauren Akamancic, Bella Opacak and Vanessa Volarevic.
Heric credits the Warriors and their fantastic culture for helping her not only enjoy her football, but inspiring her to get other females to be a part of it.
"Training and playing football with a team of women that I can now call my sisters has been an absolute highlight.
"The passion in our eyes when we play together radiates across the pitch, and from being a completely fresh team, to finishing second and making it to semi-finals is unbelievable, and makes me more determined to see how far we can get as a North Geelong Women's team in the future.
"All in all, the culture at the Warriors, the fever of The North Fans, supporters and crowd, and the roar of emotions that our club possesses is what many players aspire to have behind them when on the pitch.
"After playing the 2019 season at North, I can no longer imagine myself anywhere else in the future.
"I hope to continue promoting our North Senior Women's team, as well as the younger age groups, at a club that welcomes all players in the community with open arms and hearts and a club that has a passion, culture and love like no other, a club full of people I can call my family, and my home.”
2020 was set to be another blockbuster year for the North Geelong ladies, with the club set to cement itself as a destination club. Former Melbourne City and Galaxy United star Emily Kenshole was even ready to join.
Rest assured nothing, including COVID19, will stop these proud Warriors from taking their club to another level.