How this country footy club went from ‘Australia’s worst team’ to premiership heroes

Australia World

After winning just two matches in 12 years and being dubbed ‘”Australia’s worst footy team”, this country football club has won its first-ever league premiership grand final. 

Between 2008 and 2021, the Albany Sharks had won only two solitary games, before former AFL star Brett Peake pulled on a teal guernsey and helped the team to its first grand final last year.

A team of Australian Rules football players pose for a team photo

Albany Sharks won the Great Southern Football League premiership.(ABC Great Southern: Briana Fiore)

But it was a sweet September and one to remember for the Albany Sharks as the siren sounded in Mount Barker in Western Australia’s south on Saturday.  

They had done it. 

The ultimate underdogs had finally claimed a flag after years of heartbreak, defeating Albany Railways 9.12 (66) to 7.6 (48).

Two football players stand with their hands on each other's shoulders

Ex-AFL player Brett Peake (left) has been a dynamic forward for the side.(ABC Great Southern: Briana Fiore)

Led by the likes of captain Tait McLean and former Fremantle and St Kilda champion Peake, paired with a stellar effort from players and those working behind the scenes, the Albany Sharks made history. 

The club also has the Great Southern Football League’s only current female president and she believes the secret to success is more about what is done off the field than on it. 

Several dozen fans at a regional football ground stand and cheer

Albany Sharks fans errupt over the sealer.(ABC Great Southern: Briana Fiore)

Long time in the making 

Albany Sharks president Tracy Blaszkow had little voice left by the final siren. 

She was pictured on her knees in disbelief when she knew Railways could no longer catch her team with the time left on the clock. 

A woman wearing a black and light blue jersey cheers on a football team from the sidelines

Albany Sharks president Tracy Blaszkow cheers on her team in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter.(ABC Great Southern: Briana Fiore)

And after being within a goal in the final term, the Sharks were considerably lucky to swim away with the three-goal win. 

“I realised we’ve actually won this bloody thing … I couldn’t believe it, I fell to my knees. The emotion drained out of me. It was ridiculous,” she said. 

Ms Blaszkow recalled being asked for an interview a few years ago on her club’s losing track record. 

A collage of three photos - a crowd erupting at a football game, players huddling, a player laying down on the field.

Emotions were high from both sides in the Sharks’ very first grand final win.(ABC Great Southern: Briana Fiore)

“I remember the interviewer ringing me up and I said: ‘I don’t want a story about how sh*t we are because I know we’re sh*t’ and he asked why I was still here and I said because I love the people,” Ms Blaszkow said. 

The story ended up being about how the “worst club” was the “best club to be at” because of the family atmosphere. 

“I think the key to the success so far for this club has been building off field, not on field; we had to get the right coaches, the right people on the committee, the right people supporting the club  before we could actually attract the players.”

Absolute elation

Peake said the win was “gritty”, admitting that it almost slipped out of his side’s hands.

“I just said to all the forwards and the mids that we just have to keep on grinding and it’ll come … I was proud of the way we defended. We’re a blue collar team so when we get to work and get our hands dirty we play good footy,” Peake said.

“It’s a pretty special occasion.”

Two football players celebrate on the field after winning

Brett Peake celebrates with team mates following the win.(ABC Great Southern: Briana Fiore)

Coach Jamie Ram said the win took a lot of hard work and a “will to win”. 

“They [the players] are pretty fit … it has taken a lot of hours and a lot of work behind the scenes,” he said. 

More than just a game 

Albany Sharks captain McLean said he had the belief in the boys and was grateful for the community support. 

“Just to really feel like the wider community is behind you and wants to see you succeed is something that we as players really want to tap into,” McLean said. 

A football player holds a trophy above his head, alongside his coach

Albany Sharks captain Tait McLean and coach Jamie Ram.(ABC Great Southern: Briana Fiore)

“One of the things that came up was that we want to do it for our families and the people we love.

“My mum’s a good example of someone who has put in a lot of work … when things got tough we’ve got to [remember that we’re doing this] for everyone else as well.”

McLean’s mum, Sharon, volunteers in the club’s canteen and said the win reduced her to tears. 

“It was worth every hard moment that we’ve been through,” she said. 

“I think of those bad times, my son got to the point where he didn’t even know if he liked football anymore and went to Sydney for the year and though ‘yeah I do’ and came back and found another gear.

“People say it’s just football, but we’re a family.”

A grey-haired woman kissed her adult son, who is wearing a football guernsey, on the cheek. The coach stands beside them

Sharon McLean says she’s proud of her son captaining Albany Sharks to their very first Premiership win.(ABC Great Southern: Briana Fiore)

Ex-president, life member and time keeper Geoff Oldfield said the win was “surreal and like a dream”.

“I nearly had a heart attack,” Mr Oldfield said. 

“It’s the best thing that has ever happened. It is worth every beating we’ve ever had,” he said.  

Mr Oldfield said football was good for players’ mental heath and that the win meant a lot to the entire community. 

A group of teenage boys cheer on football teams from the back of a ute.

A group of teenagers cheer on the teams during the grand final from the back of a ute. (ABC Great Southern: Briana Fiore)

He said football saved lives. 

“Some people come to the footy club and we clean their life up. They might have had problems with substances, they get off them, they get another reason to exist.

“They make new friends. I know one woman who was leaving town, no friends. She met a bloke, and she’s not leaving town all because of footy.”

The club legends now hope that the women’s team can win next year’s flag after falling short in their grand final earlier in the year. 

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