Moving to a new town without any established connections, one question I kept asking myself was, ‘‘how am I going to meet people here?’’
It was a question that kept playing on my mind in the weeks before I left Melbourne and one that left me feeling slightly uneasy.
The obvious solution was sticking out like an ultra-light beam and that was to get involved in a sporting club.
I had been told by a friend from university and a former local that I best go down and have a kick of footy for the Cobram Tigers.
I delayed my first appearance at training for a few weeks as I got settled in at work. In hindsight, it probably was not the smartest move as it left me behind the other boys fitness-wise, but now the season is up and running I am loving it — although we have been battling a bit in the reserves.
This year is my first experience of playing genuine ‘‘country footy’’. Back home in Ballarat, it had a little bit of that feel to it, but because the city was so much bigger and there were more teams belonging to the one town, the tribal element that goes with small country places and their sporting teams was not as obvious and the support not as diehard.
After taking a couple of years off when I first moved to Melbourne, I decided I missed the competitive and social nature of football and decided to play for La Trobe University in the VAFA competition in Melbourne.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at La Trobe, but the club lacked soul to a degree, through no fault of its own.
Because it is a university club, it is a bit like a revolving door — players come and go and there is no real fan base, apart from a small handful who genuinely love the club.
I was taken aback by the final training session on the Wednesday night before Cobram’s Good Friday clash against Barooga.
There was what seemed like 60 to 70 people watching us train, enjoying a barbecue and a drink on a warm night. It was a real carnival-like atmosphere.
There were more people there watching us train than I had played in front of in Melbourne on a lot of occasions.
In that one moment as I glanced to the boundary and saw all those people, I suddenly realised the power of country football.
To see the clubrooms packed every Thursday night, with a host of kind volunteers cooking enough food to feed swarms of growing kids and hungry adults, is pretty awesome.
There is no social hierarchy based on skill level or social status. Instead, everyone is embraced equally and made to feel welcome.
Sporting clubs are run by volunteers, and that is the magic of them. There are no hidden agendas, just regular people all doing their part to make sure you enjoy your experience there.
Sport certainly has the power to unite people and in a small town like Cobram, it has been something of a godsend for me, allowing me to meet people my age while providing me with great balance away from work.
From a tinny or two after the game, to a bonfire on a freezing and wet day in Nathalia, so far I have loved every minute of it.