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Official Sports Teams

29 March 2009 12:00AM
FULL ARTICLE BELOW by Wendy Hargreaves and Stephen Drill

FOOTY-mad blokes playing kick-to-kick have been booted off their local park because Melbourne Council has banned all unofficial sports.

A dozen "footy tragics" discovered the "absurd" crackdown after being shooed off Carlton's Princes Park while having a kick.

Even AFL footballers have been ushered off Princes Park's green grass by rangers.

Western Bulldogs coach Rodney Eade said several of his players were told to stop warming up on lawns once used for the Big Day Out concert.

Town Hall has directed its rangers to ban all unofficial activity on Princes Park's ovals including kicking, jogging, stretching or general playing.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle confirmed the ban in a statement, saying "due to the impact of the drought, all City of Melbourne sportsgrounds are currently closed for casual events and casual sports".

Council rangers work in pairs at Princes Park to remove adults and children enjoying kick-to-kicks, telling them sports shoes damage the turf.

"The absurd thing is that sometimes the officers drive on the ground in four-wheel-drives to tell us that we're damaging the grass with our sandshoes," kick-to-kick regular Hayden Stephens said.

Cr Doyle said only sports groups with a council permit, such as sporting clubs, were allowed to use the grounds.

For a casual kick-to-kicker to obtain a permit he or she must become an incorporated body with full insurance cover.

"We're just a bunch of guys kicking a football," said kick-to-kick regular Xavier Michel.

"We don't want a fight. We just want to have a kick without being hassled by the man."

On Wednesday evenings Mr Michel joins a group of footy fanatics on the oval next to Carlton Football Club's stadium.

They include builders, IT boffins, storemen and lawyers, including Slater and Gordon senior partner Peter Gordon.

Mr Gordon, a VicHealth board member, applauded the initiative of a group of blokes trying to get fit.

"They may not all be as skilful as me with the footy, but let's not place hurdles in front of them," he said.

The kick-to-kickers have asked the council to explain how the Local Government Act allows officers to force them off public land. There has been no answer.

"Many of us are well past our playing days," Mr Stephens said. "We have busy jobs and have families.

"This is our one chance in the week to do some exercise, to try to lose some weight."

Health Minister Daniel Andrews has ordered the Department of Human Services to investigate the ban.

"I would hope that the council will do everything it can to encourage residents and ratepayers to get involved an physical activity and sport," Mr Andrews said.

Official sports teams are also missing out as councils across Melbourne struggle to meet demand for fields.

Melbourne, Hobsons Bay, Boroondara, Port Phillip, Whitehorse, Stonnington, Moonee Valley and Glen Eira councils said they had no spare grounds available.

They said the drought had made if difficult to get grounds up to scratch.

Melbourne Council has refused 10 requests for ground use by new soccer clubs this year. Cr Doyle said the ground bans would be reassessed if conditions improved.

"Our sports grounds continue to give us cause for concern as they have deteriorated due to the conditions," Cr Doyle said.

But Princes Park's grass was green and lush when the Sunday Herald Sun visited during the week.

Coach Eade, who watched rangers move on several Bulldogs during pre-season training, said the bans were "hard to believe".

"It's disappointing for the average person who just wants to have a kick and stay fit," he said.