On a Monday night in the winter of 2008, in the penultimate round of the fledgling Melbourne Vixens’ first season, spectator Harry Hermans watched his first game. An outing that was his partner - now wife - Leesa’s idea turned out to be the start of another relationship; a new fan would become a committed member and, soon enough, the Vixens’ cheer squad would be born.
That family, of sorts, now numbers more than 100, ranging from the youngest of the three Hermans children, nine-month-old Scarlett, to Vixens diehards five or six decades older. As the establishment Victorian club celebrates a record membership in 2018, it is worth recounting the genesis of a dedicated group that is also growing by the year.
“My wife and I enjoyed that first game so much that I signed both of us up in 2009, and we haven’t missed a beat since. We approached the club and said ‘we need a cheer squad’, and the following year we had one,’’ recalls Hermans, 43, who has long had a similar involvement with Richmond’s yellow-and-black army in the AFL.
“We thought it could give us a good home ground advantage if we’ve got people starting chants and not just waiting for the MCs to start them like we see at other games. It’s been going for about eight years now, so it’s great that they took that on.’’
Goals are typically scored so frequently that chants need to be short and simple, says Hermans, who admits there is a strategic element to their timing, too. “We only like to chant when the opposition’s got the ball, to hopefully try and put them off,’’ he laughs.
“When we’ve got the ball we generally try to be a little bit quiet, so they can concentrate - except for usually the last 30 seconds or minute of each quarter and then we all just go bananas!’’
Hermans admits he knew little about netball until introduced to it by Leesa, a former Melbourne Phoenix supporter who followed the Vixens into the bold new ANZ Championship world. But he loved it from the beginning and is thrilled with the latest incarnation that is Suncorp Super Netball, season two.
“I just like competitive sport, really,’’ says Phillip Island-based Hermans. “I’m a football fan, but it’s such a big open area. With netball, the court’s so small, there’s less athletes out there, it’s fast, and it’s supposed to be non-contact, but there’s usually a fair bit of contact, which makes it interesting.
“Netball’s come a long way since I first came on board - now you’ve got all the best athletes, all the best netballers, not just in Australia but from all over the world coming to play in our league, so it’s very exciting to watch.’’
Asked to choose a favourite among the current group, the 43-year-old cheer squad leader says he admires goal shooter Mwai Kumwenda and the Diamond-studded mid-court. “But I can’t go past our defence. Our defensive duo has just been unbelievable.’'
Currently on the agenda is an attempt via the Melbourne Vixens cheer squad supporter page on Facebook to organise an interstate trip or two for away games, where the support would be welcomed by players who already appreciate the vocal backing they receive at home.
“Absolutely,’’ enthuses joint vice-captain Liz Watson, who met the squad en masse when they attended a training session in 2017. “We definitely know that they’re there, and especially in the super-close games you can really hear them towards the end of the game when it’s goal-for-goal.
“They are extremely loud and passionate and that’s what we love. It’s really cool to hear them and I think it’s something that netball really needs a lot more of; these really big cheer squads that are there every week supporting their team.’’
By Linda Pearce, multi-award-winning netball writer with over 30 years experience.
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