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Putting the Full into Back

Putting the Full into Back

Iain Shepherd (He/Him)19 May 2023 - 05:09
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From Convicts 2004 inaugural player to 2022 Bingham Cup team, we hear how joining the Convicts made a lasting impact for Matty.

200 games, six Bingham Cup tours, a fair few trophies, multiple injuries, thousands of social events & fundraisers, and memories to last a lifetime
- Matt Vagulans

Legends exist at every club, and at the Convicts Matty is just that. Having joined us at our inception playing Fullback in 2004, with his most recent game with us in Ottawa in 2022 we're immensely proud of his long involvement with the club.

We caught up with Matty to hear his story.....

"I’m so old (50, thanks for asking) that my gay footy career predates the Sydney Convicts.

I’d been playing in the queer touch footy group, POOFTA, for a decade before the Convicts were born. POOFTA, which stood for Proud Out & Open Football Touch Association, played a social game of touch every Sunday afternoon in Centennial Park and was in many ways a prototype for the Sydney Convicts. We broke down stereotypes, provided a safe and fun space for the gays to socialise and form meaningful relationships with each other (I met my hubby there) and even toured.

However, there was one thing that POOFTA couldn’t provide and that was the opportunity to get fully physical on the field - tackle, crash through tackles and get that rush of pushing through barriers you didn’t know existed. So, when fellow POOFTA alumni, Andrew “Fuzz” Purchas, came back to from his overseas sojourn playing with the San Francisco Fog with the idea of forming a local team to take to the Bingham Cup in London in 2004, I jumped at the chance. As did several of my touch footy mates. We recruited new players far and wide and created one of the most successful queer sporting dynasties in the world. I never said we were humble.

By 2004, I was already post-30 and had given up on my ambition to play contact footy. I had grown up playing AFL and Rugby League but by the time I hit 16 or 17, I felt my emerging sexual identity and politics were at loggerheads with the sexist and homophobic environment of 1980s organised sport. So I quit, continuing to get my sporting fix through various social comps, including POOFTA. whilst nightclubbing became my primary contact sport.

Until the Convicts came to life.

From the moment the Convicts played our first match in the Sydney Suburban competition, you could sense there was something special in the air. As a newly formed club, not only had we no idea how good or bad we were, we didn’t even know how our competition would handle playing a queer side. In those first few seasons it seemed like every week provided something awe-inspiring to hold onto. Whether it was positive comments coming from the opposition teams, the immense help of our sponsor club, the Woollahra Colleagues, who provided us with the facilities to train and play, or the unbelievable and ongoing support from the LGBTQIA+ community, we felt like we belonged from the get-go.

On that last point, our success on the field can be directly attributed to the spectacular fundraising we have undertaken through Rugger Bugger shows, trivia nights, raffles, sponsorships etc. And for this we will be forever grateful to our community. If there’s a legacy that I’m proudest of with the Convicts, it’s that we’ve always tried to square the ledger on this. We’ve literally and metaphorically tackled homophobia every step of the way and provided an environment for players, regardless of ability, sexuality, race or class to feel welcome and develop personally. I know I have.

So…200 games, six Bingham Cup tours, a fair few trophies (there’s that humility again), multiple injuries, 5000* social events, 3000* fundraisers, and memories to last a lifetime, I’ve finally hung up my boots for good. But the pull of the club is still so strong that I’m planning on heading to Rome with the boys next year for the 2024 Bingham Cup. Whether it’s in the role of team manager, water boy or entertainment coordinator I don’t know. What I do know is that the magic of the Convicts is as powerful as ever."
*estimates only

Matty's Club Awards:

  • Outstanding Back (1sts) 2004
  • Outstanding Back (2nds) 2014
  • Best and Fairest (1sts) 2004
  • Best and Fairest (2nds) 2022
  • Highest Points Scorer 2004
  • Player of the Tournament - Kowloon (Hong Kong) 10s 2009
  • 100 Games Award 2010
  • 200 Games Award 2022

Further reading