A CHAT WITH STREET ROLLER HOCKEY LEAGUE FOUNDER EAMONN LOUREY
You’ve probably heard of the Street Roller Hockey League – Perth’s most unique, well-populated and funniest grass roots sports organisation. Certain disgruntled Bayswater residents have certainly heard of them – they’ve heard the sound of hockey sticks clacking at their Bayswater Bowls Club headquarters, and lodged complaints that have now left the league without a home. In light of recent developments, and to get a handle on the bigger picture, I sat down with SRHLfounder and tireless boss dog Eamonn Lourey.
Lyndon Blue: I guess first up I was hoping to get a bit more background on the SRHL, because from my point of view it just kind of appeared one day, but I’m sure there’s quite story in the origins. It’s pretty unique as far as sports leagues go, even as an organisation generally… Were there projects abroad that inspired you? Did the idea emerge fully-formed?
Eamonn Lourey: It’s interesting you say that – a lot of people mention that they had never heard of the league and then boom one day it’s all they can see in their newsfeed. It might be something to do with a Facebook algorithm but it’s likely just organic word of mouth through someone in one of your outer friendship circles rather than someone you are super tight with. I suppose it’s a pretty Perth thing in that sense. Looking back I wish I mapped which people or teams influenced the most people to join for further seasons. Would be interesting reading.
From day one, I’ve just tried to ensure everyone is having as much fun as possible. And then harnessing this energy and allowing everyone to become a walking billboard for the league.
But anyway the origin story goes like this.
In 2013 I was in my last year of Physiotherapy at uni. This year was all practical based in hospitals and rural towns. By the time I got to my final year I absolutely despised physio and I was looking for a distraction. The Street Roller Hockey League was that distraction.
I used to frequent a couple of op shops a week on the way home from these hospitals and/or rural towns. One day in May I found an ice hockey stick in Balcatta. It was only $5 so I purchased it for no reason other than it would be stupid not to buy it.
That weekend I went to Luna and watched Spring Breakers with my friend Craig. We got chatting pre-film and we found out we both had bought ice hockey sticks from op shops that week. We decided we should at least try to play a game. We told our mates and they were keen to join in. That turned into the Original 4 teams – the Dalkeith Ducks, Mosman Park Murderers, Cottesloe Street Sharks and Hamersley Rangers.
We then put it on Facebook, wrote a little spiel on SixThousand and another 6 teams joined in time for our first season. I like to thing drinking cheap wine and watching Spring Breakers on that wintry night in Leederville has influenced the league.
My main inspiration was my friends who had all quit sport after finishing school. They turned 18, got into uni, discovered Clubba and part-time jobs and organised sport was the first thing that fell away.
I personally think organised sport doesn’t work for Generation Y and Z. Our generation doesn’t want to commit to 2 trainings + 1 game at a scheduled time every week. If you choose to commit to organised sport you have to schedule your life around sport/recreation rather than sport/recreation around your life.
Loose/social/pickup sports like basketball or frisbee will continue to flourish in the future. Sports that are social and loose also tend to be non-competitive. Competitive sports are a drain once you hit a certain mindset. I believe encourages people to feel like they are part of a community.
Community has always been a major ethos in our league. For generation’s Y, Z and beyond, our main community is now in the virtual realm. But people still want the physical connection too.
I suppose the SRHL is either weird or groundbreaking in linking sport and the virtual community together. Currently there are 117 teams and you only get to play 12 of them per season. Despite only getting the chance to play 10% of teams in a season, people still feel a sense of connection with other players that they haven’t had the opportunity to play yet. I suppose it’s the online community that drives the entire organisations ‘culture’ for lack of a better word. When people meet up in the physical realm whether at a social event or at a game, they already feel connected to that person.
Other inspirations include the films The Warriors (the themed gangs repping their turf); Semi Pro (Will Ferrell as a owner/coach/captain/equipment manager/entertainment manager); Mighty Ducks trilogy (max 90s nostalgia). Another main inspiration of mine in all aspects of my life has been to do try and do things the complete opposite way society expects them to be done. This is true of the Street Roller Hockey League. I actively try to avoid making decisions that dinosaur traditional sporting organisations make.
And I’m also influenced by that Nick Allbrook article on Perth 2 years or so ago.
LB: I’m fascinated by how much it’s evidently grown. 117 teams is a hell of a lot, even if – as you say – they don’t all play each other. How surprised were you by the popularity? Do you think the decoupling of competition and routine with social sport is the main thing that’s drawn so many people in?
EL: To be honest, when I started the league I didn’t see it lasting more than a year before I moved onto my next project. Of the 10 first season teams, I knew 8 of them from various social and existing sporting circles. Our second season started in March of 2014. We had 27 teams sign up. The majority of these new teams were people I hadn’t met before. But often our circles were connected through various mutual friends who they had discovered the league through. It seems Perth only really needs the first two steps in the six degrees of separation theory.
So when random people started joining and becoming personally invested in the organisation I knew it had potential to thrive into the future. There are a number of reasons I think registrations have boomed.
First of all roller hockey is actually really fun to play. 95% of players have never played ice or inline hockey prior to joining the SRHL. It was a sport that was foreign to so many of us. Australian’s knowledge of hockey primarily relies on playing Bali copies of NHL games on our mod chip Playstation and the Mighty Ducks.
We all started at square one together i.e. no one really had a clue what they were doing. People brought their little prior knowledge on hockey and coupled it with loose tactics from other team based sports. And what resulted was sport in its rawest form. Everyone picked up the sport together but learnt how to play in a trial-and-error method.
It’s rare for people to pick up a sport as adults. It’s even rarer for adults to pick up a sport, have fun doing it and not get blown out of the water by experienced players.
Decoupling competition and routine are a major reason behind the league resonating with so many people. Other reasons that differ between the SRHL and other organised sports are…firstly, DIY team creation. For most sports in Australia, you sign up to an existing club. The club likely existed before you joined and will continue to exist after you retire. You have no control over your team name, jersey colours, song, branding, social media etc etc. Our model borrows from other social sports like mixed netball, where groups of friends start their own team. Starting aSRHL team requires both creativity and a DIY attitude. Teams base themselves in a suburb or locality of Perth and incorporate that suburb into an interesting team name. Teams often choose clever wordplay (Fremantle Cappuccino Strippers, Applecross Dressers, Innaloominati) or represent a local ‘tourist attraction’ (Wembley Food Courts, Swanbourne Nudists). Teams also design their own logo, jersey and backstory behind their franchise.The overarching idea behind this was to facilitate an increase in suburban identity – to get people interested in their neighbourhood and community again.
Secondly, structured skill development. A lot of people get disenfranchised with organised sport when there is exterior pressure on them to achieve a certain skill level to be able to play.In the SRHL, we place no emphasis on structured skill development. 96% of the SRHL have never played ice or inline hockey prior to joining. Player’s skill levels tend to progress at their own rate. The more hockey they play, the more confident they are and the better they get.
Third, tiered competition. Due to the loose nature of the league (teams can exist for 6 months to 3+ years), the SRHL doesn’t have divisions with relegation and promotion. As we are catering for a number of different skill levels, teams are pitted against competitors at or around their skill level. This ensures each and every game is safe, enjoyable and a tight contest between two evenly matched teams. Reducing one-sided scorelines also ensures maximum enjoyment.
Fourth, affordability. We charge $55 a season per player. This is remarkably cheaper than registration fees for any other sport. This fresh model of cheap, accessible and flexible sport has really resonated with Generation Y.
LB: Nice, makes sense, those points certainly resonate with me. I’ve always been pretty rubbish at sports but I love the camaraderie, the drama, the strategy and everything – plus those aesthetic things you mention like uniforms, songs, names and all. So the idea of giving people more autonomy over that stuff, and cultivating more emotional investment in one’s locale, is really appealing.
Speaking of location, though, it’s now well-known that you’ve encountered some road blocks lately. My understanding is that residential noise complaints – and a subsequent council decision – have led to the shutting down of your DIY concrete rink headquarters at Bayswater Bowls Club. Is there still hope of using that venue? How’s the search for alternative spaces going? I’m also wondering whether you see these recent development as a gloomy forecast re: support from the extended community.
EL: Yeah so originally the league started off by playing on underutilised and unloved public basketball courts and carparks. There seems to be a bit of taboo about rollerblading on basketball courts and we got kicked off some spots. It was ok as in the first few seasons there was only 10-20 games per weekend and we got find another spot. As the rego’s kept growing we were getting booted from 1 spot a weekend. We decided we would need our own facility or the league would die.
We spent a year and a half fundraising for our own rink. We raised $60K and laid a concrete slab on a disused bowls green at the Bayswater Bowls Club. It was the start of a beautiful relationship. The Bowls Club only had 48 bowlers and we had nowhere to call home. We gave them increased bar trade and a massive boost in membership and they gave us a purpose built spot to play.
We are the first street hockey league in Australia. So when we built the rink we went in blind. We had no prior Australian example or national sporting body to provide us advice on what to do. The international outdoor rink builders didn’t get back to us.
We received informal noise complaints early on and we attempted to mitigate them. Then the complaints were formalised and the council had to investigate. We breached the acceptable background limits of the Health Act 1977 4 times over 6 months. The Councillors called a special meeting 2 weeks ago now and hastily voted to shut us down until we can guarantee we could comply.
It was pretty disappointing as we tried as hard as possible to get the noise under control. The infringing noises were the sticks hitting the concrete, the stick hitting another stick when the puck is in contention and the puck hitting the boards. Verbal communication and cheering are exempt from the Noise Act.
We put conveyor belt and core flute on the outer surface of our rink, which reduced the puck on board noise. The other two noises are harder to modify as they are part of the everyday playing of the sport. We have hired a sound engineer to come up with some recommendations but it is likely that we will need to install a sound proof wall near the rink.
LB: As a final thought – any visions for the future of the league? Or future projects in general? Strikes me you’ve got the kind of brain where things are always brewing…
EL: Future visions for the league are an interesting one.
Long term our goal is to control our own venue. I’d like to theme it similar to a traditional bowls club but with sports and activities more in line with contemporary Australia. This could be hard to achieve though because councils don’t give land out willy nilly these days (as they did with bowls clubs back in the day). Every recreation facility has to be multi-purpose nowadays too.
In the short term, we are making plans to get more street hockey specific rinks dotted around Perth. Our soon to be legit strategic plan is to have 4 purpose built rinks that service their local community of both hockey players and general society. These 4 rinks would be based in the NE, NW, SE and SW corridors of Perth.
Depending on the week I spend between 20-40 hours on the admin side of theSRHL. At the moment this is all unpaid so between hockey and my actual job I don’t have much time to work on other projects.
My mind is definitely always brewing though. Most of my ideas are just silly puns for potential food trucks.
The scheme that has stuck with me since I turned 18 was opening a bar (who doesn’t have that dream though). If I was gifted a milli I would start an alt sports/music bar in Chinatown called Willy Chow Chow’s.
Wally Koochew was the the first VFL player of Asian descent. His father was Chinese and his mother was Norwegian. He was born and bred in Melbourne and turned out to be good at footy. The Carlton Football Club signed him up for about two seasons in the early 1900s. Apparently some Carlton FC members handed back their memberships as playing an Asian footballer was a blow to the White Australia Policy at the time.
As you can imagine he suffered a heap of racial taunts at games. Apparently one of his nicknames from other teams was Willy Chow Chow. Name a bar after him so we can remember our fucked past.
Someone should start an Australian history podcast (like The Dollop). Stories like these need to be told haha.