If you’d taken a casual stroll through Dunstan Reserve, West Brunswick last Saturday around noon, chances are you would have come across an unusual rusted steel sculpture, about a metre square in size, resembling an ancient Greek warrior helmet.

You may have noticed the sculpture sitting on a small veranda in front of the doors of the clubroom of local soccer club Brunswick City, facing out onto the pitch as if waiting patiently for the match to begin. Nearby, a man named Bill is tending a spit roast over burning coals as the canteen prepares for match day.

On closer inspection, the statue reveals an inscription with the words ‘MOLON LABE’ cut into the steel, which translates into ‘Come and Take’. It’s not an invitation for a free feed, but a defiant challenge from an ancient warrior king of Sparta in response to a call to surrender from an invading army.

You would also have noticed young players, still in their teens, emerging from the dressing rooms to begin their warm ups on the pitch prior to their match.

If you ventured into the players’ dressing rooms you might have noticed film posters on the wall from the film 300, depicting the warrior king Leonidas ready to go into battle against the might of the invading Persian army with his hopelessly outnumbered forces.

The walls of players’ change rooms are often covered with inspiring, motivational messages. On these walls the message reads:

‘This is where we hold them,
This is where we fight,
This is where they lose.’

They take their history seriously around these parts and sometimes the best way forward is to first retrace your steps. Speak to people around the club and you’ll hear them say things like: “Brunswick City has been a very successful club, but over the recent time, it has lost its way in terms of what it stands for, its culture.”

The club has faced a number of changes in recent years. Demographic changes in the suburb have seen the initial wave of Greek and Italian migrants from the ’50s and ’60s, replaced by a much more diverse group. It’s not a Greek suburb anymore , but a multicultural suburb. The club has had to adapt, and in 2014, the soccer club joined the new NPL ( National Premier League) competition, where it plays in the NPL1 West division, under a new system designed to develop talented young players. The senior team has struggled to be competitive over the first two seasons of the new NPL, with a corresponding drop off in attendances and support, especially from older members.

But the club has stuck to its commitment to develop and promote youth and implement the junior programs and club structures required by the NPL guidelines.

As club president Peter Kyriopoulos puts it: “I’m against paying players to come here just because they used to play in a higher league, and want a bit of a money-grab before they hang up their boots. It’s good to have that experience around for the kids, but there’s got to be a focus. We believe success here is not winning a trophy, but one of our players making it to the A-League. That’s success for us. That has to be the focus.”

Faced by these numerous challenges, the committee is trying to rejuvenate the club, by building a strong culture which gives the young players and their parents a sense of belonging. The committee also aims to increase participation of existing members at the club in activities which promote the club’s engagement with and positive contribution to the wider community.

There’s also a concerted effort to attract back to the club some of the older generation of Greek members and past players who have lost touch with the club, perhaps alienated by the changing demographic and new direction of the club.

The guardian of the spit roast, Bill Nikolakos, has been at the club since its inception in 1969, when the soccer club was founded by a group of local Spartan Greeks from the area. They named the club Leonidas after the warrior king of Sparta. Bill and both his sons played for the club and although his sons no longer play, he attends each training session and every game to meet up with friends. He’s seen most of the changes and although the senior team is struggling at present, he believes the club is heading in the right direction. The younger people coming into the committee and bringing fresh ideas give him cause for optimism. When asked what he thinks of the new sculpture, he says in a quietly proud voice, “I was touched when I first saw it because I’m a Spartan as well. It makes it even a bit more meaningful”.

The helmet sculpture is the brainchild of club operations manager Robert Camilleri and vice president Jim Aviotis. As Camilleri explains, “we’re always thinking about the things we can do around the club, because we want more participation”.

“One of the ideas was ‘how can we get more of the elderly community to come here?’. Also getting a lot of the older players to come back … I said, ‘We need something, I don’t know if it’s a statue, something…’ and my son actually gave me the idea by saying ‘Dad, why don’t we get helmets for all the players so that they wear them when they walk out onto the ground before a game?’ So I started thinking about the helmet idea.”

Once the committee got on board, the club commissioned Ballarat metal artist Chris Loader to construct the statue out of moulded steel.

So whilst the initial impetus was to pay homage to the club’s roots and attract the older, traditional supporters, Camilleri hopes the helmet statue will help strengthen and rejuvenate the club’s identity and culture amongst the young players themselves.

“The values of a Spartan, when applied to a sporting club, there’s a lot of symmetry in what you can take away from that. We talk about the idea that you can stand for each other, you don’t lay down … When a Spartan falls somebody always takes their place. You can apply that to team sport. You’ve always got to play above your threshold, because it doesn’t matter if you’re going to sacrifice yourself, you know someone’s always going to take your place. Because you’re playing for the team, you’re playing for the club.

“So that’s what we’re trying to do with this rejuvenating of what it means to play for Brunswick City. To the players it hopefully means they are playing for our club logo, they’re playing for Brunswick City and that they’re all Spartans, even from the youngest kids out there, who don’t really understand that this is the history. But when they look at that logo and look at this sculpture, they’re all proud. They’ll say ‘ooh, I want to be part of the club because it’s got something I want to attach myself to’.”

The sculpture may have a role in forging that identity amongst the young players. But what of the older generation of Greeks. How will they respond to it?

President Kyriopoulos considers the question momentarily and then says: “They may look at it and say ‘what a waste of money’ and that kind of stuff. We’d hope to think that they see we’re still holding onto our heritage. That we took something away from all those years of Greek school. We still believe in it. We still want to be proud Greeks. I hope that’s the side they actually see.”

Post script: The club hopes to sell 300 memberships and to erect the sculpture on to a pedestal made up of 300 engraved pavers, each recognising a club member.