As various football clubs and consortiums around the country eagerly await the FFA’s release of its A-League expansion criteria, South Melbourne FC continues its efforts to position itself at the forefront of contenders, by presenting itself as a progressive, innovative and fully- integrated club.

Following on from the release last year of South Melbourne’s One Club policy, which brought together the women’s and men’s structures under the umbrella of a super-club, the club announced earlier this week several measures which it believes are a positive outcome of that policy.

Foremost is the announcement that South will stage eight double- headers at Lakeside showcasing the womens’ senior team as it embarks on its inaugural NPL Vic Women season, together with the men’s senior team on NPL match days.

“Our integration with the men’s team has enabled us to showcase both senior teams equally, with eight double-headers locked in this season at Lakeside Stadium. South is very focused on promoting female football and making sure they have the best environment to succeed,” head of the women’s program and board director at South, Gabrielle Guiliano, commented.

The opportunity to play in front of larger crowds will undoubtedly be appreciated by a team which, having last season completed back to back titles, is gearing itself for more success in its first season in the NPL Women’s League. The club has recruited five National League players and an U18 Matilda to the squad for the coming season, including Alex Gummer, Alex Cheal, Melina Ayres, Jamie Pollock, Tiffany Eliades and U18 Matilda, Aimee Medwin.

As well as the double-header match days, the senior women’s and men’s teams came together for a joint training session earlier this week, in what is planned to be a regular feature of their training program.

“The club and our code at Lakeside Stadium is creating history by having our senior men and senior female team training together in preparation for the new season,” Guiliano said of the initiative.

As part of the 90-minute session, senior coaches Chris Taylor and Socrates Nicolaides addressed the unified playing group, discussing the season ahead and, most importantly, what it meant to play for the club. The group was then addressed by president Leo Athanasakis, who emphasised the important role that both sides play within the club and throughout the National Premier League.

Such sessions will become regular occurrences, with the club already planning numerous sessions at Lakeside Stadium and Ron Barassi Senior Park throughout the next six weeks.

Leaders among the playing group, Alex Cheal for the women’s team and Michael Eager for the men’s team, both expressed their support of the joint training sessions and pride in the club for the progress it had shown in promoting the women’s game.

“I’m extremely excited for the upcoming season, and seeing sessions such as tonight further emphasises how proud I am with the club for the enormous strides it has made over the past 18 months to be at the forefront of equality in sport. It’s really exciting to know that whether you are a male, female, boy or girl, when you put on the South shirt you will be treated with respect and in an equal manner,” said the women’s captain and former Melbourne Victory defender Alex Cheal.

Michael Eager added: “Having the female teams under the SMFC umbrella and part of the club has been a breath of fresh air and as senior players we are extremely proud of being able to unite as one and hold such a historic session on our home pitch. We’re extremely fortunate to play out of an amazing facility such as Lakeside and with many double-headers planned over the year, it’s very important that we showcase both senior teams on the big stage.”

Because of the Grand Prix, the first match at Lakeside for both the mens and senior teams is scheduled for 9 April, when the senior women host Bulleen Lions FC, followed by the senior men taking on North Geelong Warriors.

The women begin their NPL Vic Women season on 26 February away to Box Hill United SC.