FAMILIES affiliated with the Golden Square Football Netball Club have opened their hearts and homes to members of the visiting Indian AFL national team.
The Indians are in Australia for the biennial AFL International Cup and will play Pakistan this Friday under lights at the Wade Street Oval in round three of the challenge series.
A billeting program supported by the Bulldogs and Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services (LCMS) has resulted in players being housed with families across Bendigo during their part of their stay in Australia.
The initiative strengthens the existing relationship with AFL India, built through yearly trips to Kolkata to help AFL India run its national championships, involving Bendigo sports figures.
As well as staying with local families, the Indian team participated in Golden Square training sessions and were guests at a welcome dinner last week.
Golden Square president Brendan Stewart said the experience had been rewarding for the club.
“Our guests have had a great time and everyone in the Bendigo footy fraternity, from rival clubs to the umpires, have been chipping in with assistance,” he said.
“I commend the whole football community for the support they’ve shown the Indian team while they’ve been here, it has become much bigger than just our club.”
To show their gratitude to the Bulldogs, the Indian players learned the Golden Square theme song, which they performed for the first time at the club last Thursday.
Stewart said members and players alike were touched and impressed by the effort the team had made, if not the quality of their singing.
LCMS chairman Abhishek Awashti said the services were proud to support the initiative.
“While we might all come from different cultures, faiths and parts of the world, projects like this show how much we actually have in common, including a love of AFL,” he said.
“I would encourage anyone interested in learning more about multiculturalism, or just seeing a great match played by two traditional rivals, to come along to the game this Friday.”
Golden Square club chaplain Bruce Claridge said the Indians’ visit had been an “eye-opening experience” for the local community, with players involved in all aspects of their host families lives, from helping drop kids off at school, to sharing meals and evening board games.
“Footy and sport in general is a great leveller. It's always been a way to bring people from different backgrounds, countries and social classes together,” he said.
On the field, the Indians will be looking to bounce back after losing their AFL International Cup opener to division two favourites Japan on Sunday.
They play Germany in Melbourne today.
Friday night’s India-Pakistan match starts at 7.30pm at Golden Square.