We’re so used to playing against teams from across bridges at Richmond FC that playing a game against a team consisting of your friends and even family must be a real whirlwind of emotions, but that’s what happened at Hugh Boyd Red this past Sunday afternoon when the U13 Girls Div 2 West RFC Strikers met division-mates, city-mates, and field-mates, the Richmond United Red Lightning.

The Strikers have been in strong form early this season, with a pair of good wins opening the show which gave the Red Lightning every reason to step things up a gear. The sidelines were packed with parents and supporters of both teams, adding another level of tension to an already tense local derby outing but, once the whistle blew, an unexpected thing happened… the score  seemed to matter more to the adults than the players… the girls were determined to just have fun.

Both teams enjoyed great moments on the ball with strong passing and dribbling seeing goals pouring in at each end. The Red Lightning got off to a strong start, slotting away the first couple of goals on breakaways, but the Strikers began to look dangerous towards the break and drew level at 3-3 with just 10 minutes to play, before taking the lead 4-3 just 5 minutes later.

Part-time goalkeeping took its toll on both sides, and a picked up back pass by RFC would turn out decisive, giving their opponents an indirect free kick just 7 metres from goal and seconds from the final whislte. The shot was duly put away and, as the seconds ran out, a 4-4 draw seemed just the right result.

Previous games between Richmond FC and Richmond United haven’t always been free of friction, both on the sideline and on the pitch, but this game had all the feeling of a kickaround between friends, with hugs after goals conceded, waves and compliments between coaches, and kids sticking about to mingle with their friends wearing another shirt colour.

It must be said, we could take a lesson from our kids on that front. Walking the perimeter, I heard several conversations between parents and even coaches commenting how good a team these girls would have if they were all on the one club, under a unified banner, rather than split across a turf field. And they’re right.

As the adults who are here to serve the best interests of our kids, that’s a failure we all share. Depending who you ask, there are all sorts of issues that have served as reasons for our two city clubs to remain unmerged, but the one true reason that can’t be denied by anybody is this: None of those reasons are good reasons.

We simply haven’t come to the table and got it done.

On the RFC side, we’ve talked about it **internally** a lot, and we have certainly asked to extend those talks to the other side many times, most recently in the summer. I don’t know of anyone on either side of the pitch that won’t say publicly they are supportive of merger talks and a future where our kids don’t have to choose which friends they’ll play with and which they’ll play against, and yet no such talks have occurred. Casting blame for that to one side or another misses the point – the arguments of the past are far less important than the kids in the present, and those coming to us in the future.

A unified Richmond club would put less stress on field scheduling, would see it easier for parents to schedule their day, would save money on admin and see the kids drowning in high quality coaches. It would give every squad instantly more depth and see us expand both elite teams and the grassroots. It would share sponsorship dollars and lower equipment costs and turn Richmond into a stronger soccer city.

But, most importantly, it would end a system where kids are forced to make hard decisions that none of them enjoy.

In the absence of merger talks, RFC remains determined to simply put out the best possible youth football program we can, but we remain ready to talk seriously at any time.

Because, if one thing is clear from the outstanding behaviour, sportsmanship, good humour, and soccer skills of our kids, it’s they don’t hold the grudges of adults, and we’d all be well served to follow their lead.

— Chris Parry, RFC Chair