Footy star’s terror: ‘He pulled out a shotgun and started yelling’
CHALKING up 50 games for the Coolangatta Football Club on Saturday was a welcome milestone for Bluebirds co-founder and inaugural captain Leah Kaslar, especially considering what unfolded shortly before her first.
The year was 2013 and the AFLW bound Kaslar returned to the Gold Coast from Perth to commence a Bachelor of Science and Environment degree at Griffith University.
Perth presented a place for her to progress her football career (and chase a solid wave) but a desire for higher education dragged her back east.
The Cairns native joined the Palm Beach Currumbin but female footy at the time was fickle and the Lionesses soon fell apart.
"Women's football wasn't well supported so we had to look for another club who would have a women's team," Kaslar said.
"AFL Queensland wanted women's football to be strong on the Gold Coast so they told us if we could find 18 girls and start a team, they'd make a special allowance for us even though it was pretty close to the season starting."
Kaslar joined forces with teammates Andrea Roberts and Lauren James in canvassing Gold Coast football clubs about the prospect of welcoming a senior women's side.
Carrara and Broadbeach were strongly considered as was Coolangatta where Roberts' dad had played during his career.
They interviewed at the club and outlined their three-year plan before a deal was struck and Coolangatta became the new home of Gold Coast female football.
"They asked us to bring all the girls down to the club so we could have dinner at the Kirra sports club," Kaslar said.
"They were really happy to have us and it was a great place to start a team with a nice setting and the hill there so we all headed down and decided to join the club."
After a few hours of proceedings, the team were invited downstairs to enjoy a few jugs of celebration.
It was then the night took a sudden and scary turn.
"I remember looking up, and this guy walked into the sports club wearing a big red hoodie," Kaslar said.
"It was like 'The Notorious B.I.G.' just walked in.
"I noticed he was wearing a balaclava and suddenly pulls out a shotgun and starts yelling 'this is a hold up, everyone get down.'
"We all had to get down and the guy was pointing his gun at staff and forced them to open the safe and he stole a substantial amount of money.
"It was kind of lucky we'd have a few drinks but at the end of the day, we needed a club and you can't let an armed robbery get in the way of football."
Rather than curse their luck and consider whether their venture was damned from the start, the Bluebirds treated their ill involvement on their Foundation Day like a well-directed compliment.
They possessed the resilience to survive anything thrown at them on or off the field - even an armed robbery.
Year one was all about establishing a "positive and vibrant culture" and so Kaslar and James combined to coach the fledgling side out of obscurity.
A knee injury prevented Kaslar from playing the first few games, but watching a new era of Gold Coast women's footy come to life was almost as satisfying.
"I remember watching the girls run out with these huge grins on their faces," she said.
"It was a proud moment having fought to play footy on the Gold Coast."
Year two saw the Bluebirds hire a coach and fill all of the necessary off-field positions with the goal of winning a premiership in year three.
Call it hard-work, grit or a perfectly planned prophecy, but the Bluebirds won 14 of a possible 16 games during the 2016 QWAFL season and secured a grand final berth against Yeronga South Brisbane after losing to Coorparoo the year before.
It took until the final minute of the game, but a freak Kalinda Howarth goal finally split the two sides, gifting Coolangatta a 37-35 victory.
"I played in the ruck for the whole game but there's a photo after the game of myself and Littles (Lauren James) holding the premiership cup and it just shows three years of passion, friendship and camaraderie all coming together and the three years it took to get us to that moment," Kaslar said.
"All of those little moments make days like Saturday (when Kaslar played her 50th game) incredibly special because we've done a lot of great things down at Coolangatta and now another one of my best mates Gravsey (Nicole Graves) is coaching us so we're like one big family.
"We might not have toilet seats, but we have a lot of heart and soul."
And like most clans, Kaslar and her co-founders had a direct say in the look and feel of their family home.
Six years ago, they took a hammer to a canvas and shaped the culture and spirit the Bluebirds display year after year at Queensland's highest level.
It's been a while since the 34-year-old pulled on the blue and white guernsey, AFLW commitments and injury cutting her adrift from community football, but running through the banner for her milestone match was another fitting chapter in the Bluebirds growing legacy.
A 33-9 loss to a rampaging Bond University wasn't the apt celebration Kaslar deserved, but she remains optimistic a second premiership remains on the horizon.
"A lot of people came up to me and were saying really nice things so it was a very special day but obviously not the result we wanted," she said.
"There are a lot of lessons for us to learn out of it but it was nice to be back playing community football."