Bailey goes back to where it all began

Bulldogs star Bailey Smith was a very popular visitor to his junior club, East Malvern Knights

Bailey Smith is having a significant impact on the field and is clearly a big hit with kids off it.

The 20-year-old returned to his former club, East Malvern Knights, to celebrate community footy being back in Victoria and encourage boys and girls to dream big.

“Having football taken away from you as a kid would be tough,” Smith said.

“It was so good to get back to my old junior club and see the kids training, having fun and socialising, because for so long they haven’t been able to do that like they normally would.

Smith, who is on the verge of his 50th AFL game for the Western Bulldogs, was a young star for the Knights and has an under 11 league best-and-fairest honour to show for it.

But when the former Xavier College school team captain and Sandringham Dragons player reflects on his junior footy experience, it was so much more than on-field success and personal accolades.

“Getting back to junior footy reminds me of why I started out. I played junior footy because I loved the game and had fun. That’s how it is for so many kids, and hopefully after the year we’ve had, everyone returns who was previously involved and new people come to the game because the game can provide so much.

“I loved my time at the mighty East Malvern Knights. Friends, fun and footy, that’s what it was all about. I was also lucky enough to fill in a few times for my older brother Lochie’s team.”

Smith knows the value of kids getting up close with players who have made it at the elite level, something that couldn’t happen last year because of health restrictions. When he walked across two fields full of Knights teams training on a Friday evening, the excitement among the boys and girls was obvious.

One Knights team even calls itself ‘The Smiths’, showing how idolised the young Bulldogs star is to young players at the club.

“It clearly means something to these kids when they get to meet an AFL player, so it’s really rewarding coming back and I enjoy it.

“I live nearby and come here to walk my dog, so it’s a constant reminder of where it all started. It’s important that junior footy remains strong because this is where it starts for all players, whether you go onto play AFL or not.”

Community club registration numbers in football across Victoria are back around where they were in 2019 before COVID, but for those who haven’t returned or haven’t decided if they will, it’s not too late to get into junior community club football in season 2021. Go to play.afl to find your local club.