It might seem hyperbolic, but it is true – footy is more than a game. It is the bridge between gaps and the link between communities; football is the medium through which society bonds and culture is defined. But above all, footy is just as much an individualistic experience as it is collective; it offers something good to us when maybe things aren’t so good. Win, lose or draw, through all the heartache and joy, footy is the outlet we sometimes all need – a place to escape the world when it is starting to get too noisy (as ironic as that sounds).

In their opening game of the 2019 season, the St Kilda Football Club demonstrated exactly how football is more than a game and how much it can mean to an individual, or in this case, a family.

Life for the Elkington family has been tough over the last 6 months. In September last year, nine-year-old Taleah was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – a disease which unfortunately claimed her right leg. Throughout hospital and treatment, learning to adjust to their new reality has been understandably difficult for Taleah and her family.

But on Sunday at Marvel Stadium, life felt good and life felt easy. Before being escorted in a helicopter to the stadium itself, the Elkington family first spent the morning at St Kilda’s headquarters where they enjoyed a private tour led by the wonderful vice-skipper, Seb Ross. There, Taleah was also gifted a pair of footy boots signed by her favourite player, Nathan Brown. The family then spent the remainder of their day successfully cheering on their beloved Saints to victory.

It was a memorable day for all involved, but the highlight indeed was when Taleah ran through the banner in the arms of Seb Ross. Perhaps it was this very moment that gave Seb and his teammates the drive they needed to snatch what was an unbelievably tight match. In fact, Seb said himself that the victory of the day was not on the field, but off the field when he saw the smiles and difference his team had collectively made to the life of Taleah and her family.

The story of football is powerful for its supporters. It is the story of honourable warriors and heroes banding together to overcome great obstacles and accept disappointments as they strive for success – whatever that may be through their own subjective lens. It is a story we can all understand, a story we can all relate to, and a story from which we can all draw hope.

This isn’t a piece to glorify football or football players. It is a piece that speaks more universally on sport in general and its commanding sense of community in bringing about shared values and common goals.

Football is more than a game and it’s helping to change our society for the better through both its philanthropic outreach, but also more simply, its story.

We cannot thank the St Kilda Football Club enough for all they have done not only for Taleah and her family, but for all our Challenge families over our many years of friendship.