The Melbourne Rovers head to Sydney this weekend for the first annual Pride Football Australia gay and lesbian soccer tournament.

The event has grown out of the Justin Fashanu Cup, established in 2009 as a friendly competition between the Melbourne Rovers men’s team and the Sydney Rangers. This year, the tournament has grown again to encompass the women’s match, where the Sydney-based Flying Bats will compete with the Melbourne Rovers women’s team for the Julie Murray Cup.

“[We created] a new name to encompass the weekend, and promote soccer within the gay and lesbian community in Australia,” explained Melbourne Rovers president Heath Wilson.

Patron of the women’s cup, Julie Murray, has been at the forefront of most firsts in Australian women’s football and said she was honoured to be involved in another piece of history

“Whether it’s professional or local weekend football, you play because it brings something positive to your life; there is a sense of belonging, responsibility, and loyalty that comes with playing football,” Murray said.

“Although there is still a long way to go, I believe football has and will continue to play a key role in breaking down barriers.”

The Rovers recently finished their winter season, but training has continued in the lead up to the tournament, and Wilson expects the men’s competition to be fierce.

“Every game is always extremely close,” he said.

“Sydney [Rangers] have won twice in Melbourne but never won in Sydney, so I would be hoping and expecting the Melbourne Rovers would win for the men’s teams.”

While he expects some intense competition and rivalry, Wilson said the tournament is about more than who takes the prize on the day.

“It highlights the fact that anyone can play sport, no matter what your background, who you are or where you come from.”

The Rovers are Australia’s first and only gay and lesbian football club based in Melbourne. Founded in June, 2008 they play for the Yarra Jets during the winter season fielding a Men’s Metro team, Women’s Metro team and Women’s State Leagues in Victoria. The Rovers won the Justin Fashanu for the first time in 2010.

The tournament will be held on Saturday, October 6 at the UNSW David Phillips Sports Field, with the Julie Murray Cup kicking off at 1pm and the Justin Fashanu Cup at 3pm.

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