When Sarah Loh arrived in Australia at the age of 7 from Malaysia, she immediately fell in love with Australian Rules football. Although her father Paul was reluctant to take her to a game, she persisted and attended her first match at Moorabbin Oval in 1977.
Although initially treated like an outsider, she finished the game and remembers being thrown in the air by jubilant St Kilda fans and she was hooked: ‘From that moment I became a fanatical St Kilda supporter and lived it and breathed it.’ Sarah recalls.
Sarah Loh was born in 1970, the last of three children in Malaysia to Paul Loh who worked as a cleaner and Doris who was a nurse.
Sarah settled into Australian life, and unlike many Asian migrant families, playing sport was a top family priority: ‘Mum was good at sports and insisted that we had to live in Melbourne because of the sporting culture.’
Sarah took her mother’s philosophy seriously and her first Sherrin football got a serious workout: ‘we kicked the hell out of it on the street in front of our house with my two brothers who loved the game.’
Denied the opportunity to play the game competitively, she lobbied her teachers at Carwatha High to set up the first Victorian high schools round robin tournament in 1983 and she played every year in high school until graduation.
At the age of 27 she finally played competition football, suiting up for the St Kilda Sharks.
Sarah’s comeback was a rough one and she has painful recollections: ‘I nearly killed myself - I nearly broke my ribs and had black eyes, but I loved every second - even getting bumped felt good.’
Sarah’s obsession with football continued and she unsuccessfully tried a number of times to get a job in the industry before breaking through in 2016 when she was appointed as CEO of Melbourne’s SMJFL (South Metro Junior Football League), the largest independent junior league in the country.
The list of achievements in her six-year term is impressive with SMJFL having the largest cash reserves, corporate sponsorship turnover, umpire academy and number of participants of any junior league in the nation.
One of her legacies was to take a stand against partnerships with harmful industries including alcohol, gambling, tobacco and junk food.
Sarah had unfinished business on the playing field, and in 2017 she joined the AFL Masters for over 40’s players.
Her form and enthusiasm were rewarded with an elevation to captain-coach of the Waverley Warriors and then to State Coach for the Victorian Masters team before being appointed as a Director on the AFL Masters National Board.
For Sarah, playing AFL Masters and following St Kilda has given her access to a secret world: ‘If you want to get good jobs you need to be able to talk the local language, which is footy,’
‘It helps you to understand the human nature of Australians, what makes Aussies tick.’
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