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On the ball

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

northsider meets North Sydney rugby league star and community champion, Greg Florimo

Interview first published in northsider magazine, Winter 21

Greg Florimo at Norths, Cammeray

Stepping out on to North Sydney Oval to run on for The Mighty Bears, 18-year-old Greg Florimo soaked up the moment he’d been working towards since the age of seven.

“As a young kid I was so impressed, coming to the ground and seeing it all in real life,” Greg remembers. “Seeing the size of these men, the responsibility they carried for their club, the way they represented North Sydney…straightaway, I felt that local pride.

“It was my dream, putting on the red and black and representing my club…my area,” he continues. “I’d been working so hard with that goal in mind, it was a real honour to finally get there.”

That same match earned Greg the nickname that’s stuck with him throughout his distinguished sporting career.

“I’d fallen off my skateboard the day before,” Greg remembers. “I had to get stitches in my head, so I wore headgear on match day, which I’d never done before.

“I had a fairly decent debut game and the press wanted to know about the headgear and as soon as the reporters heard why I was wearing it, they started calling me The Skateboard Kid,” he laughs. “The next day it was all over the news and it’s sort of stuck. People still talk to me about it now, “You still got your skateboard Flo?””

This year marks the 35th anniversary of Greg’s NRL debut. During his 13 years on the field with his beloved North Sydney Bears, The Skateboard Kid became their most capped player-to-date with 285 games, firmly embedding Greg into the rich history of one of Australia’s most respected sporting institutions.

“I think it’s an underlying fire that has been there for so long, and it’s just going to take a little spark to flame it up again.”

Established in 1908, North Sydney’s team was one of the country’s founding rugby league clubs. They began playing at North Sydney Oval in 1910 and 2021 marks the centenary of their first Premiership win in 1921. The team became known as The Bears in 1950s, following a sponsorship deal with Big Bear shopping centre in Neutral Bay, and Sunday afternoons would see the oval flooded with up to 15,000 supporters, all proudly decked out in red and black.

“Just recently we had a few thousand people in the crowd and it reminded me of the days in the ‘90s on a sunny Winter Sunday afternoon when you couldn’t fit another person in the oval...when there were queues outside the gates,” Greg, who’s also known locally as Flo, recalls.

“Everyone would be in a great mood and as we’d run on to the ground, we’d have the band punching out, and we were just in impeccable form. We knew we were going to win. On those days, it was just magic.”

The ‘00s were a less magical era for The Bears. After being delisted by the NRL, a merger with Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles saw them become the Northern Eagles in 2000. The next two years were a trying time.

“My last season was in ’98 and I went to play in the UK,” Greg says. “I watched the Northern Eagles’ first game on TV and seeing them run out with predominantly Manly colours, except for a bit of red and black on the top of their socks…that was tough times…”

The unpopular union was dissolved in 2003, with The Bears returning home to the oval and the second tier NSW Cup competition.

Almost two decades on, and while Greg is now retired as a player, the local legend is helping to tackle what’s next for The Bears in his role as the team Wellbeing, Education and Community Manager.

“It’s a club with so much tradition, history and presence,” Greg says. “Number one is to make sure rugby league is good in this area. That it’s good for the kids, so they get a chance to play. That it’s good for the fans, so they have a chance to watch. That the game is healthy, the club is healthy. And I think we’re doing that at the moment.”

“My role gives me a lot of satisfaction because I’m dealing with people, and understanding and helping and supporting people, whereas before it was, “Here’s your contract, here’s your training T-shirt, see you at training on Tuesday,” he continues.

“Now I’m getting a life story, I’m understanding what these people are doing on and off the field, trying to help them to live a complete life, to find interest outside of rugby league, to have a fall back plan if rugby league doesn’t happen, to make sure that there is a career in place.”

Greg’s particularly impressed with the junior league and how the game is taking on a new lease of life with female players.

“The numbers are up in the junior league and there’s an emergence of young girls not just playing tag footy, but playing tackle footy,” Greg says. “There was a time you couldn’t because of age restrictions, but now that’s what they want to be. They want to be a footy player.”

“The women amaze me,” he continues. “Sometimes the old man’s sitting on the sideline with the baby, and I’ve seen them have to run off five minutes before kickoff and feed the baby, then run out and play.”

Left: Community focus - Greg presents the Gidget Foundation, a local charity supporting the emotional wellbeing of expectant and new parents, with funding through the norths collective ClubGRANTS.

Greg’s work with the Norths club in Cammeray, home of The Bears for over 50 years, and the norths collective group which includes The Alcott in Lane Cove and The Greens, is also integral to community engagement. He’s involved in ClubGRANTS, which see the norths collective help fund a selection of local groups and services. He works closely with local organisations to support a range of people and causes, from charities such as the Gidget Foundation, Mary’s House and Phoenix House, to nearby schools and community groups.

“League is a great icebreaker,” Greg says.

“I can turn up to an event representing the club, and it makes it easy to break down boundaries. It’s all about connecting people, young and old, and bringing them together.”

Over the past 20 years there’s been much talk of a return to the NRL for The Bears.

Today, those conversations continue and it feels like they’re catching the attention of the wider North Sydney community, which is looking to support local more than ever.

“Hopefully the NRL can see the value in what we bring,” Greg says. “And what we bring is not only a rugby league heartland with over 220,000 fans, but also a strong commercial business district.

“There’s almost a million people without a team. And then when you consider North Sydney Oval and the history and the strength of that…

“I think it’s an underlying fire that’s been there for so long, and it’s just going to take a little spark to flame it up again,” Greg continues. “It has been blown out a few times over the years, so I try not to put too much focus on it.

“People were touched by The Bears and what we did, they still are…that in itself is really rewarding. And it’s why you do it. So I encourage everyone to come to a game, visit the oval, become a member of the club, be part of it all and enjoy the fun. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”


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