The Goulburn Valley League turned 126 yesterday.
Last year's 125th year milestone was celebrated in earnest — with historian Don Kilgour penning a summary of the competition from inception to now — so take the chance to walk down memory lane and learn a few things about the league's history.
It is 126 years since the inception of the most prominent Australian football organisation in the area, the Goulburn Valley Football League.
While the name was different in 1894 and the makeup of the organisation is different now, the fact remains that the GVL has been the leading Australian football organisation in the Goulburn Valley for 126 years. The long term success of the body has had many clubs join and leave the competition. The GV has had its ups and downs, or more precisely its ins and outs, but it has survived well in a football heartland.
Nine of the 12 clubs that are currently members of the organisation — Tatura, Kyabram, Shepparton, Mooroopna, Rochester, Echuca, Euroa, Seymour and Benalla — all joined in the early days and then left at some stage, only to return to the fold later. One reason for that was the argument over playing matches on a Wednesday or Saturday.
History shows the Kyabram Free Press reported that a meeting held at the Criterian Hotel in Shepparton on April 20, 1894 formed the Goulburn Valley Football Association. The secretary, Mr Gourlay, was instructed to register the new entity with the governing body, the VFL.
The football clubs that registered with the association were Tatura, Shepparton, Shepparton Ramblers, Mooroopna, Kyabram and Undera.
Dr J Florence was elected as president. Competition football had commenced. It was soon after matches were being played the Shepparton News reported that the trip from Shepparton to Kyabram was tiring for the players, taking more than three hours.
It was not easy to get players to take an afternoon off on a Wednesday to play sport and, while the new association continued, it struggled and went into recess after three years.
However, it reformed in 1898 and continued to struggle until 1902 when eminent Tatura solicitor DC Morrison took over as president and used his skills to grow the organisation. Over the next five years, Echuca, Nagambie and Rochester were admitted.
In 1913 the name of the entity was changed to the Goulburn Valley Football League. The GVL was the first league in Australia to introduce numbers as a way of identifying players.
While the organisation was successful, with the advent of the First World War in 1914 there was a lack of available players and the league went into recess for the duration of the war.
In 1919 the league was reformed with Morrison again presiding. Games were played on Wednesday afternoons.
In 1939, Shepparton and Mooroopna transferred to the rival Central Goulburn Valley League as they wanted to play on Wednesday and disagreed with the GVL changing to a Saturday competition.
When Morrison moved to Melbourne in 1931, his position was taken by JR Hanlon for two years followed by WJ Wilson.
With war looming in 1939 Tatura’s Tom Hastie stepped in and took the league into recess for the war years until 1946 when he was still available to take up the top post after the war.
Hastie was keen to promote top football and made arrangements for VFL teams to play practice matches against the GVL. The local team even defeated Geelong.
In 1949 the league published the first program known as the Footballer later to be called the Supporter, then The Weekender.
The Goulburn Valley area was developing well under the Eildon Irrigation scheme with water providing wealth for the area. Two Shepparton-based teams entered the competition, Lemnos-Shepparton (later to become Shepparton Swans) and the SPC Fruit Cannery entered a team in association with Shepparton East Club, which was first called City United, later to become Shepparton United. Echuca East also entered a team.
The GVL seconds competition commenced in 1950 with the premiership being won by City United, defeating Kyabram by 21 points.
Shepparton developed as a major rural city and regional centre. Its main sports arena, Deakin Reserve became the venue for GVL grand finals from 1957 onward.
Times were good and money was available for clubs to contract coaches from the VFL, which improved the standard of the league. Sponsors were found to support the live coverage of matches on local radio station 3SR.
In 1966 the league commenced a thirds competition with Kyabram defeating Lemnos in the initial grand final.
However, some of the smaller clubs felt they could no longer compete and chose to leave the GVL to join local leagues where they could be more successful. Teams such as Rushworth, Nagambie, Murchison, Echuca East, Stanhope and later Tongala found new homes, which depleted the GVL.
Following the death of Hastie in 1965, former Mooroopna and Kyabram player Jack Arthur took over as league president and commenced immediately on trying to rebuild the league. Arthur had been disappointed that the GVL had struggled to win interleague games against rival neighbours such as Bendigo and Ovens and Murray.
Arthur left no stone unturned and went on a recruiting drive. He appointed a publicity officer who revamped the program and promoted the league through the media.
Over the next 10 years Arthur lured Euroa, Rochester, Echuca and Seymour to join, making the GVL a much stronger competition.
Thankfully the players from those clubs were keen to represent the league and they really made a difference when the GVL entered the inaugural Winfield Country Football Championships in 1978.
Arthur assembled a wonderful group of people to support the players and the players responded. Under Bob Allison’s coaching, the GVL defeated the Tungamah league and then the Ovens and Murray, a league the GVL had never beaten. With Des Campbell and Bernie McCarthy leading the way, the GVL had a decisive win, which prompted Arthur to say to the players after the game, “This is our finest hour''.
However, the best was yet to come and the GVL downed the Latrobe Valley league on its way to the grand final when it defeated the Hampden league by 22 points to become champions of country Victoria.
The GVL had arrived as a major force in country football and had gained so much respect for its performance. Good players from across the country wanted to come and play in the league and the Winfield win set the league up for the future.
The league continued to enter teams in country championships and won three further series when Rowland Crosbie coached the GV to defeat the strong Geelong league in 1984, Graeme Weatherley coached a winning team that defeated Mid Murray in 1994 and Simon Eishold’s team took the GV to the top against Geelong in 2005.
GV football came to the small screen when Win TV televised a number of grand finals.
There has been many changes in country football over the years and the GVL found itself at the behest of the VCFL in 1996 to become a two divisional competition. It reverted back to a single division in 1999 at the time when Benalla and Mansfield joined the competition.
It has been a long and successful journey over 126 years and many football supporters across Victoria have respected the league for its performances and its administration.
The league has had its problems, but has worked hard to succeed.
In 1977 the GVL appointed Ardmona dairy farmer Keith Wellman as secretary. Wellman had been a successful player and had been a club president, secretary and league official in the Kyabram District League.
Wellman was originally appointed as a part-time secretary, but was so dedicated and successful that the GVL became the first country league to appoint a full-time secretary.
The decision to appoint Wellman would have a long ranging effect on the league. The GVL bought a building in Dunkirk Ave, Shepparton where Wellman set up league headquarters and administered the league as secretary and then as general manager until 1997.
He gave wonderful support in 1983 to the setting up of a netball competition that has been so successful and has made a great difference to the clubs and the league. In 1994, Wellman arranged for Shepparton historian Ron Michael to write the history of the league in a publication called Great Goals.
Wellman was greatly missed after his retirement, but he would, however, be back at the helm. A number of years later the league was in a desperate financial position. John Coughlin stepped up as the new president and steered the league out of trouble. He recruited Wellman who volunteered to step back into the general manager position to save the league from financial ruin, becoming it's saviour as he worked voluntarily to realign the league as a successful entity. Never has so much been owed to a man who showed his love for football and the GVL.
Wellman managed the league until the AFL set up a district football administration hub in Shepparton as the football headquarters in Northern Victoria. The league will always owe a great debt of gratitude to Keith Wellman.
In 2014 with support from GVL board member and life member Freddo McMahon the league commenced a GVL Hall of Fame in which the top players and administrators have been recognised.
The league has always had great support from the media. 3SR, Win TV and Shepparton News along with other local newspapers that are printed in towns that have a GVL team. They have kept the league in the public’s eye and have had a large part to play in its success.
The league also had a change of name when, due to the amalgamation with the netball competition, the league officially became known as Goulburn Valley League.
As we look back on the highs and lows of the league over 126 years we should be proud of what the GVL has meant to the sport loving people of the area. From humble beginnings the league rose to be champions of Country Victoria.
More than 100 players from the GVL have gone on to play in the top competition in the VFL/AFL.
We should celebrate the fact that while many football leagues have disappeared, the GVL still stands strong and shows leadership in country football.