VFL club Northern Blues has folded after AFL affiliate Carlton ended its relationship with it, impacting a number of local footballers past and present.
With coronavirus forcing AFL clubs to slash their expenditure, Carlton announced Thursday it would no longer fund its lower-league affiliate, ending a near 20-year relationship between the clubs.
Immediately, it ends the VFL tenures of Cam Wild (Shepparton United) and Noah Wheeler (Echuca), the latter having managed eight games for the Blues in his maiden campaign last season.
Carlton chief executive Cain Liddle said it was a tough decision to make, but added Blues-listed players could be called upon later in the season should a VFL competition happen.
"It is hard to put into words how difficult a decision this has been,” Liddle said in a statement.
"Preston City Oval was a second home on the weekends for many Carlton players, staff and supporters.
"Should the VFL season go ahead, Carlton will be offered the opportunity to enter a team of our own and we would obviously be leaning heavily on existing Northern Blues players to complement our listed players."
Northern Blues president Stephen Papal was saddened the historic club could no longer operate, lacking the finances to proceed as a standalone club.
"To see our football club unable to continue its operations is as difficult as it gets,” he said.
"Our history extends 138 years and we are proud of each and every one of those seasons.
"This football club has a rich history and we will do everything possible to ensure it remains in the hearts and minds of our supporters forever."
But the Goulburn Valley's connection with the club spans back further than just the present — the Blues helped one of the region's favourite sons land the coaching job of his dreams just last year.
Katandra's David Teague began his coaching tenure at the Northern Bullants, as a playing coach in 2008 and from the sidelines in 2009 and 2010, parlaying that experience into many assistant coaching roles across the AFL before grabbing Carlton's senior coach role midway through last year.
Teague coached the Blues to consecutive VFL grand finals in 2009 and 2010, the side twice beaten in the decider by 2010's powerhouse North Ballarat.
In those sides was former Benalla star Luke Morgan, who was shattered to hear the club he had spent more than three years at had gone under.
"It’s disappointing, the VFL landscape in general is up against it, the financial pressures are putting the clubs under real heat. It’s tough to lose those 120-odd years of club history,” Morgan said.
"We had a great time there, we were really successful during those grand final years and just came up against a very powerful North Ballarat side. Funnily enough, 10 or so years later those two powerful clubs no longer exist."
A long-lasting testament to the Preston-based club could be the Carlton tenure of Katandra's Teague, who impressed Morgan greatly as he was taking his baby coaching steps.
"The Carlton guys were really good; sometimes, and I know this was the case at other clubs, the alignment didn’t quite click,” Morgan said.
"I think that was our strength, and David Teague did a really good job of creating that culture.
"It was amazing to see (Teague be appointed Carlton's senior coach). He journeyed around the AFL a bit after he left when I left — although that should be the other way around.
"He was a great mentor, and for him to be able to coach an AFL club, and for it to be Carlton, is just an amazing experience for him.
Morgan paid tribute to the club’s continuing relationship with Preston — the club that became the Northern Bullants — playing multiple games a season at Preston City Oval.