The Victorian Country Football League (VCFL) was integral to the running of country football in country Victoria and southern NSW for almost ninety years.
It arbitrated on all the significant changes to the structure of competitions over the past thirty years in genuine attempts to redress imbalances, largely as the result of demographic changes largely as a result of the consolidation of the farming sector.
“Investigations” was its keynote approach to seeking to solve the problems of lop-sided competitions. One of the most recent was the South Gippsland Review in 2009 which saw the reestablishment of the Gippsland Football League with Wonthaggi, Drouin, Bairnsdale back in with the old Latrobe Valley League clubs for the 2010 season.
The move of the aptly named Wonthaggi Power (a merger in 2004 between the town’s two teams, the Blues and Rovers) out of the Alberton league after what author of the book on the VCFL, Paul Daffey, describes as “one of the great David and Goliath battles in Victorian country football” when the little village of Stony Creek narrowly beat the Power going for their fifth flag in a row in the grand final in 2009.
This story, as well as the behind-the scenes goings-on at the VCFL board table, are captured by Paul Daffey in this history, along with investigations in Geelong (1979), the Riverina (1981), and the most controversial of all, the Bendigo-Golden City amalgamation in 1980 which culminated in street protests!
Paul Daffey is well-known to the country footy fans. He has two previous titles on country footy, Local Rites (2001) and Beyond the Big Sticks (2003). He wrote a column on country footy in The Sunday Age for many years and currently has a blog called PD Footy.
Daffey has consummately captured the essence of country football and how it was run in this publication. He not only intimately knows the clubs and their leagues, he knows their history and their geographic settings as well as the dynamics of their socio-economic relationships. And in the course of researching and writing this book he unearthed the personalities of the people and the events that shaped the game in country football.
The VCFL was the supreme governing body in country football from its beginnings in the mid-1920s through until the AFL effectively took it over in 2016 using the same model as it had adopted in NSW and Queensland, and in Tasmania in 2014. The AFL funds and controls the game at all levels under this model and appoints administrators to run the game.
However, for the vast majority of its existence the VCFL determined the permits and regulations around clearances of players, the structure of competitions, organisation of the country championships and representative teams, and in more recent years, funding and support for club facilities. Throughout its history the country body had a captious relationship with the state controlling body, the VFL, that broke out into open warfare on occasions over the years, chiefly around the control of the movement of players.
For it was the matter of the clearance of players that led directly to the reasons for the formation of the VCFL in 1927. It was triggered by the appointment of St Kilda’s 1925 Brownlow medalist Colin Watson as captain-coach of Maryborough for the 1927 season for £10 per week, a job and free lodgings. St Kilda refused to clear Watson to Maryborough. The Ballarat league granted Watson a permit to play. The VFL decided to disqualify both the Ballarat league and the player. The VFL then embarked on a process to form a separate league to administer the game in the country that it could effectively influence.
In the post-script Colin Watson lead Maryborough to the premiership. However, the next season after the formation of the VCFL – which included the Ballarat Football League as an affiliate – Watson was denied a permit to play anywhere in Victoria for two years. He returned to his original club South Warnambool in 1930 as captain-coach.
In 1934 he returned to St Kilda as captain and was chosen in the Victorian squad. He then returned to South Warnambool again. He ended up running his own dairy farm near Stanhope where he raised his family.
Paul Daffey’s book is more than the history of the politics of country football; he has been able to weave together the story of the organisation with role of the people running the game and their inextricable relationship to football.
Review by Rodney Gillett
Paul Daffey, Behind the Goals: The history of the Victorian Country Football League, Ten Bag Press, Ballarat East. 2017. ISBN; 978-0-646-95939-9.