BACK in late 1979 there were just six clubs in the Bendigo Football League but eight in the neighbouring Golden City competition.
The Victorian Country Footy League was at its wit’s end, collectively, about what to do with the BFL which was its biggest problem at the time.
All sorts of solutions had been put forward: Daylesford and Seymour were asked whether they’d like to join.
The VCFL’s then Bendigo district councillor Ken Medlin and his underlings also spoke to Echuca and Rochester about re-joining the BFL and also sounded out Maryborough.
The most bizarre suggestion was this one --- the 11 clubs of the Goulburn Valley league should join the four BFL city clubs and form a massive Goulburn Valley-Bendigo super-league.
The asterisk paragraph for this suggestion came when Numurkah from the Murray F.L. was sounded out about joining, thus forming a two-division, 16-club structure with promotion and relegation.
Bendigo officials wouldn’t have a bar of it believing their clubs would lose their identities. Goulburn Valley officials dismissed the proposition “with very little discussion.”
Not short of preposterous ideas the Bendigo district committee then sounded out the Ballarat, Bendigo and Wimmera leagues about forming a Goldfields Superleague, but unsurprisingly this also fell flat.
And so the ball bounced back into the Golden City’s forward 50.
After the 1979 season Kennington had been allowed to leave the BFL and re-join the GCFL as Maldon had opted for the MCDFL.
The Golden City competition was tight-knit and well-run. In a sign of its willingness to adapt the GCFL played its grand final at the QEO on a Sunday at a time when Sunday footy was a rarity.
In 1979 a crowd of more than 5000 watched Northern United defeat White Hills in the Golden City grand final.
AND so the 1980 seasons in the two city leagues unfolded with the VCFL stewing away in the background.
Eaglehawk defeated Square in yet another all-city BFL grand final. But Mr Medlin had been busy behind the scenes.
The new proposal suggested this: that the eight GCFL cubs should be merged into four and those four, new clubs be admitted to the BFL thus creating a 10-club competition.
Medlin’s scheme outlined these mergers: Kangaroo Flat-YCW, North Bendigo-Kennington, Provincial-White Hills and Marong-Northern United.
So along with Square, Sandhurst, South and Eaglehawk there would be eight Bendigo-based clubs drawing on a population of about 55,000: less than half of what it is now.
The Medlin scheme would have had the eight clubs drawing on about 7000 people each.
But all of these schemes were just that: schemes.
The VCFL under president Allan Dunstan --- from a North Central farming family in the Donald district --- decided the ruling body had to use its power to force change in Bendigo footy.
So he and fellow investigation committee members met the GCFL secretary Peter Monkhouse snr. in Bendigo on October 22nd, 1980.
They informed Monkhouse the eight clubs of his league would be merged into four and those clubs would then join the six BFL clubs to form a new competition.
According to the VCFL minutes Monkhouse accepted the decision cordially and added: “I always thought it had to happen.”
BUT then the fun and games --- ultimately capped off by a street march through central Bendigo --- were set into motion.
After offering Monkhouse the position of executive director of what they called the Golden City Bendigo F.L., with Carlton to be approached to fund Monkhouse’s salary, the VCFL’s fateful decision about the day for announcing the changes was made.
Dunstan decided the following Tuesday would be the day and the venue: the old Red Cross Centre in View Street, diagonally across the road from the QEO.
I was there that night and what a night it was!
Word of the planned mergers had leaked out and there was outrage, not to mention hostility, among Golden City officials and supporters.
More than 100 protesters gathered outside the Red Cross Centre before the VCFL investigation committee hearing got underway.
VCFL officials were jeered as they struggled through the crowd with one very vocal GCFL supporter in a Provincial guernsey (wrongly identified the next day as a ‘Hawthorn’ jumper by Melbourne journos) the loudest critic.
Golden City officials were cheered as they made their way through the throng. The room was packed with officials and dignitaries from clubs throughout the Bendigo district present.
It was hard to hear Dunstan as rocks and bricks were hurled onto the roof from outside the building.
He thundered that the two leagues would be dissolved, the eight GCFL clubs would be merged into four new clubs and a new league to be known as the Golden City Bendigo Football League would be formed.
DUNSTAN further announced, amid the turmoil outside and the crashing of bricks onto the roof and walls, that then Eaglehawk Mayor Paul Firth would be interim chairman and Peter Monkhouse would serve as the executive director.
That last announcement caught many by surprise. They hadn’t known of Monkhouse’s earlier dealings the previous week with Dunstan’s committee.
Speaker after speaker from the GCFL railed against Dunstan and some senior BFL identities sided with the Golden City men.
Golden Square official Bob Southcombe, father of dual Michelsen Medallist Tony, and Eaglehawk president Tom Flood, brother of former BFL president Ned Flood, were among those who voiced their regrets about the VCFL edict.
“This decision is final, irreversible and non-negotiable,” thundered Dunstan.
A mention of legal action brought a sharp retort from Dunstan who told the protesters that “the VCFL has never lost a court case.”
Local solicitor Laurie O’Farrell was nevertheless confident of winning an injunction for the Golden City league.
As the meeting drew to a close the protesters in View Street were still restive.
Graham Arthur, the VCFL field officer, was jostled by half-a-dozen men as he made his way to his car, parked just past the Rifle Brigade Hotel.
Dunstan, very wisely, had left by a side door leading to a back lane.
BUT to my mind the highlight from the whole fiery few days came the following Friday.
There was a protest march right through the streets of central Bendigo.
No, it wasn’t Easter and nor was it the annual Scots’ Day Out parade. Golden City supporters decided on the unprecedented step of taking their protest to their fellow citizens.
There were banners, coloured floggers, streamers, people decked out in their club colours and the whole she-bang. People chanted as the march started from the View Street gates of the QEO.
Golden City F.L. officials marched at the front, officials from the Loddon Valley, the Heathcote District and other minor leagues fell in behind.
Amazingly enough, but completely true, councillors from rural shires also joined the march.
The route was down View Street, along Hargreaves Street (no Mall back then) and across to the gardens outside the Bendigo Town Hall.
There the leaders launched into speeches about how the good old GCFL had been ‘done over’ by the heartless wretches of the VCFL.
Excerpt from Paul Daffey’s Behind The Goals: the History of the Victorian Country Football League.
Published by Ten Bag Press. Ballarat, Victoria: May 2017.
Round 15 tips: Strath Storm, Golden Square, Eaglehawk (at Gardiner Reserve), Kyneton and Sandhurst (v South).
By Richard Jones