A Process of Evolution
In 1997, for the first time in 44 years, a new name appeared in North-Central football, bringing with it significant change in the "shape" of the League.
The admittance of Leitchville-Gunbower at the start of the 1997 season broadened the borders and shifted the geographic centre of the competition from Charlon to Boort.
Five years later Charlton was again the hub of the League when Leitchville-Gunbower moved out.
With the amalgamation of Birchip and Watchem-Corack there are now three clubs along the Sunraysia Highway (or the Melbourne-Mildura railway line) - St Arnaud, Donald and Birchip-Watchem.
Along the Calder Highway are Wedderburn, Charlton and Wycheproof-Nararport.
Boort is situated between the Calder and Loddon Valley Highways.
The period since World War II has seen the disbanding of Wooroonook, the amalgamation and eventual disintegration of Laen, Cope Cope and Litchfield, the amalgamation of Wycheproof and Narraport, and the transfer to North-Central, from other leagues, of Wedderburn, Boort, Wycheproof, Narraport and Leitchville-Gunbower, and the subsequent transfer of Leitchville-Gunbower to Central Murray.
Since the 'sixties apart from the ocassional discordant note, North-Central has been a model or stability and harmony.
Not that it was ever thus - far from it!
In fact, newspaper files from the 1920s and 1930s reveal a picture which varies at times from the confusing to the downright inexplicable!
A bewildering number of town and country sides seemed to appear and disappear in an equally bewildering number of Associations and Leagues.
It was Wednesday football in some competitions, Saturday in others, or a combination of both Wednesday and Saturday, with the occasional Monday holiday game thrown in for good measure. In some cases, players completed in two different leagues in the one week.
Contributing to a most uncertain and unstable state of affairs, of course, were the Great Depression and drought conditions which decimated players' ranks in this part of the country.
Among the more precise details available is the date on which the term "North-Central" came into being in a football sense.
That was at the annual meeting of the North-Western District Football Association in 1926, when delegates decided on the name change to North-Central District Football League. Member teams at the time were Birchip, Watchem, Litchfield-Carron, Donald, Cope Cope and St Arnaud.
Unconfirmed reports through the years have suggested that St Arnaud football delegate, the late Mr Arthur Walsh, had favoured the name change to bring it into line with the North-Central fire brigade competition operating at the time.
In 1929 the V.C.F.L. created a ninth District, with North-Central as its senior League. (This obviously led to the dropping of the word "district" from North-Central's league title.)
In an extraordinary move, precipitated by a desperate shortage of playes and club finances, delegates disbanded the North-Central League in 1930, and ran a "more appropriate" competition that year. Then in 1931, seemingly as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened previously, the North-Central League held an annual meeting, and resumed playing under its own name.
CALENDER OF EVENTS
The following dates and details have been extracted from newspaper files -
1926 - Tuesday April 20, annual meeting of North-Western District Football Association at Mt Jeffcott Hotel, Donald. Clubs represented were Birchip, Watchem, Litchfield-Carron, Donald, Cope Cope and St Arnaud. Mr J.J. Ryan (Birchip) was elected president to succeed Cr T.M. Burton, Vice-presidents: Messrs J.J. Feeny (Cope Cope), E. Windsor (Donald) and J. Green (Watchem). Treasurer: Mr O.H. Todd (Donald). Auditors: Messrs C.J. Robinson and W.G. Pitty (Donald). Meeting resolved to advertise for a secretary at 20 pound per annum. Mr Todd secretary pro tem. Delegates considered it advisable to change orginastions name from North-Western District Association to North-Central District Football League. As usual, the question of club radii occupied a considerable time. Delegates carried a motion "that no club shall pay its players other than for travelling expenses, but each club shall have permission to have one paid coach". It was decided that, at its semi-final and final match, the league should make a charge of 1/- for cars. Admittance to matches remaining at 1/6 for men, but price for admittance for ladies was reduced to 1/-; children 6d..
1927 - Annual meeting, April 5: Dr W.J. Flanagan (Donald) succeeded Mr J.J. Ryan as president. Mr A. Carroll re-elected secretary at same salary (20 pound per annum) as previous year. Litchfield-Carron and Cope Cope drop out of competition.
1928 - Woomelang admitted at the annual meeting on April 19. Teams were Donald, St Arnaud, Watchem, Birchip and Woomelang.
1929 - Mr S. Freeland, president of Victorian Country Football League, addressed the meeting. He said that at the V.C.F.L's annual meeting in Melbourne a fortnight earlier he had expressed the opinion that the Wimmera area was too large for the Wimmera District Football League to handle, and suggested that another district be created and placed under the control of North-Central District Football League. The V.C.F.L. adopted this suggestion, and thereupon created a ninth district within its jurisdiction. The area would extend from Bealiba to Mildura, and compromise about 12 Associations, if all could be induced to affiliate. With its raising in status the N.-C.D.F.L. was now on the same level as Wimmera, Goulbourn Valley, Bendigo, Gippsland, Gippsland South, Ballarat, Western District and Ovens and Murray Leagues; and was entitled to a seat on the V.C.F.L.. Mr Arthur Walsh (St Arnaud) was elected N.-C.D.F.L. president.
1930 - "Exit Line Competition" was the headline. With the Great Depression taking its toll, a motion at the annual meeting on Monday April 14, "carried with greater regret than any other resolution ever submitted to the league" was that the North-Central League disband. The president, Mr Walsh, descibed as "deplorable" the need for such action, but after hearing the views of delegates, and the reports of financial hardship and shortage of players, he agreed that there was no other course to adopt. A "more affordable" competition, based on centres along the Mildura railway line, was instituted, starting on Wednesday, June 4, and continuing on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Competing teams were St Arnaud, Donald, Watchem and Birchip.
1931 - Advertised as the annual meeting of the North-Central League, despite the disbanding of the previous year, the gathering only drew delegates from Birchip and Donald. It was decided to invite neighbouring clubs to join a district competition. This was a confusing time, with some clubs and "minor" competitions disbanding or re-forming. Donald discussed the possibility of going to the Kara Kara Association which however, disbanded, leaving St Arnaud Rovers and Kooreh making enquiries about joining the Donald Football Association. When the Wednesday competition got underway, without these two sides, the draw was: Fire Brigade v Jeffcott at Donald; Laen v Donald at Laen, Swanwater a bye.
1932 - Games were played on Saturdays and Wednesdays. St Arnaud were admitted to a six team competition, the others being Laen, Jeffcott, Watchem, Swanwater and Donald. The annual meeting was lively throughout, with "spirited exchanges". The chair was occupied by the league president, Mr Fred Rowley, who had trouble keeping delegates in order.
1933 - "Owing to financial stringency and loss of players", Swanwater withdrew from competitive football. St Arnaud reformed, hoping for a "line competition", but after representations from Laen and Jeffcott agreement was reached that the league would have five teams - Watchem, St Arnaud, Donald, Jeffcott and Laen. May 17 (Wednesday) was set as the starting date. May 12: Having convinced the league that it could field a team, Corack was a late entry into the competition, obviating the need for a bye.
1934 - "Rowdy and boisterous" annual meetings seemed to be the order among clubs by this time. Mr Ted Chessells had become secretary of the league, which met on April 11 but was adjourned after failing to reach agreement on the re-admittance of Birchip. At the reconvened meeting on April 18 Birchip was admitted, but Corack withdrew, leaving six teams: Laen-Litchfield, St Arnaud, Donald, Watchem, Birchip and Jeffcott.
1935 - Jeffcott withdrew from the competition, Woomelang was admitted. Donald delegates argued forcefully to retain Wednesday football, but were out-voted by the other clubs, which were just a vigourously determined to settle for Saturday matches. Mr Geo. Morgan (St Arnaud) succeeded Mr J.H. Green as League president.
1936 - Mr H. Lockwood, of Birchip, became league president. V.F.L. umpires were engaged for the first time to officiate at North-Central matches. In the previous year, central umpires had been drawn from the Ballarat group.
1937 - With the re-introduction of Wednesday football instead of Saturday, Birchip and Woomelang withdrew from the competition. After several meetings, the North-Central League reformed with four teams - Donald, Watchem-Litchfield and two from St Arnaud. By the time the season commenced on May 19, however, St Arnaud had found it necessary to revert to one side, so there was only one game, and a bye, each week. Birchip joined the Wycheproof League.
1938 - League strength was back to four teams, with Woomelang readmitted to join St Arnaud, Donald and Watchem-Litchfield.
1939 - As war clouds gathered, so did North-Central delegates on March 18, when Curyo was admitted as a fifth club. On April 15, before the season got underway, it was decided that the grand final would be played at Watchem, and the preliminary final at Donald.
1940 - A special meeting of delegates agreed that, subject to approval of respective clubs, a "cross-country football league" be formed, embracing Charlton, Donald, Wooroonook, Woosang and Wedderburn. At a subsequent meeting it was reported that all teams except Woosang and Wedderburn had indicated their willingness to join the "cross-country" league. Then, at an annual meeting lasting 9 hours - from 2p.m. to midnight - Charlton was welcomed into the fold after having won its appeal to leave the Korong League.
1941 - On Sunday, March 29, delegates voted that the North-Central League should go into recess. Such action was rendered necessary "by the exodus of players to the city and fighting forces for overseas service, in addition to many being in the call-up for militia and home defence".
** - Post-war football has seen the reshaping of the North-Central League to include Wedderburn, Boort, Wycheproof, Narraport and Leitchville-Gunbower, all of which have made tremendous contributions to the Australian game in this part of the State.