125 years of the GVFL
125 years of GVFL- by Don Kilgour
GV Football Association commences: The year 2019 was significant in local football as it was 125 years since the inception of the most prominent Australian Football organisation in the area, the Goulburn Valley Football League.
Whilst the name was different in 1894 and the makeup of the organisation is different now, the fact remains that the GVFL had been the leading Australian Football organisation in the Goulburn Valley for 125 years. The long term success of the body has seen 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.
Early Clubs: Eight of the twelve clubs that are currently members of the organisation, 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 that the Kyabram Free Press Newspaper reported that a meeting held at the Criterian Hotel in Shepparton on 20th April 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 which registered with the Association were: Tatura, Shepparton, Shepparton Ramblers, Mooroopna, Kyabram and Undera.
Distance a problem: Dr J Florence was elected as President. Competition Football had commenced. It was soon after matches were being played that the Shepparton News reported that the trip from Shepparton to Kyabram was tiring for the players, taking over three hours.
It wasn’t easy to get players to take an afternoon off on a Wednesday to play sport and whilst the new Association continued, it struggled and went into recess after three years.
D.C. Morrison presides: The Association re - formed in 1898 and continued to struggle until 1902 when eminent Tatura solicitor D.C. Morrison took over as President and used his skills to grow the organisation. Over the next 5 years, Echuca, Nagambie and Rochester were admitted.
Name change and numbers worn: In 1913 the name of the entity was changed to the Goulburn Valley Football League. The GVFL was the first League in Australia to introduce numbers as a way of identifying players. Whilst the organisation was successful, with the advent of the First World War in 1914 there was a lack of available players and the Association went into recess for the duration of the War.
War break, then re- form: In 1919 the League was re-formed with D.C. Morrison again presiding. Games were played on Wednesday afternoons.
Wednesday V Saturday: In 1939, both Shepparton and Mooroopna Clubs transferred to the rival Central Goulburn Valley League as they wanted to play on Wednesdays and disagreed with the GVFL changing to a Saturday competition.
When D.C.Morrison moved to Melbourne in 1931, his position was taken by J.R. Hanlon for 2 years followed by W.J. Wilson.
Tom Hastie steps in for long term: 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.
Tom was keen to promote top football and made arrangements for VFL teams to play practice matches against the GVFL. The local team even defeated the Geelong Cats.
League program introduced: 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 new Shepparton clubs: 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 the Shepparton East Club, which was first called City United, later to become Shepparton United. Echuca East also entered a team.
GVFL Reserves commence: The GVFL Seconds competition commenced in 1950 with the premiership being won by the new City United Club, defeating Kyabram by 21 points.
Shepparton developed as a major rural City and regional centre.
Deakin Reserve grand final venue: Shepparton’s mainsports arena Deakin Reserve became the venue for GVL Grand Finals from 1957 onward. Most preliminary finals were also held there and other finals were spread around the League.
Times were good and money was available for clubs to contract coaches from the VFL, which improved the standard of the League.
Radio broadcast of games: Sponsors were found to support the live coverage of matches on local Radio Station 3SR.
Under 18 competition: In 1966 the League commenced an under 18 competition with Kyabram defeating Lemnos in the initial Grand Final.
However some of the smaller clubs felt that they could no longer compete and chose to leave the GVFL to join local Leagues where they could be more successful.
Clubs leave GVL: Teams such as Rushworth, Nagambie, Murchison, Echuca East, Stanhope, and later Tongala found new homes, which depleted the GVL.
Jack Arthur takes over: Following the death of Tom Hastie in 1965, former Mooroopna and Kyabram player Jack Arthur took over as League President and commenced immediately on trying to rebuild the League. Jack had been disappointed that the GVFL had struggled to win inter- League games against rival neighbours such as Bendigo and Ovens and Murray. Jack left no stone unturned and went on a recruiting drive.
Publicity Officer appointed: Jack also appointed a “Publicity Officer who re vamped the program and promoted the League through the media.
New strong clubs: Over the next ten years Jack lured Euroa, Rochester, Echuca and Seymour clubs to join, making the GVL a much stronger competition. Thankfully the players from those clubs were keen to represent the League.
Winfield Championships: The good players really made a difference when the GVFL entered the inaugural Winfield Country Football championships in 1978.
Jack Arthur assembled a wonderful group of people to support the players and the players responded. Under Bob Allison’s coaching, the GVFL defeated the Tungamah League and then the Ovens and Murray, a League the GVFL had never beaten.
With Des Campbell and Bernie McCarthy leading the way, the GVFL had a decisive win, which prompted League President Jack Arthur to say to the players after the game, “This is our finest hour” However the best was yet to come.
Champions of Country Victoria: The GVL then downed the Latrobe Valley League on its way to the grand final when it defeated the Hampden League by 22 points at Colac 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 around the country wanted to come and play in the League and the Winfield win set the League up for the future.
GVL stays in contention: 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 which defeated Mid Murray in 1994 and Simon Eishold’s team took the GV to the top against Geelong in 2005.
Grand Finals Televised: GV Football came to the small screen when WinTV televised a number of Grand Finals.
There has been many changes in country football over the years.
Two Divisions: The GVL found itself at the behest of the VCFL in 1996 to become a two divisional competition.
Benalla and Mansfield join: The League 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 125 years and many football supporters around Victoria have respected the League for its performances and its administration.
Quality Administrators: The League has had its problems but has worked hard to succeed.
There is no doubt that the success of the League has been because of the quality of its administrators.
Men of great integrity, strong presidents such as solicitor D.C. Morrison who led the League for 24 years. The League instituted a best and fairest player award named after him in 1934. Kyabram’s Wilf Cox won the first Morrison Medal.
6 times Rodney Shire President and 34 years as a councillor Tom Hastie then presided over the GVL for 25 years. The League thought so much of him that the premiership cup was named the Hastie Cup.
The building of a champion League: Jack Arthur re built the League and led it to country championship success. Jack also instituted a Qualified Life Membership of the League for all players who reached the 200 senior game milestone. Barry Connolly was a high profile president who was known as “Mister Football”.
Those men, and others were great leaders.
Good Secretaries vital: It was the brilliance and the long service of the league secretaries that set the League apart from others.
T.C Lupton initially set the League up over 12 years, Steve O’Toole worked tirelessly for over 17 years, George Dowell had a 10 year stand and Tatura accountant Jim Trevaskis brought great professionalism to the League over 16 years.
In 1977The GVL appointed Ardmona dairy farmer Keith Wellman as Secretary. Keith had been a successful player and had been a club President, Secretary and League official in the Kyabram and District League.
Full time administration: Keith 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 Keith Wellman would have a long ranging effect on the League.
A GVL Office Building: The GVL purchased a building in Dunkirk Ave. Shepparton where Keith set up League headquarters and administered the League as Secretary and then as General Manager. Keith ran the League until 1997.
Netball competition formed: Keith Wellman gave wonderful support in 1983 to the setting up of a Netball competition which has been so successful and has made a great difference to the clubs and the League.
History written: In 1994, Keith arranged for Shepparton historian Ron Michael to write the history of the League in a publication called “Great Goals”.
Keith Wellman was greatly missed after his retirement but he would however, be back at the helm.
League in trouble: Following a period of mal administration, the League was in a desperate financial position.
John Coughlin stepped up as the new president and steered the League out of trouble.
Wellman returns: Keith Wellman volunteered to step back into the General Managers position to save the League from financial ruin. Keith became the League’s saviour as he worked voluntarily to re align the League as a successful entity. Never has so much been owed to a man who showed his love for football and the GVFL. Keith 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.
GVL Hall of Fame: In 2014 with support from GVFL board member and Life member Fred McMahon the League commenced a GVL Hall of fame in which the top players and administrators have been recognised. Thirty people have been inducted into the Hall of Fame with Players Robbie Orrman, Gary Cooper and Freddo McMahon inducted as Legends.
Media support: The League has always had great support of the media. 3SR, Win TV and the Shepparton News along with other local newspapers which are printed in towns that have a GVFL team. They have kept the League in the public’s eye and have had a large part to play in the Leagues’ success.
Amalgamation and name change: The League had a change of name when, due to the amalgamation with the Netball competition, the word “football” was deleted and the League officially became known simply as the Goulburn Valley League.
AFL Administration: The GVL looks forward to continued success in the future under the AFL administration system which also provides for a continuance of the GVL to conduct its affairs under its own board. The administration hub office houses the GVL history and permanent Hall of fame presentation which can be viewed by interested people during office hours.
Proud League: As we look back on the highs and lows of the League over 125 years we should be proud of what the GVL has meant to the sport loving people of the Goulburn Valley area. From humble beginnings the League rose to be champions of Country Victoria.
GVL players to reach VFL, AFL
Over 160 players from the GVL have gone on to play in the top competition in the VFL or the AFL. Players such as Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls a Tongala player who played for Fitzroy, represented Victoria 4 times, and eventually became Governor of South Australia. 9 of those players have become “All Australians”.
Celebrate our History: All involved with the League should celebrate the fact that whilst many football Leagues have disappeared, the GVL still stands strong and shows leadership in country football.
Written by GVL Historian and Life Member – Don Kilgour