By David Nagel
I have a confession to make.
While thoroughly enjoying and totally immersed in a first season of covering the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (WGFNC)…at this stage it’s impossible for this new found love to surpass the memories of the glory days of the Casey Cardinia/South East Football Netball League.
As a Pakenham resident I clearly remember being in awe of my local heroes, like our leader and coach Michael ‘Jock’ Holland, Luke Walker, Daniel Fry, Cory Lenders, Nathan Brown, Dan and Tommy O’Loughlin, and the tough-as-nails Trent ‘Yardy’ Fairclough, as they went head-to-head with the powerhouse teams of the day in Beaconsfield, Doveton and Narre Warren.
There were great battles…and apologies to Jock for giving ill-considered and alcohol-fuelled coaching advice over a cold beer late on a winter-Saturday afternoon!
Back then, my mates Bill Connolly, Dave Power and I loved nothing better that meeting on a Saturday afternoon – home or away – sinking a few tins and watching our beloved Lions play.
Then having the absolute privilege of covering this league – when first beginning at the Pakenham Gazette in 2011 – and watching the battles between Cranbourne and Narre Warren, the Battles of the Creek between Beaconsfield and Berwick, and the hard-hitting contests at Robinson Reserve in Doveton was a great experience…one not to be forgotten.
The premiership reunion days were particularly special, watching the players and coaches of days gone by – from opposition clubs – reminisce about their battles. The Cranbourne – Doveton days were great!
Through both experiences, as a spectator and particularly as a journo, it was great to learn about the great rivalries of the old South West Gippsland Football League (SWGFL), where Beaconsfield, Berwick, Cranbourne, Doveton and Narre Warren were the heart and soul of the competition since the mid to late 1950’s.
With all this in mind it’s incredibly sad and very difficult to get your head around the fact that none of these five great rivals will play football against each other in 2022.
It’s absolutely staggering to think that we’ve got to the point where these five iconic clubs will not be walking through each other’s gate next season.
None of them!
Apart from a few short eras in their history, these clubs have been connected at the hip bone for the best part of 70 years!
Doveton didn’t join the SWGFL until 1959, and had a brief dalliance with the Federal League from 1972 to 1976, but has always been a regular foe.
Berwick was a founding SWGFL club in 1954 and only went missing with a five-year stint in the VFA from 1983 to 1987.
Beaconsfield, who was also there when the whips first started cracking in 1954, spent nine years in the West Gippsland Football League (WGFL) from 1993 to 2001, but reconnected in 2002.
And Cranbourne and Narre Warren have only spent five seasons apart in that 68-year journey since 1954, when they spent time in different divisions of the Mornington Peninsula Nepean Football League (MPNFL) from 1996 to 2000.
The history these clubs have with each other is incredible.
In a historical sense – this most recent demise has been rapid since 12 clubs came together to form the Casey Cardinia Football League (CCFL) in 2005.
Those teams were Beaconsfield, Berwick, Cranbourne, Devon Meadows, Dingley, Doveton, Hampton Park, Keysborough, Narre Warren, Pakenham, ROC (now Officer) and Tooradin-Dalmore.
Dingley was first to go, lasting just two seasons, heading to the Southern Football Netball League (SFNL) in 2007, with Devon Meadows playing seven seasons in the CCFL before joining the MPNFL in 2012.
That left 10.
Keysborough joined Southern in 2015, with Hampton Park doing likewise for the beginning of the 2018 season.
Just eight teams remained at the conclusion of 2018 with a clear division between the powerhouse clubs – Beaconsfield, Berwick, Cranbourne and Narre Warren – and the remainder led by Doveton, Officer, Pakenham and Tooradin-Dalmore.
Tooradin-Dalmore found a new home – a perfect fit – in the WGFNC in 2019, with the remaining seven clubs moving to AFL Outer East.
Beaconsfield, Berwick, Cranbourne and Narre Warren were locked in to Premier Division, with Doveton, Officer and Pakenham earning their stripes in the secondary-tier Division One competition.
But the demise since the move to AFL Outer East has been even more rapid.
Berwick got the ball moving by transferring to the Eastern Football League (EFL) Premier Division in August 2020, competing for the first time in 2021 in that competition.
Just last week, Doveton was accepted into Southern Football Netball League (SFNL) Division Two, while just a few days later – Thursday, 7 October – both Beaconsfield and the EFL confirmed that the Eagles will play in Division One of that competition next year.
And now Cranbourne has made the decision, endorsed by AFL Outer East, to make the switch to the SFNL competition – likely division one – for the 2022 season.
Of those seven great clubs – that all held hands and joined AFL Outer East in 2019 – only Narre Warren, Officer and Pakenham remain.
All clubs, except Officer and Pakenham, have been like a cat on a hot-tin roof in recent times, all assessing their options when it comes to a suitable league to house their football clubs in.
It’s incredible to think that as late as August 10 this year, that MPNFL clubs were asked to fill in a survey to assess the viability of accepting Beaconsfield, Cranbourne, Doveton and Narre Warren into their competition.
At that point in time – just two months ago – those four clubs had all officially expressed interest in joining the MPNFL in 2022.
Now, just a short time later, three of those four clubs have a different home.
But more importantly – if things go as expected and Cranbourne is admitted into division one of Southern for 2022 – none of these clubs will play against each other next year.
Beaconsfield (EFL Div 1), Berwick (EFL Premier), Cranbourne (SFNL Div 1), Doveton (SFNL Div 2) and Narre Warren (AFLOE Premier) will all have different homes.
Cranbourne’s likely new home – SFNL Division One – last year housed (in ladder order) Dingley, Cheltenham, St Kilda City, Port Melbourne Colts, East Malvern, St Paul’s McKinnon, Bentleigh, Mordialloc, Oakleigh District and Highett.
Oakleigh District has since moved to the EFL, but Cranbourne will now play against clubs that it has little or no history with.
This is not an exercise in pin-pointing clubs or leagues for allowing this to happen, but surely something has gone horribly wrong when those five great clubs, with incredible history, are all playing in different competitions or divisions next year.
How do we fix it?
It would take a collaborative and open approach from all leagues in the region, and clubs, to draw a line in the sand, allow a blank canvas, and move forward from there.
This is an impossible task, and Cranbourne’s recent aspiration of joining the MPNFL – which appears the ideal fit for the club – gives a clear indication of the difficulties involved.
The MPNFL has 22 clubs, with a change to competition structure requiring 75 per cent of those clubs to agree before any change can take place. Even a clear majority vote of 16 to 6 (72 per cent) would not be enough to see Cranbourne included in the MPNFL for next year.
The clubs have the power there…not the MPNFL!
And that’s just one hurdle of many that would hinder any type of common-sense approach to fixing a problem that now sees five great clubs – with incredible history – all waving to each from a distance for the 2022 season.
And to Cranbourne…I love you as a club…but good luck finding a suitable opponent when you host one of your many premiership reunions over the next few years!