By Glenn Sullivan
Glenn Sullivan, of Wonthaggi, is currently writing the History of the Wonthaggi Blues FC, his third local history book. The history will run from 1950 through to 2004. If you have a story to share or would like to follow progress, go to facebook.com/BlueBoys.
SEVENTY years ago, way back in 1951, a group of young men in Wonthaggi decided that they wanted to play their footy together.
So, they set about building their own team from scratch. The group from the Youth Club had been playing basketball together for a number of years under the banner of “Wonthaggi Blues”, so their football team would carry the same name.
Breaking into the established Wonthaggi district league would provide a massive hurdle. They first applied to join the Wonthaggi league in 1950 and were knocked back, so in 1951 they applied to the nearby Bass Valley league, a more minor competition. They were accepted on the provision that they could get a ground to play on. That would prove to be the next big hurdle.
With Easts and Shops playing on Rec 1 at Wonthaggi and Rec 2 still under construction, there was nowhere to play. They proposed to play on Sundays on Rec 1 but were turned down. It was suspected that the establishment had the hope that these young men would just give up, but these young men were built of sterner stuff than that.
The Wonthaggi Borough “generously” allowed the Blues to use the piece of bushland on the corner of Wentworth and Korumburra roads in the south-east corner of the recreation precinct. The only problem was that it was a swampy piece of land covered in ti-tree scrub. These young men had raised the money they would need to start the club and organised a league in which to play so this was only a minor hurdle. They rolled up their sleeves and set to work.
Most of the clearing was done in a large working bee over a weekend, not long before the start of the new season. Bill Banks drove his tractor in from the farm and the clearing began. A few went out to George Moss’ farm in Woodleigh where “Old Beauy” was the axe man and he chopped down the trees that would be made into goal posts.
Thirty of the young men turned up to the working bee and got the bulk of the clearing done. The remainder of the pre-season training, under coach Max Bone, was spent clearing and preparing the ground to play on. These men were pretty fit by the time the season started!
The next hurdle was the matter of clearances. The Wonthaggi league clubs blocked clearances and there wasn’t a lot of help from the league. In the first weeks and months of the season players were added to the playing list as their clearances and appeals came through. Max Bone – the coach – didn’t get his clearance through until round six! In an early season game between Easts and Shops a number of players staged a walk-out in protest at the clearance situation.
The Blues made it to the start line and on April 21 in 1951 a large contingent of locals carpooled over the hills to Loch for the new club’s first game. The very first Blues team was made up of; Paddy Milner, Jim Byrne, Bill Bray, Peter Allan, Mal Foster, Jack Place, Jack Beaumont, “Gus” Dal Lago, K. Beaton, Peter Higgs, Phill Chinnock, Frank Pickersgill, Phil Bond, Don Armitage, Trevor Jenkin, Peter Haines, Sid Smooker, N. Scott and Frank Wilson. Jim Byrne only received his clearance on the night before the game.
In that first game the youthful Blues team lacked the experience of the Loch side but they fought like crazy. At the final change they were only 21 points down but then Loch stepped up as the Blues players tired in the last quarter. The 16.22 to 6.6 loss was not a true indication of the game but the fact that it was ever played at all was a true achievement in human endurance.
The following Saturday Blues hosted the team from the Korumburra Butter Factory on their new Rec 3 ground. For the second week Jim Byrne was judged the best player but this week it was Blues that walked away with the 10.6 to 4.8 win. The celebrations at the Caledonian Hotel would have been exuberant that night.
Due to the problem in getting clearances the Blues used quite a few players who had not been playing football. Players such as Gus Dal Lago improved quite quickly with the regular games and training. The team improved considerably after the Max Bone clearance came through. They won in his first game in round six against Nyora 5.18 to 6.8, drew with Poowong in round seven, 9.11 to 8.17, and then repeated their win over the Butter Factory in Korumburra, 10.6 to 7.7.
Blues finished that first season near the bottom of the ladder with the three wins and a draw. They were, however, competitive in most games. Their star,
Jim Byrne, won the Bass Valley league best and fairest. On the same day as the vote count his wife presented Jim with a son.
The Blues would play in the Bass Valley league for four seasons, playing in semi-finals in ‘53 and ‘54. The club was formed through the persistence of men like Paddy Milner, Max Bone, Ern Featherstone, Tom Middleton (president), Don Manion (treasurer), Bill Banks and that strong willed playing group.