Almanac Book Review: Behind the Goals: The history of the Victorian Country Football League by Paul Daffey

Paul Daffey, Behind the Goals: The history of the Victorian Country Football League, Ten Bag Press, Ballarat East. 2017. ISBN; 978-0-646-95939-9.

 

Paul Daffey is well known to The Footy Almanac community. After all, along with friend and associate John Harms, they founded The Footy Almanac in 2007. Daff is almost certainly the most knowledgeable commentator about country footy in Victoria. He has two previous titles on country footy, Local Rites (2001) and Beyond the Big Sticks (2003). He wrote a column on country footy in The Sunday Age for many years and currently has a blog called PD Footy. He has oeuvre.

The Victorian Country Football League (VCFL), which was fully absorbed into AFL Victoria in 2016, wanted its proud history fully chronicled so Paul was the obvious candidate to perform that duty. He worked in tandem with writer and publisher Adam McNichol, also a country footy aficionado, with a string of titles in his catalogue including the history of his home club, the Manangatang Football Club, and the book on The Danihers: The story of football’s favourite family.

I first came across Paul Daffey when he was at The Sunday Age and he was preparing a piece on the Riverina and he contacted me about my university dissertation on the early history of the game in that area. We developed an instant rapport that led to a kinship spirit about country football. Daff has Mallee roots while mine were from off the land in the Goulburn Valley. I subsequently moved to country NSW for study and work and became highly involved in the promotion and development of the game.

Daff has consummately captured the essence of country football and how it was run in this publication. He not only intimately knows the clubs and their leagues, he knows their history and their geographic settings as well as the dynamics of their socio-economic relationships. And in the course of researching and writing this book he unearthed the personalities of the people and the events that shaped the game in country Victoria and southern NSW.

The VCFL was the supreme governing body in country football from its beginnings in the mid-1920s through until the AFL effectively took it over in 2016 using the same model as it had adopted in NSW and Queensland, and in Tasmania in 2014. The AFL funds and controls the game at all levels under this model and appoints administrators to run the game.

However, for the vast majority of its existence the VCFL determined the permits and regulations around clearances of players, the structure of competitions, organisation of the country championships and representative teams, and in more recent years, funding and support for club facilities. Throughout its history the country body had a captious relationship with the state controlling body, the VFL, that broke out into open warfare on occasions over the years, chiefly around the control of the movement of players.

For it was the matter of the clearance of players that led directly to the reasons for the formation of the VCFL in 1927. It was triggered by the appointment of St Kilda’s 1925 Brownlow medalist Colin Watson as captain-coach of Maryborough for the 1927 season for £10 per week, a job and free lodgings. St Kilda refused to clear Watson to Maryborough. The Ballarat league granted Watson a permit to play. The VFL decided to disqualify both the Ballarat league and the player. The VFL then embarked on a process to form a separate league to administer the game in the country that it could effectively influence.

In the post-script, Colin Watson lead Maryborough to the premiership. However, the next season after the formation of the VCFL – which included the Ballarat Football League as an affiliate – Watson was denied a permit to play anywhere in Victoria for two years. He returned to his original club South Warnambool in 1930 as captain-coach. In 1934 he returned to St Kilda as captain and was chosen in the Victorian squad. He then returned to South Warnambool again.

He must have made a quid from his footy because he ended up owning a dairy farm near Kyabram. I went to school with his son Peter. We were in the same class. We both barracked for St Kilda. We played footy together as juniors. His father would pick him up from training in their Pontiac Parisienne. I had no idea about his plight until I read this book. Neither Peter nor his sister Lesley ever mentioned it. Mr Watson was a very private man. He rarely mixed with the other fathers, he usually just sat in the car.

It is Daff’s ability to prise open up the lives of the officials of the VCFL that really brings the book to life. It makes the book a lot less about the time-line of an organisation and more about its people and goings-on. Two of the larger-than-life characters that were Presidents of the VCFL were John Lauritz and Brian Molony. I knew them both and dealt with them in my role as president of the NSW Country AFL back in the 1980s. Daff describes them so well in the book.

Firstly, John Lauritz who had started adult life as a rate collector in Collingwood before moving to Bendigo to work for the council where also he served as secretary of the Golden Square Football Club. “He moved to Swan Hill to become the shire secretary. He was renowned for his preparation before meetings. He always had his papers in good order, and he maintained a brisk pace through the agenda. He poured his energy into the shire and country football. Lauritz was a man of large bearing who was praised for his common sense, and he enjoyed the social side of football.”

He led the VCFL investigation into the structure of the leagues in the Riverina in late 1981. At that stage all the leagues were affiliated to the VCFL and had been so since the 1930s, although a number also chose to have dual affiliation with the NSW AFL, mostly to give their players representative opportunities with the State team. Lauritz and his investigating team recommended the “Geelong model” of three competitions concertinaed into two leagues of 12 teams each. The model was not well received and within ten years all the leagues were solely affiliated to NSW. That gladdened my heart.

Brian Molony, almost universally known as “Muncher”, was a very personable character who loved the game and really relished the company of footy folks. “Muncher” had played in the VFL for Carlton and St Kilda and went to coach Port Fairy in 1956, and then onto Ararat, where he made his home. Molony coached Ararat to the Wimmera league premiership in 1971. He initially ran a local hotel, and then bought a shoe shop. He and wife Claire raised nine children. Daff writes of him thus:
“Molony spoke about country football in the same way that he spoke about Ireland. It was part of him from the ground up. It nourished him. It fired his spirit. (He) made a point of going to football all over the state usually in the company of his youngest child, Bart. He often organized a driver so that he could enjoy a beer and a yarn after the match.
For all his ebullience and charm, Molony also had a wide streak of Irish melancholy.”

My favourite memory of “Muncher” was being in his company with then VCFL Field Officer Graham Arthur after a seminar at VFL Park in 1982. I knew “Mort” from his time coaching Echuca after he finished his VFL career with Hawthorn. I had played with Rochester. We just talked country footy over multiple beers, in fact, we were the last to leave. I recall asking him these questions: What year was country football the strongest? 1958. What was the strongest league? Bendigo. Rochester won the premiership in the Bendigo Football League in 1958. I left VFL Park in the dark, well satisfied.

As my boss told me when first went to live and work at the university in Wagga, you can go into politics here either in local government or football, but football is much more interesting. Paul Daffey’s book is more than the history of the politics of country football; he has been able to weave together the story of the organisation with role of the people running the game and their inextricable relationship to football.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The book is available directly from the author. Contact pauldaffey27@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Sounds good Rocket Nguyen. Gee whiz, the old Pontiac Parisienne, saw quite a few when i was young. Nowadays they’re as rare as the Pontiac Laurentian, or the Pontiac Bonneville.

    I’m intrigued by the 1981 investigations into the Riverina leagues. This is quite separate but it’s around the time Corowa amalgamated with Rutherglen. That lead to two flags for what became the Kangaroos, though the way things currently are i can’t see any more on the radar.

    Country footy is such a backbone of our national game, with Victorian country being so pivotal in its success. It’s a book i’ll be purchasing.

    Glen!

  2. Richard Jones says:

    GREAT review, Rocket Rod.
    I’ve used an excerpt from Daff’s book, pages 217-222, about the massive ructions in Bendigo in 1980 when VCFL chief Allan Dunstan handed down the decision to amalgamate the existing 6 Bendigo F.L. clubs with the eight clubs of the Bendigo-based Golden City F.L.
    It went in my weekly column in the Bendigo Footy League ‘Record last weekend. Incidentally I used the material about Colin Watson, Maryborough and the Ballarat league for a column last season.
    Thanks to a proof from Daff who was finalising copy at the time.
    Like you I knew ‘Muncher’ Molony and John Lauritz. Muncher more intimately than Lauritz.
    I also knew Lauritz’ protege John Monahan, based in Swan Hill as well, some years ago. We flew back in the same light aircraft from Gippy one winter in the early 90s after Bendigo had played the LaTrobe Valley in a VCFL country champs. final.
    Also in the plane were Advertiser chief photog. Peter Hyett and BFL medico Dr. Wally McGregor. Monahan had to drive home to Swan Hill after the plane landed in Benders. There’s dedication for you.
    Daff’s book is a ripper for anyone with the slightest interest in country footy.
    Daff knows more about country footy, Australia-wide, not just Vic., than anyone I’ve ever come across.

  3. Singers Rocket says:

    Thanks RJ and Glen for your comments.

    RJ – the meeting that Allan Dunstall attended in Bendigo – was that with Graham “Mort” Arthur? As I recall in the book Allan Dunstall went out the side door of the Rifle Brigade Hotel after the meeting – and Mort went out the front door straight into a crowd of protestors? You’d have thought that given Mort was a Bendigo boy he would have known his way around but he did go to Hawthorn from Sandhurst at 17 so he may not have gone across to the pub after games at the QEO.

    “Smudge” Monahan did a good job for the VCFL by getting the sponsorship from Vic Health despite the histrionics from Ron Casey. All captured nicely in Daff’s book.

    Glen, great shame to see the combine struggling this season in the O & M. Daff had the Corowa footy club president on his blog recently. Apparently they’re looking at just fielding a senior team next season and sending the seconds out to CDBHU.

    Reckon they’ll end up with Rutherglen in the Tallangatta league in a few years time to resume the old rivalry. Maybe they’ll go back to being the Spiders?

    Colin Watson’s neighbours, the Frys had a Chevy Impala. Good dairying country, plenty of milk fat!

  4. Richard Jones says:

    Yairs Singers Rocket: Donald cocky (maybe cow cocky) Allan Dunstan attended the traumatic 1980 Bendigo footy meeting with Mort Arthur.
    Arthur left the Red Cross building, directly across View Street from the Bendigo Art Gallery (now world renowned after many recent high-end exhibitions) through the front door.
    And was jostled and heckled by the lads out the front as he tried to get to his car around the corner, adjacent to the Rifle Brigade boozer.
    Dunstan’s advisers were more careful. He left by a rear door of the Red Cross building into the side lane which runs behind the Rifle and the other View Street businesses on that side of the thoroughfare. So made it to his car without any jostling or colourful language and advice.
    I walked down that very side lane on Wednesday after a haircut appointment with former Sandhurst rover ‘Sos’ Garland whose salon is 3 or 4 doors down the hill from the Rifle.

  5. Steve Hodder says:

    Vic Country v VAFA is known as the Brian Molony Cup, VAFA got up this year I think.

    onya

  6. bring back the torp says:

    Great review Rod, & I look forward to buying this book..

    Care to elaborate on the reasons why 1958 was chosen as the strongest ever year for Country football, & Bendigo being the top League then?

    Also, most country football teams have affiliated netball clubs.
    Given the boom in female football, do you think there will be any “conflicts of interest” in country clubs about HEAVILY promoting female football?
    Will they be wary of “upsetting” any persons who might wish to maintain female netball primacy?
    Do you think football clubs are properly promoting female football in Sthn. NSW?

  7. Singers Rocket says:

    Bring back the torp,

    Thanks for your favourable comment on the book review and for your thoughtful questions.

    1958 was the year that Muncher offered up as the strongest year in country football based on the interest in the game and the quality of the players in the country at that time. Noel McMahen had captained Melbourne to the premiership in 1956, the next year he went to coach Rochester leading them to the break-out premiership in 1958. Bobby Rose had gone to Wang Rovers in his prime from Collingwood. Has had many others lured by money and jobs. Peter Box, Les Foote, were just some of the other big names.

    The netball/women’s football is an interesting question that may well become a dilemma. One of my old clubs the Bushpigs at the uni in Wagga has seven netball teams. It makes for great social interaction post-match. There is no move yet that I know of to field a female football team. But it’ll come!

    Women’s footy in Sydney has been a revelation! There was no existing netball structure linked to the football clubs. Women’s footy started in Sydney 10-15 years ago but it was separate from the men. Now the women’s football teams are strongly linked to the local footy clubs.

    North Shore fielded a team for the first time this season and it has over 40 registered players! Plus they have girls’ junior teams. This scene is being played out all over Sydney, and country NSW. There was no netball competition attached to the North West footy league up Tamworth and Armidale way, now they have women’s footy and it has completely rejuvenated the game.

    I know I haven’t fully answered your questions, mainly because I don’t have the answers. I don’t see women’s footy replacing the primacy of netball in existing competitions. But I can see the existing infrastructure now that it is controlled by the AFL administering competitions for women’s teams.

  8. Paul Daffey says:

    Hi Almanackers!

    Thanks for the review, Rocket, and for the comments from Richard et al.

    To be honest, I did not know that Muncher had nominated 1958 as the peak year of country footy. Rocket, where did he do this?

    It makes sense that the nominated year would be in the 1945 to 1965 era. That, basically, was the golden era of country footy. The crowds were enormous. I remember hearing stories in Bendigo about the crowds being five- and six-deep at the QEO and Wade Street. Then people started driving to Melbourne to see VFL games, the size of families started to decline, the number of families in rural areas declined … you know the drill.

    I can’t help but agree with Rocket about Corowa. The president , Graham Hosier, and his committee have done a top job in keeping the club going but I don’t see the proposed solution working for too long. Country footy will have to be restructured into a divisional structure, with four divisions in 12 or 14 hubs throughout Victoria and southern NSW. At least that is my prediction.

    If this does happen, it’s fair to say it will not happen without opposition. There will be massive protests (with Rocket flying down from Singapore to join the picket line!) — possibly rivalling the famous 1980 protest outside the Red Cross Centre in Bendigo.

    Country footy people hate the idea of promotion and relegation. (It’s a city concept!) I can’t see that changing, but I do see the divisional structure as a solution for the simple reason that clubs would be better able find their mark.

    In Donald recently I met Bill Anderson, a close friend of Allan Dunstan. Bill and another Donald friend went to the famous 1980 meeting in Bendigo to act as Allan’s bodyguards. Turns out that Allan ducked out the back door, as Richard documented above, and Bill was left to deal with the protesters in View Street. Bill had a chuckle when he told me the story. He said it was quite a fun evening!

    I plan to write more extensively about this meeting at some stage. It strikes me as the most emotional meeting in the history of Victorian country football.

    The netball question is fascinating. I basically see the game starting to slide. I can’t see how it can survive in its current state if the best athletes are playing footy. The fate of netball is the unspoken dilemma that has arisen from the women’s footy bonanza.

    I could go on, but I must do stuff!

    Cheers

    Daff

  9. John Monahan says:

    This tome by Paul Daffey in indeed the definitive history of the VCFL organisation but it is a lot more than that too. it provides a very insightful record of life in country Victoria and the Riverina over those years and will come to be widely regarded as a significant contribution to the understanding of life beyond the end of the freeways, and before the freeways).
    Paul was most diligent in his research and did not just present a dry regurgitation of facts but dug deeply into the stories beyond. I truly enjoyed the book launch at the “G and in particular the opportunity to enjoy a drink with my old mate Mort Arthur, among others.
    To see the magnificent way Paul captured the nuances of the way John Lauritz (my greatest mentor) and later Bob Templeton led the VCFL through very challenging issues (both internal and external) was heart warming – a great piece of writing Paul. Congratulations to you for an outstanding book.

    John (Smudge) Monahan

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