by Josh Barnstable
I can imagine the downfall and the final game ever played for the Fitzroy Football Club was the one of the saddest days in the VFL/AFL history, for players and supporters of any team. It isn’t right to see a proud club like the Lions, who were around for 100 years having to merge with the Brisbane Bears, one of the new expansion sides at the time. Thus, they formed the Brisbane Lions, who went on to win three premierships in a row years later, a huge turnaround. Sadly, that merger option isn’t the case for some struggling football teams.
The Wunghnu Football Club, formed in 1874 is one of the oldest football clubs in any of the country leagues throughout Australia. They are apart of the Picola and District Football League, and were split into the North West division at the end of 2008. Wunghnu wears a jumper similar to Collingwood with black and white stripes, and are appropriately nicknamed the Magpies. The town is based 204km north of Melbourne, 26km north of Shepparton, and just 7km down the highway from Numurkah. It is a small town, consisting of a pub, a convenience store, a football oval, netball courts, a car wreckers yard, the delicatessen shop that serves buffalo meat, the ‘home of the best vanilla slice’ in the world and the famous water tower with the popular mural of a sheep, stating ‘The Smallest Sheep Station in the world’, poking fun at the pronunciation of the town (One-Ewe). A couple of interesting claims from a town that boasts a population of around 270. Sadly, Wunghnu has become known for its football club.
Much like the old days in the VFL, where general talk at a game at the MCG would be about who won at Kardinia Park or Waverley, it is not unusual to hear people talking about how Wunghnu was fairing against their opposition for the day as they battled it out in a different town, and even sometimes, a different state. Why? Take a look at the results from their 2010 season:
Round One: Picola United 31.13.199 v Wunghnu 10.5.65
Round Two: Berrigan 36.35.251 v Wunghnu 5.2.32
Round Three: Wunghnu 6.7.43 v Blighty 22.16.148
Round Four: Mathoura 25.16.166 v Wunghnu 6.4.40
Round Five: Wunghnu 8.8.56 v Yarroweyah 20.14.134
Round Six: Strathmerton 35.13.223 v Wunghnu 2.7.19
Round Seven: Wunghnu 4.5.29 v Deniliquin Rovers 33.19.217
Round Eight: Bye
Round Nine: Jerilderie 34.23.227 v Wunghnu 1.2.8
Round Ten: Wunghnu 0.4.4 v Picola United 37.20.242
Round Eleven: Wunghnu 2.3.15 v Berrigan 40.26.266
Round Twelve: Blighty 32.16.208 v Wunghnu 10.2.62
Round Thirteen: Wunghnu 1.3.9 v Mathoura 44.27.291
Round Fourteen: Yarroweyah 33.23.221 v Wunghnu 1.3.9
Round Fifteen: Wunghnu 1.3.9 v Strathmerton 38.24.252
Round Sixteen: Deniliquin 57.21.363 v Wunghnu 1.1.7
Round Seventeen: Bye
Round Eighteen: Wunghnu 0.0.0 v Jerilderie 43.14.272
Not a good season for the Magpies, and talk of the club becoming defunct snowballed and gathered enough momentum for it to be seriously considered. Wunghnu has had disastrous seasons for at least the past 15 years, and the scores above aren’t actually the worst of it. The Reserves, Under Seventeens and Under Fourteens fare even worse, getting beaten by up to 250 points each weekend. But to their credit, they turn up the next Saturday and give their all for the struggling club. There was a major push for Wunghnu to move into the Kyabram District Football League (KDFL), where they would have a higher chance of winning a few games, less travel and a good chance of retaining players, and a lot of people from the KDFL and Wunghnu agreed to the move, saying it would really help the Magpies, but it was surprisingly knocked back, so they will fight out another year in the PDFL, playing 15 year olds in the seniors and getting thrashed, week in, week out. In fact, Wunghnu has won just one game in the past four years. A disturbing record. But, in typical Wunghnu fashion, they are digging the boots in, and are refusing to die.
The Victorian Country Football League has given a February 15 deadline to find four football sides and two netball teams. There was a crisis meeting called last week, where up to 80 supporters showed up, but a lacking of players. The situation is dire, but they are still preparing for Round One.
Some interesting notes from Wunghnu’s long and proud history:
-In 1924, the Wunghnu and Drumanure Football Clubs merged to form the Drumanure-Wunghnu side. This side lasted until 1928, when an annual football meeting decided to withdraw the two combined sides. Drumanure moved to the Katamatite association, while Wunghnu was again rebranded ‘The Magpies’ in its sole right.
-1931 saw Wunghnu’s first premiership, although this statement may be incorrect as it was said that the Magpies may have won one in their earlier days in the 19th century.
-In 1935, Joe Sellwood is cleared by the Magpies to Geelong West, where he began his VFL career with the Cats. Sellwood went on to play 187 games for Geelong, and kick 90 goals, as well as being a Premiership player in the 1937 grand final victory.
-Percy Hunt, one of Wunghnu’s own, was also cleared to Geelong in 1945.
-Wunghnu celebrated its second premiership in 1958, with every player awarded a packet of cigarettes.
-A hattrick of premierships for Wunghnu came a few years later, with a tight victory over Yarroweyah 8.10.58 to 8.8.56 in 1964, a 28 point victory over Barooga in 1965 and defeating Katunga 16.14.110 to 13.10.88 in 1966. An interesting note that showed how loyal players were in those days: only 27 players were used for the three flags.
-1971 was one of Wunghnu’s proudest years, with all divisions in their football ranks winning the premiership, as well as two Netball sides. That’s six premierships on the one day!
-A September victory over Waaia in 1973 saw the Magpies win their seventh flag, 8.4.52 to 6.9.45.
Since then, things have gone pear-shaped for Wunghnu, which was largely due to paying out several Indigenous players from local team Rumbalara to come play for the Magpies. This saw many positions, formerly owned by club stalwarts, taken, therefore the players went elsewhere looking for more opportunities. The Aboriginal players maxed out their time with the Magpies, before leaving, and Wunghnu were stripped of many players, and have never fully recovered.
The aforementioned crisis meeting granted permission for Wunghnu to try and find a football team within two weeks. It is sad to say, but one would think it is over for this proud club.
On the 1st of March, 2011, the Wunghnu Football Club has voluntary folded. A sad end to a very proud club, but perhaps there is still a light at the end of the tunnel?