60 Years Ago (1954) – A New Era for the Yallourn Blues

By Roger Spaull of Rosebud

YALLOURN  FC  AGM  IN 1954. 

1954 was one of the most significant seasons in the history of the Yallourn Football Club and the changes brought about by the formation of the new league were to have ramifications far and wide across Gippsland.

At the AGM in late March 1954 the following members of the Yallourn Football Club were elected as office bearers:-

President: Vic Johns.

Vice Presidents: Harry O’Bern  George Lynch  Col Webster.

Secretary-Treasurer:   Tom Hayes.

Assistant Secretary: Stan Brown.

Assistant Treasurer: George Wilkinson.

General Committee members:-

K. Denny A. Hawken  M. Knight  C. Mitchell T. McAllister J. O’Keefe  R. Ramage   S. Sharman  M. Smith  J. Wray  T. McCoy  L. Downey  C. White  J. Crameri  S. Harris   C. Hayes.

The highlights of the 1954 AGM were:

  • The awarding of a YFC Life Membership to George Wilkinson.
  • An alteration to the YFC rules that would allow women members to vote at all meetings of the club.
  • An extensive report on the protracted and divisive issue regarding the formation of the LVFL.
  • Sending a letter of ‘regret’ to Mirboo North FC, Korumburra FC and Leongatha FC regarding their severance from the newly formed league. The three clubs had all been affiliates of the CGFL in 1953 but were forced to seek new arrangements in other country leagues in 1954. (See below).
  • A vote of appreciation was placed in the minute book regarding the retirement of Jack Huxtable as club secretary.
  •  A report regarding the on-going negotiations to entice former Melbourne captain and ex-Yallourn player Geoff Collins to return to coach the club in 1954.
  • A discussion regarding player awards, trophies and other incentives that would be available for Yallourn footballers to win throughout that season.

 

THE  FORMATION OF THE LVFL.

The final vote (14-6) that led to the formation of the Latrobe Valley Football League was taken on the 6th March 1954. The ‘new look’ eight team league was based upon ‘the main line’ towns between Sale and Warragul.

The proposal to disband the CGFL had caused prolonged discussion and, at times, acrimony between the clubs involved in the regional re-organization of football.

The Sale Football Club’s decision to break away from the Gippsland FL and join the new league was contentious and generated forceful debate in the Northern Gippsland newspapers of those times.

The ‘over the hills’ group of clubs (Korumburra, Leongatha & Mirboo North), which had been part of the now-defunct CGFL, faced an uncertain future. These three clubs were forced to seek other arrangements in order to play club football in 1954.

Mr Trood of Sale FC was appointed Chairman of the LVFL. Vic Johns and Keith Denny were the Yallourn Football Club delegates in that period.  Vic was elected to the LVFL Executive and Keith also became an office-bearer on March 9th of that year.

Mr Trood’s optimism and enthusiasm for the new league was clearly evident…

“…in launching a league destined to become second to none.”

The dust from the ‘great Gippsland football storm’ had hardly settled before the inaugural round of the LVFL kicked off on April 24th.

The opening round of the 1954 LVFL season was:-

Sale v Morwell

Warragul v Yarragon

Moe v Traralgon

Yallourn v Trafalgar

 

APPOINTMENT OF JACK AITKEN AS  COACH FOR 1954.

Yallourn had very been active in recruiting players that year and had snared former North Melbourne/Sandringham star ruckman Laurie Shipp and Essendon/Brunswick  wingman Pat Wheeler. The YFC was aggressive in endeavouring to engage a ‘top shelf’ footballer to coach the club in 1954. Several options were explored but the aim of securing a high profile coach had proven elusive.

‘The Morwell Advertiser’ (December 1953) had carried a story about the possibility of John Coffey (St Kilda/Morwell ) being attracted to coach the Blues. It was a controversial article and no doubt had ‘jaws wagging’ across the ‘Valley during pre-season training that year.

It was well known that Melbourne captain Geoff Collins (ex-Yallourn) had been ‘sounded out’ and approached by the club to consider coaching the Blues in 1954.

As mentioned above at the AGM, Vic Johns had outlined the club’s attempts to lure Geoff  back to the club. As history shows, all hopes of such an appointment were dashed when Geoff returned to Melbourne FC as captain for that season. (See his story on the Virtual Yallourn website).

With the first game of the new season set to be played on April 24th the club was ‘cutting it fine’ in selecting and announcing a coach.

YFC finally settled upon signing Morwell’s best rover Jack Aitken as coach.  It was anticipated that Jack would give Jimmy Shaw great support around the packs.

It is believed that Jack Aitken and Jack Vinall were traded for Yallourn’s young Bruce Crawley.

(Note: Bruce, who was a budding star with the Blues, had attracted some interest from VFL scouts).

It was a profitable deal as Jack Vinall had been training with Footscray that year and was a proven goal kicker in local football.

 

YALLOURN’S FIRST GAME IN THE LVFL.

 

Yallourn’s first match in the LVFL was against Trafalgar at home. Not only would the football public be judging the new league but the Yallourn supporters would also have the newly appointed coach Jack Aitken under the microscope.

According to the previews of the opening round in the ‘The Argus’ and ‘The Morwell Advertiser’ that week, Yallourn had lost several key players from the 1953 CGFL Grand Final team.

Despite the changes to the Blues’ list over the summer, YFC was a competitive unit with a blend of experience and skill across all lines. The team selected to play Trafalgar included some prominent players in that era including Jimmy Shaw, Bernie Nairn, John Paice, Bruce Knight, Ken Parker, Jim Watt, Des Madden and a ‘promising teenager’ named John Hutchinson. George Bates had been eagerly sought by Richmond in 1953 and was regarded as one of the best forwards in country football in those years.

While recruit Pat Wheeler’s clearance had been delayed, Laurie Shipp had been named on the team sheet and would debut for his new club. Laurie’s selection caused much excitement around the town that weekend.

From the first bounce the ‘new look’ Blues took charge, dominated the first quarter and seemed to be in control of the game across the centre. ‘The Morwell Advertiser’ reported that Bates was lively up forward, Hutchinson was brilliant and Parker provided drive to set up scoring opportunities.

The Blues led at the first change but the Bloods (as Trafalgar was then known) regrouped, settled, hit targets and slowly began to shake the Blues’ grip on the game. Yallourn’s poor conversion hurt and ‘chances went begging.’ The Blues failed to nullify the telling influence Clarrie Swenson (ex-Collingwood and Hawthorn~1941-49) and paid the price!

The third quarter was virtually ‘one way traffic’ as Trafalgar broke the shackles and kicked five goals while the Blues struggled to make any headway. Greening was a key in Trafalgar’s impressive fight back.  The newspaper scribe from ‘The Morwell Advertiser’ put it bluntly…

“It was all Trafalgar …Yallourn was visibly wilting and was penalized for frequently playing the man.”

Trafalgar ran out easy winners that day and the Blues inability to ‘counter punch’ raised a few serious questions. The score line shows that Trafalgar kicked eight goals after half time while Yallourn managed just three.

George Bates and Des Madden had kicked 7 of the Blues eight goals that day. The inability of the Blues forwards to convert their early opportunities was costly in the first half but it was hard to explain the Blues’ capitulation late in the game. Lack of fitness can sometimes contribute to losses early in the season. Perhaps the pre-season build-up may have been a factor in the Blues’ demise however there is no proof to support this theory.

Quarter by quarter scores:

Trafalgar:   3.1     6.4    11.7    14.11 (95)

Yallourn:    4.5     5.9     6.10     8.12 (60)

Goals for Yallourn: Bates 4 Madden 3 Hughes 1

Best for Yallourn: Bates Parker Madden Aitken Watt Christie Hutchinson Shaw and Nairn.

Defeat in the first game of any new season is always a bitter pill to swallow. The Yallourn supporters were disappointed but not disheartened with what they had witnessed that day.

The pre-match excitement anticipation had been severely tempered by the six goal defeat and a second half ‘fade-out’ against Trafalgar. It was a case of ‘back to the drawing board’ for the club’s brains trust.

 

THE BLUES  STUMBLE  AT THE LAST HURDLE.

The other results from the LVFL’s opening round were:

Morwell 21.12 defeated Sale 13.11.

Warragul 12.17 defeated Yarragon 8.6.

Traralgon 13.7 defeated Moe 12.9.

It was plain to see that the new league would provide competitive contests and tight results. Such would prove to be the perfect formula to build interest and crowds at local football. On the other hand, on reading the above results, the Blues’ officials would have realised that plans for a LVFL finals berth would be no ‘walk in the park.”

In the next six weeks of that season, Yallourn had to play Traralgon (May 8th)…Warragul (May 22nd)…Morwell (May 29th) and then the ‘powerhouse’ of Gippsland football Sale FC on June 5th.  The battle was ‘on’ and YFC would be tested to the limit.

A Herculean effort was required by Yallourn that winter to stay in the race to the finals and the Blues responded with typical grit and determination.

Up until Round: 18 YFC was ‘still alive’ and not without a chance to win a flag. On August 21st Yallourn met Morwell in what was seen as a ‘do or die’ contest for a place in the final four.

As the headline later claimed… “YALLOURN WENT DOWN FIGHTING.” Morwell 13.11(79) had defeated Yallourn 9.15 (69).

Morwell won the ‘decider’ and the right to play Traralgon in the LVFL Semi-final the following Saturday. For Yallourn FC it was ‘moth balls’ for another six months.

Looking back on that season, the first defeat at the hands of Trafalgar was more than significant. As a wise coach once said… “Every moment of every game matters in the end!”

 

THE ‘WASH UP’ OF 1954.

By the end of that season, it was deemed by all that the ‘new’ LVFL season had been a resounding success. Interest in football was high across the region, gate receipts had increased and the standard of football had gone to new levels.

Mr Trood’s vision of a strong and viable football league had been fully endorsed by the public’s acceptance of the concept. ‘The Morwell Advertiser’ had been glowing in its support of the  LVFL during the season.

The LVFL brought about a dramatic shift in the ‘balance of power’ of Gippsland football as Traralgon and Sale set new benchmarks in the competition.

The LVFL, which had been formed with such fervent debate, had won wide acclaim across the Latrobe Valley.

Within one season the LVFL had become the major league throughout the region. Later other powerful northern Gippsland clubs such as Maffra, Heyfield and Bairnsdale would seek entry into the competition.

Yallourn FC would meet immense challenges as the nature of the industry, communities and football changed throughout Gippsland.

In the next twenty-two years of senior LVFL, Yallourn competed in only six final series. Sadly, the Blues never won a flag in LVFL football.

In 1977, YFC amalgamated with Yallourn North Football Club and continued to play in the LVFL as ‘Yallourn-Yallourn North FC.’

In the period 1954-85, Yallourn and/or the Y-YNFC Combine played in only three LVFL Grand Final matches~ (1955-60-78).The timeline shows that Yallourn FC, which had been a founding member of the LVFL in 1954, joined the Mid Gippsland FL (as YYNFC) in 1986.

No one at that optimistic and enthusiastic AGM of 1954 could have predicted such a rapid transformation in Gippsland football and the changes in fortunes of the YFC.

Written for Virtual Yallourn by Roger Spaull~  December 2013.

 

Comments

  1. Thanks for the historical snippet Roger. The quality of the bush leagues up to the 70’s was amazing. I remember the pieces in ‘Footy Town’ about Roy Cazaly in the Mallee, and Tony Robb’s dad in the Riverina. Great players and good money in the country in those days.
    The drift to the cities for both work and sport certainly hollowed out the bush leagues in the last 30 years,
    Sounds like Yallourn were always the bridesmaid never the bride.
    Regards.

  2. Liz, Ash and Ollie says

    A very interesting and well researched article, we enjoyed reading and thank you. Its great that families and future generations can read this now that it is safely housed on the web – especially given that the town itself no longer exists! Congrats to all involved.

  3. A great read Roger, it brings back memories of playing for Yallourn. I reckon you and i played for the seconds in the early sixties. I still have my old Yallourn jumper (number 50 ) which I proudly wear at Footy Almanac functions.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Well done Roger a enormous amount of work goes in to comiling article such as this
    Thank you for the informative read Roger

  5. Rochy Rocket says

    Great to read about country footy.

    Interesting to read about Traf beating Yallourn in the first match in the LVFL in 1954.

    Maffra, now a powerhouse in Gippsland footy, like Yallourn, never won a LVFL pennant. Plenty since in various incarnations.

    Of the over-the-hills clubs, I think it was only Leongatha that entered the Latobe Valley League. The South Gippsland FL formed in 1954 of Leongatha, Korumburra, Wonthaggai, Stony Creek, Meeniyan Dumbalk United,and Mirboo North lasted until 1969. Dominated by the larger towns.

    Really good in my view that in recent years that Wonthaggi and Bairnsdale were forced to leave their district leagues which they absolutely dominated to join the Gippsland Football League – which in essence is the same as the LVFL.

    Stony’s win over Wonthaggi in 2010 in the Alberton FL was a win for the ages. Stony slayed the Wonthaggi dragon – a merger of the two clubs in Wonthaggi who bleated long and hard about being forced into the Gippsland League.

  6. Hi Roger,

    It’s many years since we graced the sporting fields of Yallourn. What a great place to grow up in, play footy and live. My thoughts often return to my childhood and youth there, and of course my sport. Cricket and footy were central to my, and perhaps your life in those days. They were almost the glue of the community. Remember the very good cricketers as well, Norm Byrne, Don Arnall, ‘Jumbo’ James, the Wiggins brothers, Ken Hartley and others. You’re doing a great job keeping the memories of a great town alive, stupidly destroyed.

    We had some very good footballers in the mid to late 60s but I think none more courageous than Mike Collins who was an inspiration to all who played with him. I remember him being king hit one day at Heyfield, as was half the side, and as we walked off when the game was over were spat on, abused and further threatened. Thankfully those days are over, are they???

    Would love to catch up.

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