Almanac Country Football: Wimmera Football League and the Nhill Football Club

Beanie and stubbie holder of the Nhill Tigers, a proud and storied country footy club [Source: Nhill Tigers Facebook page]



There is nothing like a country football match. Usually they are hard-fought affairs played with passion and energy in front of parochial supporters who have travelled many miles and sat through the U14s, U16s and the reserves to see their heroes play. Afterwards players and supporters gather for a convivial beer, the biffs, blows and abuse all forgotten. For the players, it’s great sport, important for team building – especially when you are playing with your mates. But it doesn’t end there, because football is an integral part of the community, a place where the community comes together each weekend to shout for their team, meet their friends, discuss local issues and hear the gossip. It’s a very important part of country life and it is tragic if the local football club cannot continue. As Nhill champion Steve Graham (who played over 500 games for Nhill) said: ‘A country footy club is vital to a community like ours. It’s a community within itself. Players, supporters, sponsors; they all contribute to the club. It is also something for the young people to come to.’



I went to a country football match in the Wimmera Football League recently. It was only the second time I had seen Wimmera footy. Once, about twenty years ago I came up to watch champion Minyip goalkicker John Hotker kick a bag of goals on a freezing Saturday afternoon at Horsham.



The Wimmera Football League has experienced club transfers and amalgamations in past years. Rupanyup and Jeparit transferred to the Horsham and District Football League, Jeparit later amalgamated with Rainbow. Minyip and Murtoa merged to become Minyip-Murtoa and subsequently won two flags. Horsham United and Horsham Diggers merged to become Horsham Saints which later merged with St. Michaels to become Horsham Saints. they won the 2019 premiership. Horsham Demons is the most successful team; they won ten premierships in a row, a phenomenal feat. Southern Mallee Giants, newcomers to the WFL, are themselves the product of an amalgamation with Beulah and Hopetoun. Despite these amalgamations, the Wimmera Football League has continued to bring top level football to the Wimmera district. They have done well considering the difficulties country football has been forced to endure, such as skyrocketing playing fees, declining populations in small towns, lack of support from the AFL and the pandemic.



I wanted to see Nhill play because they are my team. Every Monday in winter in the mid-1950s, our family in Coburg would listen to radio station 3DB, where hosts Laurence Costin and Campbell McComas would run through the Wimmera League results, skylarking and bantering with each other about who beat who. As a little boy, I was intrigued by the names of the teams – Rupanyup, Warracknabeal, Jeparit, Minyip, Murtoa, Ararat, Stawell, Horsham, Dimboola and Nhill. I had only heard of Stawell because my brother was training with a professional running group and talked glowingly about Stawell, but the other towns were completely foreign to me. It was then that I chose Nhill to support only because of the unusual name and I have stuck with them ever since. However I had never seen them play, until a few weeks ago when I proudly became a member of the Nhill and District Sporting Club of which the football club is a part.



Back in the 1950s, Ararat was the most successful club. Four premierships in succession went to Ararat, with Dimboola, Horsham and Stawell winning one each during that same era. Nhill had never won a premiership but Wes Warrick claimed four WFL best and fairest awards (Toohey Medal) between 1950 and 1960.



I was able to gain a rich source of information about the Country football Leagues from the Midweek Sporting Globe, a popular sporting newspaper of the time, which I would read studiously in the Baillieu Library at Melbourne University every Wednesday morning before I settled down to some real study. It kept me up to date with what was happening on the field.



At half time in the Reserves game on the day I visited Nhill, I wandered over to the Social Rooms and spent a pleasant half hour or so studying the photos of the past football and netball champions, the premiership teams and the Team of the Century which covered the walls.



The 1960s was a Golden Age for Nhill; they won the flag in 1964, ’65 and ’69. There were some champion players in that era. Wes Richardson, their most decorated player, was captain-coach in 1964 and 1965, vice-captain in 1969 and captain-coach of the Team of the Century. How I wished I had seen him play! The same goes for other great players of that era, namely Max Magrath, Peter Patterson and Graeme Gross. In 1969, Kevin McNamee came from Waverley in the VFA and was named captain-coach; McNamee I had seen play. The 1969 team included veterans of the 1964 and ’65 premierships as well as Dennis Bell and Rod Coutts. Nhill supporters claim that the this team was one of the best country sides ever put together.



In 1981 Nhill again won the premiership under the tutelage of Phil Dennis with players such as Steve Graham, a school teacher, who arrived in Nhill intending to stay for one year. To this day he always brings his boots to the football, ready to play if required. A veteran of over 500 games he is a former Toohey Medallist. In 2010, Nhill were runners-up to the champion Horsham Demons. Jaye McCumber was captain-coach and Chris Ladhams (ex-Carlton and Adelaide), Daniel Hargreaves (ex-Footscray and Fremantle) and Simon Brearley were key players.  Supporters told me that it was a very good team.



In recent years success has evaded Nhill. The current side is sitting at the lower end of the premiership ladder but it’s young and is in a rebuilding phase. Many of the players are local boys, several are farmers or ex-Nhill residents. The game I watched saw Nhill competitive with Southern Mallee Giants for three quarters, only to be overrun by a rampant Giants team kicking with the wind. Nevertheless Nhill supporters were not disappointed as the Giants had been runners-up in the past two seasons. Nhill played an attractive, open style of football, kicked well and usually handled the ball cleanly.



From what I saw, football is healthy in the Wimmera. Nhill, with a population of just over 2,000 is the smallest town in the league and must battle against the more populated teams such as Horsham (19,000), Ararat (8,000), and Stawell (6,000).The club is enthusiastically supported by local businesses in Nhill and Kaniva and particularly local farmers. Nhill’s time will come again when it will produce more players of the ilk of Dean Wallis, Peter Patterson, David Flood, Graeme Gross, Wilf Dickeson, Rod Coutts and the greatest of them all, Jason McCartney. Until then the Nhill Football Club will remain a major player in the structure of its community. Country football, the Wimmera Football League and the Nhill Football Club: long may they play.





The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE




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  1. Dr Rocket says

    This was a terrific run-down of footy in the Wimmera particularly Nhill. as you suggest there time will come again.

    Meanwhile it’s so good for the community to have a footy and netball club.

    Richard, is a merger likely with Kaniva?

  2. Richard Davis says

    I don’t know but Kaniva has only recently merged with Leeor so I don’t think so.The local newspaper covers both Nhill and Kaniva and a number of Nhill’s sponsors are Kaniva-based.

  3. Daryl Schramm says

    “There is nothing like a country football match”. For the locals, it’s more than just the football as you go on to mention. I made a point of getting to two in a week recently over on Eyre Peninsula. Memorable experiences with footy and netball. The highlight was standing behind the goals at the remote end of the ground, with the play up the other end, listening to two players from each team and a bloke running water, all standing in the goal square, talking about where they were at with their seeding, when was it going to rain etc. Classic.

  4. Good stuff Richard.

    I’ve never been to Nhill: only been to Adelaide once ! Nhill is a name I’ve noticed on the maps, hopefully i can get there one day. I’m aware there’s now a fairly diverse community with quite a few people coming from East Africa. Nhill also has the one race a year, that being in December. I’d imagine it would be quite a hot day in that neck of the woods

    I’ve been to a few matches in Donald, over in the North Central League, not a million miles from Nhill. Have you read Paul Daffey’s marvellous work, ‘The Totem Poles of Ouyen United’? You’d recognise players, teams listed in this scholarly work. I highly recommend it.

    How long was Laurence Costin on 3DB? I remember his name from my childhood , late 60’s, early 70’s.

    Keep up the good work Richard. Go Nhill Tigers!


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