In and outs of early Bendigo football

By Richard Jones

In the early years of the twentieth century two of the Bendigo Football League’s present-day power clubs dominated. South Bendigo and Eaglehawk took it in turns to snare what was called “the premiership of the district” in the Bendigo Football Association.

For a number of seasons no finals were played; clubs that finished on top of the list, or ladder, were acclaimed as the Bendigo champion club.

The Bloods won flags in 1900, 1902, 1904-05, and then again in 1909-10. The Two Blues were successful in 1901, 1903 and 1908, having snared five premierships in succession from 1894-1898.

Season 1906 was a fiasco. Two competitions were contested.

Long Gully won the Bendigo and Northern District Football Association final while Eaglehawk took home the flag in the Bendigo District Football Association.

Three clubs competed in each of these bodies so there were a lot of return fixtures!

Thankfully things were back to normal in 1907 with Long Gully winning that season before the big two clubs took over again in the lead-up to World War 1.

SO WHAT led to the messy situation in 1906 when there were two separate leagues?

Sandhurst disbanded in 1900, leaving just three clubs—South, Eaglehawk and Bendigo — to battle on through 1901, ’02 and ’03. Eaglehawk withdrew in 1904 when California Gully, West Bendigo and Golden Square joined, although the old Golden Square club (not the current one, which was founded in the 1930s) stayed for only one season.

The Two Blues rejoined in 1905 when the Square went out , with South and Cal Gully playing off in the match which decided the 1905 champions.

Now, here’s where the drama starts. Officials from the Bloods and Cal Gully kept the gate-takings, claiming they were entitled to do so. Not surprisingly, officials from the other clubs (Eaglehawk, West Bendigo and Bendigo) did not agree, so South and California Gully were expelled.

So for the 1906 season Eaglehawk, Bendigo and West Bendigo played in a competition based at Eaglehawk’s Canterbury Park. South and California Gully recruited Long Gully and formed the BNDFA.

They must have regretted getting Long Gully to join because the new club was the top team in the new league, while Eaglehawk won the other.

For the 1907 season, Bendigo disbanded and West Bendigo returned to junior ranks, leaving Eaglehawk, South and the two Gullies as the competing clubs.

It wasn’t until 1913 that the name of the competition was changed to the Bendigo Football League.

MATCHES were incredibly low-scoring. The final and deciding match of 1904, between South Bendigo and California Gully, saw just seven goals scored. South won, 4.13 (37) to 3.5 (23), but the Advertiser reporter of the day recorded everything. Shots which missed by inches, set shots which sailed out of bounds and place kick attempts not registering a “sixer” were all breathlessly noted.

In a vital match in 1905 Eaglehawk won a slightly higher scoring game at Canterbury Park by five goals: the Two Blues 7.8 (50) to South’s 2.8 (20).

In 1909 the crowd watched as a mounted police constable came onto the Upper Reserve (now the Queen Elizabeth Oval) to interview a player about a third-quarter incident.

“The cheering and booing which this incident caused was evidence of the interest taken in the match,” the Advertiser reported.

South won, 7.9 (51) to Eaglehawk’s 3.2 (20).

Because the scores were so low early last century, goalkickers won with tallies we would consider paltry today.

Here’s the final goalkicking ladder, as it was called then, for the 1911 season: Freddy James (SB) 21, T. Baud (Eh) 17, ‘Twit’ Forbes (SB) 16, ‘Cap’ Muir (Long Gully) 14, T. Wraith (Eh) 14, ‘Fogger’ Harvey (Eh) 12, C. Coulson (LG) 9, ‘Delhi’ Nelson (Eh) 8, ‘Dubs’ Daykin (SB) 7.

After World War 1, Sandhurst returned to the Bendigo Football League and the Maroons played off with South in the 1919 final. Finals were in vogue by that stage of the league’s history.

Crowe, the VFL umpire, was appointed to control the big game timed to start at 3.30 pm. It was preceded by the final of the First-Rate Junior Association between Foggitt-Jones and Golden City.

Former Richmond player Les Oliver captained South — captains in those days were the actual coaches — and in another low-scoring affair the Bloods triumphed by a solitary point.

Final scores: South Bendigo 3.7 (25) d. Sandhurst 2.12 (24). Goalkickers – South: “Bingo” Bryant 2, Petrie. Sandhurst: Gambetta 2.


  1. Noel Ruedin says

    Hi, i have a photo of a Golden Square football club, the manager in my grandmothers first husband , samuel Hardy. From his age it would somewhere around 1900, if you are interested i can send you a copy

Leave a Comment