Local Footy: Benalla and District league’s demise is a sad event in country footy

By Hamish Cameron

This September, spare a thought for Victoria’s smallest football league. After years of conjecture and a recent review by the Victorian Country Football League administration, the Benalla and District Football League has been deemed unsustainable. Therefore, following the finals, the league will disband – after more than 60 years of blood, sweat, tears and cheers in Victoria’s north-east.
Many will mourn its loss, as the league is truly one of the most unique in the state. Founded in the 1940s, during its heyday it consisted of ten teams spread across the rugged hills and undulating plains that the Kelly gang roamed. Now, it represents a mere five clubs: Bonnie Doon, Goorambat, Longwood, Swanpool and Tatong. To put this in perspective, Bonnie Doon has the biggest population with 755 people. Swanpool has just 26.
Each club is a part of the heart, soul and fabric of the town it represents. The game provides locals with a regular focus and break from the toils of regional life.  Matches are attended by small but passionate crowds. Beer flows freely, pies are sold keenly and well-stoked fires provide warmth for supporters who brave the winter chill. Pretty football is rarely played, but ultimately the sense of enjoyment among players and supporters is real.
Sadly, history and character count for little when it comes to bush footy survival in the modern era. The Benalla and District league has been on death row since Devenish went into administration in 2007. It left the league with five clubs and a top four. Yet many struggle to field two full teams on a weekly basis.

This season, Tatong – which celebrated its centenary year last season – forfeited one seniors and two reserves games.  Scorelines have often resembled lopsided cricket matches. The future has been looking grim.
For the hardened bush footy fan – and this league breeds them hard – the status quo is a bitter dose of reality. It’s a sad reflection on the changing face and state of country football. In particular among smaller regional towns that no longer have the population, the youth nor the financial clout to get two football teams on the ground each Saturday afternoon.

At the end of this season, the top four clubs will join other leagues to survive. Tatong has been advised to merge, but the word in the hills is that they’re going to fight. For the clubs that survive, moving on from this league will be sad but inevitable. Their existence relies on more than the Benalla and District league alone.
Most players and supporters will miss the league immensely: the rivalries, the unique communities and people, the beautifully set grounds and dilapidated scoreboards. I’ll personally miss finding “Benalla & District”  buried deep within the Sunday columns of country footy results. Bush footy will be worse off without this league. But one thing is for sure: the memories, the legacy and, for the time being, most of its clubs will remain.


  1. A real shame to see the demise of this league. As someone who watched a few of the games from this league in the late 80’s early 90’s it is unfortunately a sign of how country footy is going. I have even had a few beers with a former Longwood player over here in Perth and talked about the comp in the late 80’s when he ran around. As a player from the old Tungamah league we cannot afford to banish the history of the game and lose the tradition of these smaller community based leagues. a great comment by Hamish and lets hope not too many others have to go down this path.

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