Local Footy: Rochester should be the Demons for a day

By Rod Gillett

The local derby is in my view the essence of Australian football. This is much more pronounced at the grassroots level than at the AFL level, whether it be in the country, the amateurs, the suburbs, and even between schools.
It’s particularly poignant in the bush. Training intensifies, supporters start talking about it, and the money goes on when the local derby comes around. Bragging rights are at stake. Local pride. For a team that is struggling, the chance to beat the arch-enemy neighbour can redeem a season.
When I was playing for Rochester everyone around not just the club but around the town would build up for matches against Echuca for weeks before the game, “We can’t play like this and expect to beat Echuca!” was the recurrent theme.
The rivalry between Rochy and Echuca is not unique, but it is probably more intense than most, and it is certainly of longer standing than most. As has been reported by this correspondent previously, the rivalry between the clubs dates back to the formation of the Rochester footy club in 1873 for the “purpose of soon meeting and beating Echuca” (my emphasis). That has been the catch-cry ever since.
Rochester and Echuca will meet again this Saturday in Round 13 of the Goulburn Valley Football League. Rochester, the reigning premier, is on top of the ladder and beat the Murray Bombers (who are well outside the top six) by 68 points in Round 1. But regardless of their positions on the ladder the combatants will be going hard at each other on Saturday – with a vengeance. It’s never any other way; it’s a very bitter rivalry.
In the context of the rivalry between these two arch-rivals, the period in the Goulburn Valley League is recent history. The great bulk of the history between them has been in the Bendigo Football League, from the 1920s until both transferred to the Goulburn Valley competition in the early ’70s.
A very good account of the rivalry over the years has been well documented by fellow Footy Almanacker Paul Daffey in his columns in The Age in recent years.
What I would like to see is Rochester play in their old Bendigo league guernsey when they play Echuca. Rochy had to change colours when they joined the Goulburn Valley league in 1972 from a black jumper with a red sash and red socks (Demons socks) to a black jumper with a gold sash (Tigers) because Kyabram wore red and black and Shepparton United were the Demons. Echuca, which wears a bottle-green guernsey with a white monogram, did not have to change strips, and their nickname, the Murray Bombers, was retained.
Rochester has worn red and black for most of its existence. It was under former Melbourne premiership captain Noel McMahen who came to coach the club in 1957 that Rochy shed the nickname the Hayseeds (bestowed on them by the Bendigo media) and became the Demons by wearing red socks.
With McMahen at the helm, Rochester won its first premiership in 1958, and went onto play in eight successive grand finals, wining four. In 1962, under Con O’Toole, they went through the season undefeated. A very impressive record given the strength of the Bendigo league in this period.
Rochy have carved out a new tradition in their “new” strip in the Goulburn Valley league and several generations have now grown up as Tiger players and supporters. I would like to see the chance for them and all the old supporters to see the club play in a heritage guernsey for games against Echuca – just to really stoke the fire even more .
In fact, there is probably an opportunity for the Goulburn Valley league to have a heritage round given its many local derbies. Euroa and Seymour go way back to their days in the old Waranga North East league and beyond. Both entered Goulburn Valley league in the ’70s.
Kyabram and Tatura were both original members of the Goulburn Valley Football Association when it was started in 1893 and, as neighbours, have always had a close rivalry. Ky’s fiercest rival was Tongala, but they left to join the Murray League just a few years ago, in 2006.
Deakin Reserve co-tenants  Shepparton and Shepparton United (which began as City United) have been close rivals since United was formed in 1950. United famously upset Shepparton’s quest to win five premierships in a row when they beat the Maroons in the 1967 grand final. There has always been “needle” in the clashes between the two.
Mooroopna and the Shepparton Swans (formerly Lemnos) are separated by the Goulburn River and have had a strong rivalry since Lemnos came into the league in 1946. This has been peppered by coaching and playing transfers between the two clubs over the years.
Benalla (1997) and Mansfield (1998) are both relatively newcomers to the Goulburn Valley league (although Benalla played once before in 1940 and won the premiership) and have yet to develop a rivalry to match that of the other clubs in the league, but given their geographic location on the eastern fringe of the league it does seem possible.
Like Rochester, Benalla were the Demons in the Ovens and Murray league, in which they wore a red jumper with a white “V”. They also had to change colours because of a clash with the Shepparton Swans and nicknames (Shepparton United) when they entered the Goulburn Valley league, so they elected to become the Saints and wear the St Kilda strip. It’d be great to see Benalla become Demons again for a GVFL heritage round.
All of these clubs have rich histories stretching back into the late nineteenth century, and in most cases have established significant rivalries with their neighbours. A heritage round would make for a great celebration. And I, for one, would like to see Rochy become Demons again just for one day.


  1. pauldaffey says


    This might sound sad, but I’m coming to the view that country-footy rivalries mean less than they once did. The reason is that the best players in country footy have now come through the TAC Cup under-18 system. Players from Echuca, Rochester, Castlemaine and Kyneton, etc, are funelled into the Bendigo Pioneers. If they don’t get drafted, they might return to their original club, but they’re hardly going to get worked up about playing against a mate who they’ve shared two years with at under-age level. All players who emerge from the under-18 funelling system seem to emerge as great mates. When they play against each other at country level, there’s hardly going to be any animosity.

  2. Daff,

    That may be so – and Rochy have had quite a number play for an organisation called the “Bendigo Pioneers” (they’re not really a football club) and the fact that Guy Campbell (ex-Sydney Swans) transferred from Echuca to play for Rochy this season to play with mates from the Pioneers bears testimony to your view.

    But I reckon its the supporters who build, maintain and nourish the rivalry. They’re the ones who do the barracking and chiding of the opposition.It’s an essential ingredient of footy heritage.

  3. Rocket,

    I see your point about supporters. But there can’t really be a rivalry unless the players buy in, can there?

    I’m going to have to write a longer piece.

  4. In preparing the above piece I contacted Bill “Tracker” Traill the author of The Maffra Story – the history of the Maffra Footy club – for information about the rivalry between Maffra and Sale (see separate story). Bill played in both the Latrobe Valley and Ovens & Murray leagues in the halycon days of the 50’s and early 60’s and has retained a strong interest in country football, particularly the O & M as he now resides in Albury. I sought his views on the TAC Cup and country rivalry.I found his remarks very perceptive so I have copied and pasted it below:

    Rivalry and TAC: There is no doubt that TAC has some costs for country football but I cannot see how it impacts directly on traditional country rivalry situations. There is of course a marked decline in country football interest due to multiple factors – saturation TV coverage of AFL and mediacoverage in general, the increasing gap in standards between top country football and AFL and the continuing reduction in the ‘Friction of Distance’.For example Seymour, Traralgon, Ballarat, Geelong and Bendigo all have football train specials now – even for night games. Not to mention the freeway development that has made Melbourne so accessible from rural Victoria. I speak to lots of former players who have lost interest in their old clubs and trot off to Melbourne regularly to see games. At the local level the ex AFL ‘stars’ are few and far between as the movement of top players to the country, (the Footes, Roses and Goldsmiths to quote a few I have played on) has long dried up. Despite this, a few of the rivals Sale/Maffra is certainly one which maintains the crowds of yesteryear. On the other hand,two in the O&M are vastly diminished rivalries in terms of crowd appeal(Wang/Wang Rovers and Albury/Nth Albury). With the former, crowds have halved from my time. I cannot explain the mixed success of traditional rivalries in the contemporary scene.

  5. pauldaffey says


    Tracker’s comments are very interesting. I’ve heard Maffra people get quite worked up talking about their matches with Sale.

    I once put much of Maffra’s fervour down to the fact that they were unlikely to ever win a premiership. The Sale game therefore was their biggest game of the year.

    But in 2002 Maffra did win a premiership, their first in 1954. Then they won another four flags in subsequent years.

    I wondered whether Maffra’s ardour for the Sale rivarly might have been subsumed in that time, but apparently not. Good on them for maintaining the rage.

    The Wang and Wang Rovers rivalry just needs a final series with both clubs in it. People from both clubs still get misty-eyed talking about the atmosphere in the town in 1976, when they played each other in the grand final. (Wang won, interrupting a string of Rovers premierships.)

    Since then, they both played in the finals in 1993 but, in the main, one club has been strong while the other has struggled. This year neither of them is doing particularly well.

    And I stand by my TAC Cup theory.

  6. pauldaffey says

    PS. For anyone wanting to read Rocket’s story on Sale and Maffra, just click on Rod Gillett on the Almanackers’ list.

    Love the nickname Tracker.


    Rochester 21.14.140 defeated Echuca 3.6.24

    According to popular and well-known Rochy newsagent Mick Baker, “We still owe them plenty!”.

  8. Rocket,

    The irony is that Guy Campbell didn’t play in the Rochy-Echuca match. He was at centre half-back in the Victorian Country team that played the Victorian Ammos at the Junction Oval on Sunday.

    What a mountain of a man he is! I thought he did a few good things but, really, he didn’t use his bulk and, more importantly, I thought his opponent won the points on the day.

    Matt Handley from Old Xaverians was a constant threat and took a couple of really good, old-fashioned, in-front marks. He’s quite a clever centre half-forward. I thought he had Guy Campbell’s measure.

    The Country team’s key defenders were disappointing. Ben Cosgriff from Corowa-Rutherglen had no idea against Cameron McLaren from Marcellin, who played full-forward in a way that might have been unusual to Cosgriff.

    McLaren wasn’t just a straight-up, lead and mark player. He led his opponent to the ball and then turned back towards goal. He had tricks.

    I remember watching Brendan Hehir play for Mansfield and he had similar tricks. Hehir, who’s only about 180 centimetres, kicked a ton for North Albury. He’s originally from Bacchus Marsh but he’s played all around the state. I think he’s at Kangaroo Flat now.

    Is that right, Richard?

  9. Interesting to see that Benalla will wear their old O & M jumper of red with white V as their away guernsey in the GVL this season.

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