Farewell to Alberton

Liam Durkin

All six Alberton Football-Netball League clubs were last week accepted into the Mid Gippsland Football-Netball League.

From next season, Fish Creek, Foster, Toora, Stony Creek, Meeniyan-Dumbalk United and Tarwin will play in the MGFNL.

Below is a history of the Alberton FNL:

THE Alberton Football League was established in 1946, a year after Word War 2, replacing the Alberton Football Association.

In its early years the league comprised eight clubs, including rural localities Carrajung and Hiawatha which were known as the Ramblers. The other six fundation clubs of the AFL were Devon, Foster, Toora, Welshpool, Woodside and Yarram.

Most of the clubs were based in what was then the Shire of Alberton.

The Carrajung and Ramblers had a brief existence, and by 1952 both clubs had disbanded.

Woodside enjoyed great success during the late 1940s and early 1950s, winning six consecutive premierships from 1947 to 1952. Fish Creek, which had joined the AFL in 1953, made an instant impact by claiming 11 flags from 15 consecutive grand finals between 1953 and 1967.

Even during this time there was talk about the future of football in the region, with some suggestion a merger between Alberton and the South Gippsland Football League would harness the sport moving forward.

When the SGFL disbanded in 1968, Stony Creek and Meeniyan-Dumbalk United, which had merged in 1964, joined Alberton.

Welshpool won a hat-trick of titles from 1969 to 1971 and became the first AFL club to go through as premiers and champions in 1970.

Throughout the 1970s the AFL competed as a neat 10-team competition with Devon, Foster, Toora, Welshpool, Woodside, Yarram, Won Wron, Stony Creek, MDU and Yarram competing against each other during the season.

The next two decades brought about a period of change, as some clubs merged and the AFL welcomed new clubs.

In 1982, Won Wron and Woodside joined forces, and the Tarwin Sharks were welcomed in 1988 after forming that year.

The league underwent a major expansion in 1996 after the Bass Valley-Wonthaggi league wound up, and also saw the biggest intra-league merger when four clubs came together.

Devon and Welshpool, which had merged in 1995, combined with Won Wron-Woodside to form the East Coast Allies in 1997, which was renamed Devon-Welshpool-Won Wron-Woodside a year later.

From there, Daylston, Wonthaggi Rovers, Inverloch, Korumburra and Bena joined the AFL as part of a major restructure by the then Victorian Country Football League.

After the turn of the century, Korumburra and Bena merged in 2001 and were known as the Bulldogs until 2014 when it changed to the Giants.

Phillip Island and Kilcunda-Bass joined from the western division of the West Gippsland-Latrobe FL in 2005, a league which was to become the Gippsland League when Wonthaggi Power joined five years later.

By that stage Wonthaggi Blues and Wonthaggi Rovers had combined to form the Power, but was ordered to leave the AFNL by the VCFL in 2010 as they were deemed to be too powerful to compete against clubs from smaller towns.

Just prior to this, a section of DWWWW left to form Woodside and District to compete in the North Gippsland Football-Netball League in 2008.

In 2014, Yarram left what by then had become the Alberton Football-Netball League for the NGFNL, and then two years later the AFNL lost Phillip Island, Kilcunda-Bass, Inverloch-Kongwak, Dalyston and Korumburra-Bena to the newly-formed West Gippsland Football-Netball Competition.

The AFNL ran as a seven and six-team competition in its final years between 2017 to 2019, before the remaining AFNL clubs were accepted to join the Mid Gippsland FNL in time for season 2021.

WHILE it is totally subjective, many believe that until recently, the AFNL was the best standard in Gippsland outside the major league.

With 14 clubs making up the league in 2009, the competition would no doubt have been a lot more cutthroat for teams trying to make finals.

Fixtures would probably have been harder for some teams as well as it would not have been possible to play every team twice in an 18 round home and away season.

During the 2009 AFNL season the top six teams played finals, with a minimum 11 wins needed to qualify. The next two teams which missed out still won nine games, which is often enough to play finals in a standard 10-team competition.

In 2013 the AFNL was Gippsland’s highest-ranked minor league on the community football rankings ladder, and in 2016, (the last season before five clubs left for West Gippsland) it knocked off Riddell and District in interleague, a league which has access to a lot of city-based players given its close proximity to Melbourne.

A number of prominent Gippsland League players got their start in the AFNL, including Leongatha’s Chris Verboon, who came from Stony Creek and last year was adjudged the Gippsland League’s Most Valuable Player.

Current Trafalgar coach Chris Kyriacou, who has experience playing in four different leagues across Gippsland, including the AFNL, believed the competition was very strong a few years ago.

Having coached Tarwin in 2016 and been part of a senior premiership at Churchill last season, as well as spending some time at Moe, Kyriacou said after the Gippsland League, the AFNL and NGFNL was pretty much neck-and-neck.

“My personal opinion is that the top North Gippsland and Alberton (before the league was divided) sides would beat the bottom two or so Gippsland League sides and the top Mid Gippsland sides would beat the bottom half North Gippsland sides,” he said.

“Mid Gippsland is far more physical than the others due to heavier grounds and the rainfall they get. North Gippsland grounds are superb and don’t get the rain which enables you to play a quick brand of footy.”

Ironically, Alberton and Mid Gippsland played each other in the 2012 instalment of interleague, perhaps indicating the two leagues have shared similar capabilities for a number of years.

AS well as those who have gone on to forge professional careers, there are many players that have played in the Alberton region who have been genuine bush champions in their own right.

A player that stands out is Gary Clavarino, who won four league best-and-fairest medals, including three in a row between 1965 and 1967 playing for Foster.

Toora’s Frank Salmon set a goal kicking record that will take some beating, after sending through a remarkable 34 majors against the Ramblers in 1952.

All in all, there have been 25 occasions where a player has kicked a century of goals in the AFNL.

Goal kicking machine Rod Tack registered the most goals in a season with 135 for Wonthaggi Power in 2006.

THE Alberton region has produced a number of prominent AFL players, many of whom became household names during their professional careers.

Richmond used its first pick in the 1989 draft to take Anthony Banik from Won Wron-Woodside.

Andrew Dunkley played in a senior premiership with Devon before playing 217 games with Sydney, and Wonthaggi’s Jarryd Blair played in Collingwood’s 2010 flag.

For a town of less than 1000 people, Fish Creek has been home to some prominent players, including Barry Standfield, who played 111 games for Footscray and Adelaide, and cult hero Wayne Weidemann.

With long blond hair and a resemblance to a Viking warrior, Weidemann was a fan favourite during his seven seasons at Adelaide during the 1990s and the crowd would collective cry ‘Weed’ whenever he went near the ball at home games.

Current day AFL players from Alberton include Carlton co-captain Sam Docherty, who grew up in Phillip Island, West Coast premiership player Nathan Vardy, whose portrait is up in the DWWWW clubrooms, and Xavier Duursma who hails from Foster. Dursma returned home last year and was on hand to help with presentations at the 2019 AFNL grand final.