THIRTY years ago, an institution of our town was reaching breaking point.
The Echuca and District Football League, the home of seven clubs spread throughout the region, appeared to be on its last legs.
The third league to carry the EDFL name was formed in 1952, with Bamawm, Bamawm Extension, Bunaloo, Echuca South, Mathoura and Moama all joining the competition, adding Union in 1953.
This year also saw the return of Echuca East, who had spent the previous four years in the Goulburn Valley League.
Union departed in 1958, with Lockington entering the league in 1959.
The remaining eight teams would stay in the competition for near 30 years, before Bamawm Extension departed prior to the 1988 season after failing to field a team.
In 1989, the competition consisted of Bamawm, Bunnaloo (the reigning premiers), Echuca East, Echuca South, Lockington, Mathoura and Moama.
By July, word was getting around the competition was in serious trouble, and may not be around in 1990.
On July 7, 1989, an article appeared in the Riverine Herald regarding the future of the Echuca and District Football League, where these concerns were all but confirmed, but putting up a united front to keep the league going.
The article, written by league president Ian Turner, reads in part:.
‘‘The EDFL is concerned at the many rumours being circulated regarding the future of the league, and the amalgamation of certain clubs.
Those people interested in football would be well aware of the VCFL’s present commitment to investigate country leagues on a broad scale.
The VCFL is now looking at immediate trouble spots, where district or major leagues are having problems with numbers.
We asked for an investigation into our local area.
During the 1988 season, after Bamawm Extension failed to field a side, the league felt it was, and still is, better to look on the positive side, rather than bury ones heads in the sand as other leagues seem prepared to do.
The problems confronting the major part of country football is the lack of juniors.
With so many sports available to the youth of today we must expect some drop in numbers but we did not foresee the dramatic drop that has occurred.
It seems a percentage of kids today prefer non-physical contact sports.
The EDFL is looking at the Echuca-Moama area being a major growth centre able to support a district league now and well into the future.
If no district football was available where would all the players go?
What about our huge number of supporters?
If they had to travel 100km, would they go?
Sponsorship at present in the EDFL is second to none and clubs have good facilities with social rooms, well drained watered grounds with lights.
At present all clubs have stated that they can continue next season in their present form, but at the league meeting clubs indicated they would be in favour of amalgamation, if necessary, to strengthen the league and thereby improve the standard of football in the area.’’
The EDFL would play out 1989, with Bunaloo once again claiming the flag — only months after announcing they would not be continuing on in 1990.
They won the grand final by 116 points, 27.13 (178) d Echuca South 9.8 (62), in what proved to be the last game ‘The Loo’ would play.
By early November, the decision was imminent, and unfortunately everyone knew the league was all but finished.
The following was written in the Monday, November 6 edition of the Riv.
‘‘An official and final decision on the future of the troubled Echuca and District Football League is expected to be given to the VCFL this week.
After months of investigation and countless submissions from supporters, EDFL administration and individual clubs, chairman of the board of review Don Healey is expected to advise the VCFL on the course the EDFL should take.
EDFL president Ian Turner is resigned to the fact that the decision has already been made and that the league will be split — Mathoura will go to the Picola League and Echuca South, Echuca East, Moama, Lockington and Bamawm will go to the Northern District League.
‘‘Let’s face it, we are going to go but we should go as a league and not be split up,’’ Turner said.
‘‘If we go as a league then we can hold our head up but if we are split then we have nothing.’’ ’’
Lockington and Bamawm began the process of merging in late 1989, while Bunaloo faded into footballing darkness, rarely spoken of since.
Bunaloo life member Jack White eulogised the club by simply saying ‘‘there is no hope of starting a team again — this is really the end.’’
In the November 24 edition of the Riv, it became official.
‘‘The Echuca and District Football League ceased to exist yesterday.
The Victorian Country Football League investigation committee’s recommendations to wind up the league.’’
The VCFL formally endorsed the merger of LBU, transferred Mathoura to the PDFL, transferring all remaining teams to the Northern District Football League, who would be required to add ‘‘Echuca’’ to their name in some capacity.’’
Naturally the news devastated the community — a league which had run for near 40 years, and had two incarnations before hand, was gone.
And was never returning.
‘‘In the report the committee says it will begin again in time, and although I would like to see it I’m more than doubtful it will happen,’’ longtime league president Jack Cahir said.
‘‘Once it’s down, the league can’t come back.’’
The LBU merger was officially confirmed on November 30.
On Monday, December 4, the league was officially wound up.
After debts were paid and assets were sold, it was worth $11,000.
A motion was passed that all records and perpetual trophies were donated to the Echuca Historical Society on loan.
The new league majority of EDFL sides competed in would be known as the Northern and Echuca Football League.
Since the end of the EDFL, the original clubs have gone through different competitions, as well as a number of different identities.
Echuca East claimed their first EDFL flag in 1953 — their first year in the competition — and had added another eight flags before 1964.
Echuca South first saluted in 1967, and would end up with four flags in the competition, the last of which was in 1982.
Both clubs continued to fight on into the new NEFL, but both would reach the end of the line in 1993.
The following season, they would continue as a new entity, the Echuca United Hawks.
The Hawks would compete for three years, before the end of the competition saw them jump to the Murray Football League and become the Eagles so as not to clash with established MFL club Barooga.
The long wait of fans finally came to an end in 2013, when the Eagles claimed their first MFL flag.
Bamawm had claimed the one EDFL flag in 1969, while Lockington had the equal most flags in the competition with nine, while Bamawm Extension hadn’t fielded a side since the end of 1987.
The new merged entity entered the NEFL, being part of the league for the entire six seasons it ran.
The Cats made two grand finals, but didn’t claim a flag.
The club joined the Bendigo Football League in 1997, before transferring to the Heathcote District Football League in 2001, where they went on to win four flags in a row between 2011 and 2014.
Winners of the first flag of the 1952 incarnation of the EDFL, they would claim six flags in their time in the competition.
The Timbercutters moved to the Picola and District Football League, and while they have changed divisions as the structure of the league has changed, they remain the only former side to stay in one competition since the EDFL disbanded.
The Timbercutters claimed their sole PDFL flag in 1993.
The Magpies claimed four flags in the EDFL, and joined the majority of the competition in the new NEFL.
Unlike their counterparts, Moama was able to find some success in this new competition, winning the flag in 1992, before claiming the final NEFL premiership in 1996.
Like Echuca United, the Magpies would join the MFL in 1997, claiming their most recent senior premiership in 2010.