VSF Football Team in the Clunes League (1946-49)
And contribution to Creswick's Premierships in 1950 and 1961
For many years, the number of students at the Victorian School of Forestry at Creswick was too small to field a competitive football team. For example, in 1942 there were only about 17 students undertaking the three year course. However, in 1944 the annual intake of new students was increased to 12, with the result that by 1946 the number in residence had risen to 36. During the years 1947 to 1949 the number peaked at 39 and then declined.
The 1946 intake was exceptional because it included four ex-servicemen, three of whom were very good footballers. One of them, Jeff Brisbane, was a passionate player and a leader. One day, early in the year, Tom Evans, Secretary of the Clunes League football competition (and later an MLA) visited the School and suggested that it enter a team that year. The idea was soon accepted, and a team entered under the leadership of three talented players - Bill Knight, Ken Harrop and Jeff Brisbane - and also with the support of the Principal, Mr E J Semmens. The home ground for matches and training would be Hammon Park, the Creswick sports ground at that time, located very conveniently adjacent to the School grounds.
It was immediately realised that starting a new football team would be expensive. Funds would be required for a variety of expenses. For example, a set of guernseys was needed for the players to appear as a team (the colour of which, forest green, became the natural choice). Footballs, bus hire for away matches, and many overhead expenses all had to be paid for. However, the School had no sports fund. The students received no cash allowance. Living in a town that already had a football team, the students could not expect substantial local financial support. It became evident that the students would have to fund the new team somehow themselves. The solution came in the form of rabbit drives in infested paddocks around Newlyn. This was in the pre-Myxomatosis days when the rabbit scourge was at its peak. Later, students cut firewood in the forest to support the club's modest budget.
The team, known as Forestry, benefitted with the experience, skill and bigger bodies of the three ex-servicemen and did well, winning early games. There was a theory among the students that they started the season fitter than their opposition who were often farmers and potato diggers. Later, any advantage from this source was lost as the fitness of the other teams improved. Forestry's good form continued, and the team played in the 1946 grand final, only to be defeated by Smeaton.
1947 & 1948
Following this good outcome, and with hopes to go one better, Forestry again entered a team in 1947. The result was similar. It attained the grand final but lost to Smeaton again.
In early 1948 the students again started the year with high hopes. The ex-servicemen of 1946 and 1947 were still there. Although some good players had left the School, it appeared they would be matched by the new intake, which included one new ex-serviceman, John Macdonald, who had won the Best and Fairest award (Liston Trophy) in the Victorian Football Association when playing for the Camberwell club.
However, there was soon much turmoil among the students when it became known that the three best players would not be with the Forestry team. Jeff Brisbane had an invitation to play with Geelong and Ian Hibbins with Ballarat. Both wanted to play at a more senior level of the game. John Macdonald wanted to continue with Camberwell and obtained permission from the School to do so. Trevor Arthur, a strong full-back, was elected Captain and Mark Stump Vice-captain.
Forestry lost the opening game of the season to Newlyn and more defeats followed. The absence of the best players greatly affected the ability and morale of the team. By season's end Forestry had only three wins but eleven losses and finished fifth, out of six teams, on the League ladder. The students were disappointed as they had expected their prospects to be better. Newlyn won the premiership.
At the beginning of the 1949 year student morale was lifted by the decision of John Macdonald to discontinue his football career with Camberwell and to play with Forestry in the Clunes League. He was promptly elected Captain-coach. The 1949 season was approached in a positive manner despite losing some good players at the end of the previous year.
The 1949 season opened well, Forestry having a good win over Talbot away and another over Clunes at home. Then followed two more wins, placing the team as unbeaten at the head of the ladder. In the fifth game, against Newlyn at its new ground, the hopes for a successful season were dashed when Forestry was defeated 13 goals to 6 . The season then changed for Forestry. It finished the home and away games in third place with six wins and five losses, ahead of Clunes on percentage. Forestry was then scheduled to play Clunes in the first semi-final at Newlyn. The weather that day was the worst the team had encountered. Clunes managed it better, winning by two goals, 7.15 to 5.15. The only consolation for Forestry was that its Captain, John Macdonald, won the Best and Fairest award for the Clunes League by a big margin. Incidentally, Newlyn defeated Hepburn to win the premiership (13.17 to 8.8). That defeat by Clunes at Newlyn was the last game for Forestry in the Clunes League.
In 1950 the circumstances of the student body had changed. There was now only one ex-serviceman (John Macdonald) and the students were thought on average to be younger and smaller than before and not likely to provide a match for the other teams. The town team, Creswick, had been playing in the Ballarat B grade competition without much success. When it was proposed that the town and the School should combine to form a stronger team, Creswick, to play in Clunes League, the idea was strongly supported, and a keen committee formed which included some students. John Macdonald was appointed Captain-Coach. The teams fielded contained a fairly even mix of students and local players.
The opening game against Talbot at Creswick proved to be a walkover, with the score : Creswick 19.16 to Talbot 3.6. Then followed a close game against Clunes in which Creswick came from behind in the last quarter to win 12.20 to 10.13. An unbeaten run of games followed, usually big victories but with a few close ones, and Creswick finished the home-and-away season undefeated with 15 wins. The next team, Clunes, had 10 wins and 5 losses.
In the second semi-final Creswick was to play Clunes at the Newlyn ground. The team went there with its usual confidence, ill-prepared for the conditions of the day. The weather was foul, almost a repeat of the conditions encountered by Forestry in the semi-final of the previous year at the same ground, except worse, for it rained throughout. In a scrambly game the result was the same too – a victory for Clunes - which left the Creswick players very flat, for their unbeaten run was over.
Creswick's position was retrieved the following week by beating Newlyn at Clunes. Then the team had to prepare for the return game against Clunes in the Grand Final to be held at Learmonth. Conditions were good at the start of the game, which was a close fought tussle, with Creswick gradually gaining ascendancy. At three quarter time dark clouds appeared overhead and rain started to fall. This became heavier as the quarter progressed, until five minutes before the end when the rain became a torrent with thunder and hail. It became difficult to see the ball, let alone play football. The final score was Creswick 10.4 to Clunes 4.10. At the final bell, the players raced from the field for cover, as had the spectators well before. So, the victors were unable to stay on the ground to congratulate each other and receive the plaudits of the crowd as is customary after grand finals. They fled from the field like drowned rats. But they had won the premiership.In another success, John Macdonald won the Best and Fairest trophy for the second year in succession. So although the students could not win a Clunes League premiership with their own team, they did contribute half of the Creswick team which won the flag in 1950.
Ray Spencer reports that Creswick’s next premiership win in the Clunes League was in 1961, when it defeated Newlyn with about half its team from the VSF. This was reversed in 1962 when Newlyn defeated Creswick on a day of wicked, wet weather at Learmonth.
1961 Creswick Premiership Team: I. Kennedy*, D. Brennan, J. Dean (trainer), L. Clifton (president), L. Malone (trainer), R. Cartledge, L. Johns, I. Smith, R. Smith*, G. Hollingsworth*, C. Tolsher*, R. Spencer*, R. Squire*, G. Wright*, H. Jones, L. Keen, J. Stephenson (captain and coach), S. Hepworth (vice-captain and secretary), R. Lambert, M. O’Brien, R. Keen, L. Keen, C. Jones, V. Thomas, J. Jefferies*, J. Williams. (* denotes a VSF student)
Alan Eddy was a VSF student and a Forestry Club official during the seasons 1946, '47 and '48.
Ray Spencer was a VSF student who played with Creswick in 1961, ’62 and ’63.