VFA returns to Warrawee
The history of former VFA clubs Oakleigh and Dandenong will be celebrated on Saturday when the regions’ TAC Cup clubs meet at Warrawee Park.
The Oakleigh Chargers and Dandenong Stingrays will wear the colours their respective VFA clubs donned before bowing out of the competition (which later became the VFL) in 1994. Their identity has endured through the TAC Cup clubs from 1995, when the Chargers entered the under-age competition and the Southern Stingrays added the Dandenong title to their club name.
However, for Oakleigh’s past VFA players, there have been precious few occasions since that time to come together and celebrate the club’s rich history, which began in 1929.
Driven by 1980s Oakleigh player and now the club’s past players president Paul Ansell, Saturday’s event will provide such an opportunity.
“This is the first time they’ll see the purple and gold Oakleigh colours basically since 1994,” Ansell said.
“We contributed to purchasing the Chargers players’ shorts, socks and jumpers for Saturday, and that was all sponsored by past players and supporters who wanted to see the colours worn, and also with support from the Oakleigh Lions Club and Oakleigh Rotary Club.”
Part of Oakleigh’s rich history in the iconic purple and gold was its 1972 Division 1 VFA premiership victory over Dandenong, a game Oakleigh won with the remarkable scoreline of 25.17 (167) to 18.15 (123).
It went on play in the next two Division 1 Grand Finals but lost to Prahran and Port Melbourne in 1973 and 1974 respectively. According to Ansell, the period of the late-1960s to mid-1970s was one of peak popularity for the club.
“Oakleigh was very successful in that period, when it played off in four Grand Finals (including winning the 1967 Division 2 premiership),” Ansell said. “In that era when all those games were telecast on a Sunday, Oakleigh was regularly on TV. They used to get 5,000 to 10,000 people heading to Warrawee Park where the Chargers play now, and finals crowds of over 20,000.
“It always had a marquee coach or a marquee player too.
“Huge identities from the VFL coached the club. Guys like Bill Barrot was a coach – the Richmond champ. You had big Bob Johnson who everyone knows from his five premierships at Melbourne, then we had Paul Callery who played for Melbourne and St Kilda, and Bryan Quirk from Carlton. There was Neil Crompton, who kicked the winning goal in Melbourne’s 1964 VFL premiership, Ian Robertson from Carlton and Shane O’Sullivan, who’s with Carlton now.
“And then there was Rino Pretto – he kicked 1000 VFA goals. He was a full forward who was just an icon of the competition in the 1980s and ‘90s.”
Oakleigh Chargers Talent Manager Craig Notman said his players gained an appreciation of what had come before them when past Oakleigh VFA players met with them on Tuesday night.
“We’ve been in existence for 22 years and it probably made the boys realise Oakleigh has been around for a hell of a lot longer than we’ve been here,” Notman said.
“I think the really good part is the Oakleigh past players are genuinely excited about the day. We’ve got a lot of supporters around the place who have been Oakleigh-based supporters for a lot of their lives and they’ve sort of been missing a footy team since the VFA club’s demise. They’re looking to reconnect with the club and this is a terrific way for them to do it.
“Hopefully we can make a yearly event out of it and share the occasion between Warrawee Park and Shepley Oval with (Stingrays Talent Manager) Mark Wheeler and the guys at Dandenong.”
Ansell and the past Oakleigh VFA players also used Tuesday night’s meeting to present current Chargers 17-year-old Peter Alier, who is of Sudanese heritage, with a $1000 player sponsorship made up of donations from the past players group and Oakleigh’s Lions and Rotary clubs.
It’s an initiative Paul Ansell hopes can continue into the future as one part of a bigger effort to revive the ghosts of Oakleigh’s football past.
“I was just a scrubber as a player at Oakleigh,” Ansell laughed. “I played about 45 games back then, but I’ve found a new role for the club.
“I may not have played it on the field but I’ve played it by bringing a lot of the old-timers together now, which brings me a lot of joy.”
The game will be broadcast live on TAC Cup Radio.
* Photo: The guernseys to be worn by the Oakleigh Chargers (left) and Dandenong Stingrays (right) on Saturday to honour the regions' former VFA teams