Last weekend, AFL fans across the country got fed up with the quality of the competition during the first round of the finals.
But the best game played that weekend may not have been at the MCG or the Gabba or the Perth Stadium, but in the village of Wandella, and in a rural little league soccer game four hours north of Melbourne.
In a game that gave new meaning to the sporting cliché “do or die”, Quambatook Football Club played the last game in its history.
In April, the club announced that it would withdraw at the end of the season due to a lack of youth players.
This set off a brilliant and emotional streak that even saw Quambatook beat top side Nullawill.
But on Saturday everything came to an end.
The Saints were a week away from the grand final of the Golden Rivers Football Netball League, but Moulamein ended his fairy tale streak from 10.15.75 to 10.8.68 in a contest of magnificent goals, controversial decisions and multiple changes of Leader.
B-Grade Netball also made it to the final but was eliminated in the first round.
Praise for a sports club
Former club chairman Rhys Carmichael said he was proud of how far the club had come, but also devastated.
“It’s really starting to affect a lot of people,” he said.
“We have our show day this Sunday, I think it’s going to be an emotional day for some. I don’t know what happens after that. It’s going to be pretty upsetting.”
“It was [a tough decision to make], but in another sense it wasn’t, we’ve really had problems with the volunteers. We haven’t had children in the club for a long time. It got to a point where we just couldn’t see a future for the club.
“It’s a weight off the shoulders that it’s over. It’s been a damn great year organizing everything.”
And that great year was destined to continue for Mr. Carmichael.
As a person, the death of the club meant answering some tough questions: What about the pitch they played on? What will the city do now for fun? Where will the men and women play next year?
In a meeting Tuesday night, the locals tossed out a bunch of ideas about how the Saints’ pitch could be used in the future.
The oval is on a committee-owned reservation that also includes a golf course, netball and tennis courts.
“We’re planning to turn it into a community center, but we have to continue to pay for utilities and keep the land looking respectable,” Carmichael said.
“We have to keep trying to raise money to keep paying the bills, it will be a long process, but we knew that when we made this decision.
“[Selling it] It’s not something I think we would consider, the community needs a place to gather.”
Carmichael said they would figure out what to do with the courts in the coming months.
Trophies and memorabilia will remain in the club rooms.
“We will have meetings and ‘back to’ and all that in the future. It would be nice to think that the club [come back]but we need a large influx of young people in the community,” he said.
“The way things are going with farms getting bigger and bigger, there’s not a huge draw for families to move to Quambatook.”
Carmichael said he expected many players to transfer to other nearby clubs.
The correct way to make a swan song
On Monday night, Quambatook captain Ricky Wild won the 2022 EG Hunt medal as the best and fairest GRFNL player of 2022.
League board member Ross Stanton also paid tribute to the club in his opening address.
“It’s heartbreaking to see clubs shut down – a big part of my own career was playing against them,” he said.
“But Rhys and the board came up with a formula that allowed a lot of people to come back and celebrate their successes from last year, which should be a model for any club in Australia in the same position.”
Mr. Stanton is also a Councilor for Gannawarra, Quambatook County.
He said councils like his needed to have discussions on how to support cities losing their sports clubs and asked people everywhere to consider their own abilities to keep their local teams alive.
“Maybe there are community connections or events that we can fund or host,” he said.
“Maybe it’s a demographic thing, but it seems like fewer and fewer people are willing to put their hands up to do things. Sports clubs are a great way to stay involved. It’s about trying to do things with the community.”
ABC has contacted AFL Victoria to comment on how many other clubs have folded in 2022.