1925; disbanded 1927; reformed 1928; merged with Acton 1942-3 and 1952-7; merged with Turner 1966-8
Black and gold
NEAFL (AUS) 2011-2013
Situated just on the New South Wales side of the ACT-NSW border, Queanbeyan could in some ways claim to be the birth place of Australian football, for it was there on 19 August 1835 that Thomas Wentworth Wills, popularly regarded as the sport’s founder, was born.
Realistically, such a view depends on a somewhat sentimentalised interpretation of the history of Australian football, and one which has, to a certain extent, fallen out of favour in recent years, but it is nevertheless not without a certain convenient charm.
It is highly ironic therefore that the Australian football club which calls Queanbeyan home should so frequently in its relatively short history have had to struggle frantically for survival. Indeed, on no fewer than three separate occasions the club was actually forced to disband, while in 1942-3, between 1952 and 1957, and between 1966 and 1968 it entered into temporary mergers with rival clubs.
During the 1990s, however, the Queanbeyan Tigers vied with Ainslie for the distinction of being the ACTAFL’s dominant force, and if the last few years have been somewhat less auspicious it would nevertheless seem that the club’s future is now reasonably secure. However, not many clubs have trodden a rougher road to stability than Queanbeyan.
Queanbeyan Australian Football Club was founded in 1925, with Wal Mason generally regarded as the prime mover in getting the club established. The team wore red and white jumpers in its debut season and, after losing heavily in both of its first two matches, soon became competitive, winning 4 out of 10 home and away games for the year. With only four clubs in the competition a place in the finals was assured, and Queanbeyan players and officials could have been excused for thinking they had ‘arrived’ when a 6.9 (45) to 4.9 (33) semi final victory over Federals seemed to have given them a berth in the final. However, it was subsequently discovered that Queanbeyan had been guilty of fielding ineligible players and the club was disqualified. As if to rub salt into the wounds, Federals went on to secure the premiership.
In 1926 Queanbeyan adopted light and dark blue playing uniforms and became known as ‘the Blues’. Third place at the end of the season seemed quite promising, but the club was having trouble recruiting and retaining players, and in 1927 it was forced to withdraw from the competition.
Re-forming in 1928, and with the players now bedecked in red and blue, the team once more finished in third place on the ladder but was once again forced to disband at the end of the year owing to player shortages.
Thankfully, the period in mothballs was again brief, and in 1930 Queanbeyan re-entered the fray. Over the next four seasons the team never finished out of the finals in what by 1932 had become a six team competition, but an appearance in the grand final remained beyond it. After finishing out of the four in 1934 the team was obviously in need of some kind of a shot in the arm, and this came prior to the start of the 1935 season when a new emblem and new set of playing colours were adopted. VFL club Richmond donated a set of black and gold playing jumpers to the Queanbeyan intermediate side and these were immediately ‘borrowed’ by the seniors.
After ten years of uncertainty and prevarication the club had finally found an identity with which it felt comfortable: the Queanbeyan Tigers were born and, although there would still be many hard times to come, it can in hindsight be considered appropriate that all of the club’s successes have been achieved under the Tiger emblem.
In 1935, however, success was still a long way off, and indeed in both 1935 and 1936 Queanbeyan failed even to reach the finals. A losing first semi final in 1937 was a marginal improvement, but it was not until 1938 that the black and golds could finally be said to have come of age. An outstanding home and away campaign saw the team take out the minor premiership with a 12-2 win/loss record and the imposing percentage of 177.8, making flag favouritism automatic. However, at this stage in their development the Tigers lacked the experience necessary to take that critical next step, and in both the second semi final and the grand final a finals hardened Manuka held sway.
As so often seems to be the case, however, grand final defeat acted as a catalyst to ultimate achievement the following year. In an epic series of finals encounters with their 1938 nemesis, Manuka, the Tigers won the second semi final by a point, drew the grand final, and then suddenly found another level of performance in the grand final replay to surge to victory by 57 points, 18.22 (130) to 9.19 (73).1
Over the next two seasons Queanbeyan was clearly the dominant side in the competition. After losing their opening match of the 1940 season the Tigers remained unbeaten for the rest of the year concluding with a 93 point grand final annihilation of Eastlake. A year later the victims on grand final day were the RAAF, a side which had entered the CANFL in 1940, and which remained a force in the competition throughout the war years. The victory margin on this occasion was a mere 3 points, but given the quality of the opposition (the RAAF side contained a sprinkling of players with VFL and SANFL experience) the triumph has to go down as arguably the finest achievement in Queanbeyan’s history.
The halcyon days proved to be short-lived, however. In 1942 and 1943 the club entered into a temporary merger with Acton, and then in 1944 and 1945 the club was forced to withdraw its senior side from the competition as the exigencies of war made it harder and harder to retain players.
By 1952 morale was at an all time low, and prior to the start of the season it was announced that, in a bid to reverse the on field decline, Queanbeyan would once again be amalgamating with Acton. Initially, the merger was intended to last for just a single season, but so successful did it prove (in playing terms at any rate) that it was extended for another five years.
The Queanbeyan-Acton combine wore uniforms which were a straight amalgam of the two clubs’ colours. Most of the team’s players hailed from Queanbeyan, but home matches were held at Acton, meaning that the vast majority of the club’s revenue went straight into the Acton coffers. In the end, it was frustration and resentment over this state of affairs which led to Queanbeyan’s decision to call time on the partnership in 1957, but not before the Combine had contested five consecutive grand finals for wins in 1953 (against Ainslie by 5 points), 1954 (over Eastlake by 109 points), and 1956 (against Manuka by 51 points).
Flying solo again from 1958 the Tigers performed solidly at first, but following an 8 point loss to Ainslie in the 1961 grand final their fortunes dipped. By 1964 the club was in crisis. Only fifteen people turned up to the committee elections that year and they had to be postponed. When the meeting re-convened the following week there was a lengthy debate over whether it was even practicable to remain in the competition, but in the end the members opted to grasp the nettle and forge ahead.
The following two decades would be hard to describe as anything other than disastrous. An ill-conceived merger with Turner between 1966 and 1968 only served to emphasise how impoverished football in Queanbeyan had become, and it was not to be until the early 1980s that the Tigers would again start to prove capable of mounting a consistent challenge for the premiership.
The 1980 season saw the club re-locate from its long time home at Queanbeyan Park Oval to a new facility in south Queanbeyan, the Margaret Donoghoe Sportsground. Despite being the object of a fair amount of ridicule at the outset - Ainslie coach Kevin Neale was wont to refer to as ‘Mary Poppins Oval’ - the ground has since become the envy of rival Australian football clubs in Canberra. Other important off field developments in the 1980s included the acquisition of a liquor license in 1982 and the opening of licensed premises the following year.
On the field, as the ‘80s progressed so did the team’s prowess. After reaching the preliminary finals of 1982, 1983 and 1984 the Tigers finally made it to a grand final - their first for twenty-four years - in 1985. They did it the hard way, losing their second semi final clash with Ainslie by 3 points before outplaying Manuka to the tune of 33 points a week later in the preliminary final.
In the grand final the Tigers were fortunate enough to have one of those days when everything ‘clicks’, and they comfortably accounted for Ainslie by 59 points, 23.18 (156) to 14.13 (97). It was Queanbeyan’s first premiership as an individual club since 1941 and, given the long barren years that the club had been forced to endure in the interim, must arguably go down as the most satisfying of them all. Comparative newcomers Tuggeranong got the better of the Tigers by a single point in the 1986 grand final, while a year later it was Ainslie which delivered the coup de grace, somewhat more tellingly on this occasion, 21.9 (135) to 11.15 (81). At the start of the 1988 season Queanbeyan was felt to be a team on the downward spiral, an impression reinforced when it lost to 1987 wooden spooners Belconnen in the pre-season knock-out competition. However, thereafter it was to prove plain sailing for the black and golds as they won all bar 3 of their 20 home and away matches, and then defeated Ainslie in both the second semi final (by 4 points) and grand final (by 19 points).
Queanbeyan was now an acknowledged power in the ACTAFL. In 1989, the Tigers clinched back to back premierships for the first time since 1940 (not counting the 1953-4 triumphs of the Combine) with a 12.15 (87) to 9.13 (67) grand final victory over Manuka Weston. A 27 point grand final loss to Ainslie in 19902 was followed by further premiership success a year later when Southern District succumbed by 4 goals. Between that triumph and the club’s next in 1998 Tigers supporters had to endure grand final losses at the hands of Ainslie in 1992, 1994 and 1995, but the fact that Queanbeyan was now an almost perennial grand finalist emphasised just how far things had progressed since the dim, dire days of the 1960s and ‘70s. A second successive premiership in 1999 was the best imaginable way of bringing the twentieth century to a close.
The twenty-first century started as the twentieth had ended as the Tigers made it three flags in succession with a thumping 23.10 (148) to 14.11 (95) grand final defeat of Eastlake. Since then, however, there has been no further premiership victories, although the Tigers did play off against Belconnen Magpies for the 2002, 2003 and 2004 flags. The first and last of these grand finals were lost by significant margins, but in 2003 the deficit was just a single straight kick, Belconnen winning 11.14 (80) to 11.8 (74). In 2005, it was the Magpies who again halted Queanbeyan’s premiership aspirations, this time at the first semi final stage, thereby consigning the Tigers to fourth position, their worst finish since 1996.
Things got even worse in 2006, however, as the side managed just 6 wins from 18 matches for the year to miss the finals for the first time in a quarter of a century.
The 2007 season saw the Tigers bounce back to reach the grand final, where they provided an unbeaten Sydney Swans side with a stern challenge, particularly in the second half, only to fall short in the end by 28 points.
Such reversals notwithstanding, while it would obviously be foolhardy to be complacent, particularly given the precarious nature of Australian football’s foothold in an area where rugby league tends to be most people’s ‘favourite poison’,3 the current Queanbeyan administration appears eminently capable of building on the progress made over recent years, and there seems to be every reason to expect to see the Tigers at the forefront of the Canberra football scene for some considerable time to come. Needless to say, such a state of affairs has to be seen as especially appropriate for a town which sentimentalists (more power to their elbows) will probably persist in regarding as ‘the birthplace of the Australian game of football’.
1 The 1939 grand final replay took place at Queanbeyan Oval, which undoubtedly helped.2 Despite the grand final loss the 1990 season was noteworthy in seeing Tony Wynd, already by that time the only player to have won three Mulrooney Medals, claiming yet another Medal after featuring in a five way tie with Mills and Swan of Manuka Weston, Dickerson of Eastlake, and century goalkicking team mate Steve Cornish.3 In this connection it is interesting to note that, in 1991, Queanbeyan undertook to sponsor a local rugby league club, the Diggers, which in return made extensive use of Queanbeyan’s licensed premises.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications