Ballarat Football Club
Red and white
Ballarat Football Netball League (BFNL) 1893–, 1893–2024
Victorian Football Association (VFA) 1886–1888
Ballarat Football League - 1897-8, 1908, 1923, 1928, 1930, 1932–3, 1940, 1943–4, 1951, 1954–5, 1962, 1971, 1988, 2008 (18 total)
After Melbourne, Ballarat was the first Victorian town to embrace the form of football devised by the Melbourne Cricket Club in 1859. The Ballarat Football Club, in fact, was born the very next year, making it arguably the third oldest football club, after Melbourne and Geelong, in Australia.
Early matches in Ballarat appear to have been conducted on a purely social basis, but in 1874 there was a move towards more formal competition when the Ballarat Club was joined by three rivals in the shape of Albion, Albert and Phoenix. The following year, however, the clubs’ ranks were halved after Phoenix disbanded and Albert merged with Ballarat. Other clubs came and went, and in 1877 Ballarat along with the recently formed Ballarat Imperial and Ballarat South were among the founder members of the Victorian Football Association. All three Ballarat clubs participated in the competition for twelve seasons, with Ballarat enjoying the best overall record, but the high cost of travelling ultimately put paid to the venture.
In 1893 the city of Ballarat implemented its own football competition, the Ballarat Football Association, contested by the three clubs which had played in the VFA plus Sebastopol. Ballarat Football Club performed poorly at first but rapidly improved. After finishing second in 1894-5-6 the club broke through to capture its first premiership in 1897, and promptly repeated the achievement the following year.
The standard of football played in Ballarat at this time was extremely high, with BFA representative combinations performing creditably in annual fixtures against their VFL counterparts. The Association’s clubs also sometimes engaged in matches against VFL opposition. In 1901, for example, Ballarat travelled to the metropolis to take on the might of Fitzroy, then indisputably one of the strongest teams in Australia. Not surprisingly, the Maroons emerged victorious, but the Ballarat players gave a good account of themselves in going down by the comparatively respectable margin of 41 points. It was a similar story five years later when Ballarat played Geelong in Geelong, the Pivotonians winning a high standard match by 26 points in front of a fair-sized crowd.
Ballarat’s third premiership was secured in 1908 courtesy of a 7.9 (51) to 4.12 (36) challenge final defeat of minor premier South Ballarat, but it was to be fifteen long years before the success was duplicated. Just as in 1908, Ballarat’s 1923 triumph was achieved at the expense of South Ballarat, but it was a much closer, harder fought affair. At quarter time South Ballarat led by 12 points, a margin that had been extended to 22 points midway through the second quarter, and they were still 16 points ahead at the main break. Ballarat fought back strongly in the third term, but still faced an 8 point deficit at the last change. In a thrilling final thirty minutes of football Ballarat slowly but surely made up the leeway until, at the half way point in the term, scores were level. Ballarat then added a behind and a goal to achieve some breathing space, only for the southerners to reply with a goal of their own to set up a rousing final ten minutes. South Ballarat attacked relentlessly, but the Ballarat defence stood firm leaving the final margin as a single point in Ballarat’s favour. Final scores were Ballarat 6.16 (52) to South Ballarat 7.9 (51).
The 1920s produced one more flag when Ballarat defeated Golden Point by 5 points in the 1928 grand final, with the match-winning goal coming inside the last two minutes.
During the 1930s Ballarat experienced the ultimate thrill of premiership glory on three occasions, but this was tempered by the nadir of a 1938 season when the club was unable to field a team. Recovery was swift as Ballarat went on to reach the 1939 grand final before claiming the 1940 premiership with a 17.12 (114) to 12.8 (80) grand final triumph over Golden Point.
The BFL suspended competition in 1941 and 1942 and when it resumed Ballarat completed what was effectively a hat trick of premierships with grand final victories over the Royal Australian Air Force in 1943 (after a drawn first encounter) and East Ballarat the following year. This was followed in 1945 by the rare ignominy of a wooden spoon, and the remainder of the 1940s proved to be disappointing.
The 1950s saw Ballarat fielding some of the strongest teams in its history, and a total of three flags were obtained from half a dozen grand final appearances. Since the 1950s, successes have been sporadic, with just one premiership in each of the next three decades, and none whatsoever in the 1990s.
After claiming the 1988 premiership with a 17.6 (108) to 13.8 (86) grand final conquest of North Ballarat the Swans endured a club record sequence of two decades of failure, making their 2008 flag triumph arguably the most memorable and captivating in their history. Placed fourth after the home and away fixtures, with a modest 9-7 record, Ballarat probably figured in very few people’s premiership calculations. However, the side displayed immense spirit and self-belief, coupled with no small amount of skill, in overcoming grand final opponent and minor premier Darley by 5 points after an enthralling contest which ended in the most dramatic way imaginable when Ash Baker kicked the winning goal after the final siren. It was the Swans’ eighteenth senior grade premiership, a competition record. They were coached to their victory by a man with an illustrious coaching pedigree at the game’s top level, John ‘Swooper’ Northey.
Other famous names associated with the Ballarat Football Club over the years have included George Morrissey, a successful VFL player with St Kilda before the first world war, Carlton’s 1961 Brownlow Medal winner John James, AFL Hall of Fame member Dave ‘Dolly’ Christy, and gifted Fitzroy rover of the 1950s Jack Gervasoni.
Since claiming their most recent flag in 2008 the Swans have twice got as far as the grand final only to lose to Lake Wendouree in 2010 and North Ballarat City in 2014. The last five seasons have seen them go into a gradual decline, finishing eighth (2015), ninth (2016), 10th (both 2017 and 2018) and eighth (2019) on the 11 team premiership ladder.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications