Organised football commenced in Chiltern thanks largely to the efforts and organisational ability of an Englishman, Theophanus Smith-Marshall, who in 1858 was appointed as the first headmaster of the Chiltern Primary School. Under Smith’s aegis the young men of the town banded together to form a football team which, during the 1860s, engaged in regular matches against adversaries from other mining settlements in the vicinity. Chiltern was later in the vanguard of moves to introduce a formal competition for teams in the Ovens and Murray region, which eventually came to realisation in 1893 with the formation of the Ovens and Murray Football Association. Chiltern was a founder member of this competition, but in contrast with the great achievements for which it would become renowned during the twentieth century, it tended to struggle. It was not until 1912, and the establishment of the Chiltern and District Football Association (later League), that the club’s fortunes underwent an upswing. Chiltern was among the five inaugural members of this competition, and broke through to record a first ever premiership win in 1914.
By the time Chiltern crossed to the Ovens and King Football League in 1954 it had conclusively proved itself the CDFL’s pre-eminent club. Consistently competitive between the wars, when it claimed three premierships from seven grand finals, the side acquired a virtual flag monopoly during the 1940s and ‘50s when it went top eight times in ten years. In the two years it missed out, it ran second. Moving to the somewhat stronger Ovens and King competition did nothing to diminish Chiltern’s appetite for, and regular achievement of, success. The Swans qualified for a grand final at the first time of asking, and at three quarter time of a relatively low scoring affair appeared to have one hand on the pennant as they led opponents Greta by 25 points. During the last term umpire Arvidson decided for some reason to blow his whistle to stop the clock every time a mark was taken, with the upshot that the quarter dragged on for forty-four and a half minutes. With forty-three of those minutes having elapsed Chiltern still led, but only by 4 points. Greta then rattled on two quick goals to snatch a famous (or infamous, if you hail from Chiltern) victory after surely one of the most protracted games in football history.
Chiltern did not have to wait too long to break the ice in the OKFL, overcoming King Valley by 44 points in the grand final of 1957. It was but the first of many such successes, ten in all, from fourteen grand finals over a forty-nine season stint in the competition. Highlights included the unbeaten flag of 1982, and the 1998 triumph which was repeated across all three grades.
In 2003, the club embarked on a fresh challenge when it crossed to the Tallangatta and District Football League. Now nicknamed the Swans, they made a slow start to life in their new environment, but by 2005 they were among the competition’s pace setters, ultimately reaching the preliminary final. In 2006 they headed the ladder before the finals with a 14-2 record but were unable to get the better of Mitta United in either the second semi final or the grand final. Their fortunes then dipped slightly in 2007 as they dropped out of premiership contention at the elimination final stage, while in 2008 they narrowly failed to qualify for the finals, finishing in sixth place with a 10-8 record.
Over the ensuing decade the Swans tended to struggle initially, even succumbing to a wooden spoon in 2009. Since then there has been gradual if not quite sustained improvement highlighted by finals involvement in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2019. The 2016-17-18 seasons all brought tenth place finishes on the 12 team premiership ladder.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications