06 October, 2011

Every heart beats true for the red, white and blue!

In view of the latest stunning win by Geelong in the 2011 AFL Grand Final, I thought it was time to take a look for connections between the Barwon River and Aussie rules football. Not surprisingly, it didn't take long for something to appear.Different websites give different dates for for the establishement of the Barwon Football Club (BFC) - known as the Bulldogs. The website for the current South Barwon Football & Netball Club claims a founding date of 1859, only a few months later than the original Geelong Football Club (GFC). An article appearing in the journal Sporting Traditions (May, 2008) claims an establishment date of 1874.
Both sources agree however, that members of the BFC were drawn from the working classes - the men who worked in the factories along the Barwon - with finance being provided by those who owned the companies. The GFC by contrast was backed by the establishment - the graziers and various private schools in the district. Not surprisingly, the two clubs were bitter rivals, with several games in the 1870s ending in allegations of poor sportsmanship leveled against BFC and biased umpiring favouring GFC. A final match between the two teams in September, 1878 ended in a riot which continued in the streets of Geelong later in the day.
Regardless, both teams competed well against Melbourne teams and also in the Geelong, Ballarat & Western District Challenge Cup.
In 1876, BFC adopted a guernsey with blue and white hoops, but were forced to wear pink sashes to differentiate them from the GFC who as the holders of the Challenge Cup, had priority, having adopted a similar jumper a month or so after Barwon. BFC later adopted light blue jumpers with a red and white V.
The frst Geelong Highland Gathering was held on the "plains
of South Geelong" east of Bellerine St, on or near their eventual
home - the Commun-na-Feinne Reserve, also the home
ground of Barwon Football Club
In 1877, both teams were amongst several clubs who united to form the Victorian Football Association - precursor to the Victorian Football League which formed as a break away from the VFA in 1897.  The success of the BFC and the rivalry between the two teams, forced the GFC to adopt a more professional approach to the game, resulting in significant success for the club during the 1880s, which has continued to the present day.
BFC by contrast began to struggle financially, lasting only a couple of seasons in the VFA. Early records show that they played at the Commun-na-Feinne Reserve (located between Balliang and Fyans Street in South Geelong and bordered on the west by Bellerine Street), as early as 1877 where they beat an undermanned Carlton. They were not allowed to fence the venue, meaning that they could not charge admission to their games - an important source of revenue.
 South  Barwon FC
South Barwon Football
Club jumper
By 1919, BFC emerged once more, establishing itself at Kardinia Park, where it played during the 1920s until at least 1935 as part of the Geelong District Football League/Geelong Junior Football Association. After another hiatus of several years BFC rejoined what was now known as the Geelong & District Football League in 1949 where they competed until 1978, based first at the Belmont Recreation Reserve (training at Belmont Common) and then from 1959 in Highton. In 1979 along with the rest of the 1st Division clubs, they seceded and became the Geelong Football League. By the late 1980s however, Barwon was again struggling financially, so in 1990 it merged with the Belmont Football Club and is now known as the South Barwon Football & Netball Club, based at McDonald Reserve in Belmont. 
The club colours are remeniscent of the old Barwon colours - a blue jersey with a red and a white V around the collar. From its beginnings in the 19th century as the club for those who toiled in the factories which lined the banks of the Barwon River, South Barwon today has evolved into one of the strongest teams in the GFL.

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