Season Summary: 1995
The 1995 season was the first season contested after the Victorian Football Association's board of management was dissolved and administration of the competition was turned over to the Victorian State Football League. Under the VSFL, the competition was restructured as a state league to serve as a supporting and developmental competition for the Victorian clubs in the AFL. The 1995 season is generally seen as a transitional season between the old and new structures. It was to be the final season in which the competition was known as the Victorian Football Association, before switching its name to Victorian Football League in 1996.
Although the AFL Commission did not explicitly propose that the new state league comprise the Association clubs, it was seen as a natural solution. The Association saw its own involvement in the new state league structure as its only means of survival, and had to some extent been preparing for such a change since the 1986 FORT review. Association president Tony Hannebery worked with VSFL president Ken Gannon throughout 1994 to arrange for a merger. In July 1994, the two bodies agreed in principle to a merger under which the Association administration would be merged into the VSFL administration, and some but not all of the Association clubs would become the metropolitan teams in the new state league.
In October 1994, the Association and the VSFL agreed to terms for a merger. As a result, the Association board of management was formally dissolved, bringing an end to the Victorian Football Association's 117 years as an independent entity. The Association was given three seats on the nine-man VSFL board, and Tony Hannebery departed as the Association's final president.
To establish its on-field composition, the VSFL extended invitations for eight of the Association's twelve clubs to join under 'A' licences. These clubs would form the state league's eight Melbourne-based clubs, with each to field a senior and reserves team, and to be affiliated with one of the VSFL Under-18s competition's seven metropolitan clubs or the Geelong Falcons. The remaining Association clubs could apply for a 'B' licence, which would end their time as senior clubs, but allow them to carry on their existing identity in the Under-18s competition. The first club to announce it was taking a 'B' licence was Prahran, which withdrew from senior competition on 16 September 1994. The remaining clubs submitted bids for 'A' licences. Because of the need for the senior clubs to be viable and geographically aligned with their VSFL Under-18s teams, clubs were competing against their neighbours for access to the 'A' licences, and five clubs immediatetely appeared secure: Box Hill (aligned with Eastern), Frankston (Southern), Sandringham (Central), Preston (Northern) and Werribee (Geelong). This left six clubs fighting over the remaining three regions: Coburg, Port Melbourne and Williamstown (North-Western and Western); and Dandenong, Oakleigh and Springvale (South-Eastern).
In the end, the Association proposed and obtained agreement from the VSFL to admit nine Association clubs for the 1995 season instead of eight. Springvale received the 'A' licence for the south-east, and Oakleigh and Dandenong both received 'B' licences; and Coburg, Port Melbourne and Williamstown were all given 'A' licences and shared their two regions. In admitting the nine clubs, the VSFL stated that it still intended to reduce the number to eight for the 1996 season, meaning that one club was likely to face expulsion at the end of the season. The three clubs with 'B' licences each gave their name and home ground to one of the VSFL Under-18 teams: the Central Dragons moved to Toorak Park and became the Prahran Dragons; the Southern Stingrays moved to Shepley Oval and became the Dandenong Southern Stingrays; and the south-eastern team, which was new for 1995, set up at Warrawee Park and was named the Oakleigh Chargers.
Other arrangements relating to the merger were:
· It was planned to expand into regional Victoria, with four new clubs to be admitted to align with the Ballarat, Bendigo, Ovens & Murray and Gippsland VSFL Under-18 teams; but, that this expansion would not begin until 1996.
· The new state competition would carry on the Victorian Football Association name in 1995; but, that the VSFL would review this at the end of the season. Ultimately, 1995 was the final season to carry the Victorian Football Association name, and its name was changed to the Victorian Football League (the same name formerly used by the Australian Football League) from 1996 onwards.
· The Association's Under-19s competition was abolished, with the VSFL Under-18s effectively taking its place.
With the additional changes slated for the 1996 season, the 1995 season is generally seen as a transitional season between the old and new structures, and cannot easily be categorised as being part of one era or the other. Despite the significant off-field changes, the on-field continuity was sufficient that the new state league structure is considered a continuation of the former Association, with premierships and onfield records from each considered equivalent.
With only nine teams competing, it was the competition's smallest membership since only eight teams contested the 1925 VFA season.
Hopes that the club would consolidate in the new competition in 1995 under new coach, ex-Geelong player Damien Christensen, were not realised, largely because of lack of funds, and in what turned out to be the last season played by the VFA, its oldest club lost all sixteen games and finished on the bottom of the ladder with a percentage of just 48. This was the Club's worst season since 1938, when it last 'won' the wooden spoon but at least then it managed to win two games. The Seagulls went down to Preston at home in the opening round by 16 points after being 27 points up at quarter time, but reality hit home in round 3 at Port Melbourne with a massive 172-point defeat. Further big losses in rounds 4 and 5 meant the year was off to a disastrous start. Some encouraging efforts in rounds 6, 7 and 9 gave hope for a breakthrough win, before the 'Town were again belted by Port in a 145-point defeat in round 12 at Pt Gellibrand followed by a 156-point defeat at Springvale the next week. The best performance all year came in round 15 at Coburg when Williamstown led at every change before going down by just two points. The 'Gulls also lost at Werribee by seven points and at Box Hill by 14 points. The Reserves also failed to win a single game in 1995.
Julian Shanks took out the Andy Taylor Memorial Trophy for best and fairest and also the Ron James Memorial Trophy for most valuable player, while rover Steve Johansen won the Bert Hodge Memorial Trophy for leading goalkicker with a dismal total of just 16, the lowest return since Bert Amy won with 14 in 1919 after the recess for World War One. Corey Tranter was awarded the Bill Sheahan Memorial Trophy for best and fairest in the Reserves and Paul Brown was voted best clubman and won the Bill 'Darkie' Raffle Memorial Trophy.
It was a serious situation for Williamstown because of the impending demise of the VFA. As a way of trimming the existing clubs from nine to eight, the VFL recommended that Williamstown merge with Werribee to form the Western Seagulls. The two clubs were advised to confer regarding details such as where to play home games, the jumper design, who would be coach, the administration, etc. The proposed merger was doomed from the outset because Williamstown officials wanted to continue playing at Pt Gellibrand while Werribee naturally wanted to base the new club at its own Chirnside Park. An amalgamation effectively meant the loss of identity of the Williamstown Football Club after 131 years.
Despite the worst season since the club joined the VFA in 1884, Williamstown supporters came out of the woodwork to save their beloved Seagulls from extinction. As the time drew nearer for a decision, a public meeting was called at the Williamstown Town Hall on Friday, October 20, 1995. Future State premier, Steve Bracks, who at that stage had held the seat of Williamstown for only three years, chaired the meeting. Former Premier Joan Kirner, the previous State member for Williamstown, addressed the meeting, as did former coach Terry Wheeler, Williamstown life member and former VFA president John Grieve, Footscray Football Club director Peter Welsh and former player Ian Rickman.
The Save Our Seagulls rally was attended by more than 1000 people who were unanimous in rejecting the proposed merger. Geoff Dougall, president of the club's coterie group The Gulls, told the meeting "We'll be here for the next 100 years". Past players in attendance included Murray MacRae, Reg Harley, John Martin, Sid Wookey, Ken Barnes, Ray Smith and John Cope. Among the more latter day players were Kevin Sait, Larry Simmons and Wayne Muschialli.
A petition with 1200 signatures rejecting the merger was handed to MP Bracks to lodge in State Parliament. The decision to go it alone was passed on to the Victorian State Football League, which then voted to retain Williamstown in its own right and reject Werribee as part of the proposed new VFL. Werribee didn't want to drop back to a lesser competition and fought for its inclusion. Eventually the VSFL relented and issued an 11th licence to Werribee to compete in the VFL in 1996.
The major point to arise from all this was how much the football club meant to the Williamstown community. Relegation from First to Second Division was acceptable, despite the hurt that went with demotion, but losing the club's identity certainly was not. The new President facing the onerous task of guiding the club back from the brink was former 1986 premiership player Greg Swann, son of former secretary and later President, Rex Swann, who took over from Kim Walsh mid-season. Greg later went on to become CEO of Collingwood, Carlton and Brisbane AFL clubs.
In June of 1995 the founder of Dogtown Dialogue, Stuart Brown, passed away, sadly bringing down the curtain on the Club's innovative newsletter.
1995 Captain-coach Damien Christensen
Grim headlines in the media during the winless 1995 season
Jed Pinkney made his senior debut in round 7 at Box Hill, kicking four goals in a 14-point loss.
Stuart Brown, founder and editor of Dogtown Dialogue from 1985-1992, passed away in June, 1995
Williamstown Football Club 1995 senior squad
Back row: Bernadette O'Sullivan (trainer), Saade Ghazi (vice-captain), Stevie Johansen, S. Ryan, Robbie Penna, Tony Sucic, A. Jacovou, I. Bracken, Tommy McGowan, Bart Maloney, Matthew Johnston, David Patterson, D. Stow, Adam Bugeja, Kelly Brent (head trainer)
Centre row: Greg Minett, Troy West, Corey Tranter, G. Scott, Adam Hough, Jason Duff-Tyler, T. Howe, Andrew Venner, R. Kreuger, Ritchie Hore, Chris Karakiozakis, Mark Illich, Jed Pinkney
Front row: Matt Bury, Brent West, Marcos Fuentes, Julian Shanks, Damien Christensen (senior coach), Kim Walsh (President), B. Christensen (reserves coach), G. Hanckel, Vin Turcinovich, D. Gambaro, D. Phelps, R. Gittens
Absent: Tony Pastore (captain), Paul Dooley, B. Slattery, Matthew Swinton
To hear more about the aborted merger with Werribee from some of the Club identities of the era please click on the following link to one of Bruce Davis' productions:
Tony Pastore and Saade Ghazi lead out the Seagulls for the last home-and-away game of the year against Werribee at Pt Gellibrand, which resulted in a 104-point defeat, 20.15.135 to 3.13.31, to cap off the worst year in the Club's 130-year history. To make matters worse, playing for Werribee that day were former Williamstown players Jack Aziz, Troy Mitchell and Marcus O'Connor.