Season Summary: 1995

  

Hopes that the club would consolidate in 1995 under new coach, ex-Geelong player Damien Christensen, were dashed, largely because of lack of funds, and in what turned out to be the last season played by the VFA, its oldest constituent club had the ignominy of losing all sixteen games. It was one thing to run last, but to lose every game was most depressing. There were some near misses - 14 points against Box Hill, seven points at Werribee and two points at Coburg - but also several massive hidings. It was a serious situation for Williamstown because of the impending demise of the VFA.

After season 1995 the 118-year old Association was scrapped and a new body called the Victorian Football League was formed. The new administration proposed to include eight metropolitan clubs and two from the country. 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 play at Williamstown and Werribee 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 issued an 11th licence to Werribee to compete in the VFL.

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.

John Grieve described Williamstown's situation at the time as 'a real worry', but believes there was a positive side.

"Again, its one of those watershed moments that happen to football clubs. One might consider a vote of thanks to the VFA for doing its best to force a merger with Werribee because it was the thing that galvanised the club - this can't be allowed to happen - and I think Werribee has become more of a nemesis to Williamstown than Port Melbourne ever was. Supporters would have preferred to have the club die rather than go through with a merger."

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. Greg later went on to become CEO of Collingwood, Carlton and Brisbane AFL clubs.

 

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