By: Matt Fotia
A strange sense of anticipation sweeps across Bayswater Oval. Cheers and roars are replaced by nervous murmurs.
Sweaty bodies pile atop each other once again as the umpire blows his whistle and asks for the footy. As player after player peels themselves from the ground, the crowd take a collective breath.
Nervous pacing, biting of nails and hands shielding the sun begin to spread across the crowd like a Mexican wave. All eyes turn back to the action as the umpire throws the ball high into the blue spring sky once again.
“Parker grabs it, O’Neill takes him down, gives a handball to Anderson, ANDERSON WALKS INTO AN OPEN GOAL AND GOES BANG!”
As Frank Anderson kicked the Dogs’ 10th for the afternoon, the sea of red, white and blue situated behind the goals began to emit a noise of biblical proportions.
His goal sends a sense of realisation through the South supporters.The nervous pacing and biting of nails is replaced by long embraces and shrieking.
You could barely hear EFL Media’s Gavin Casey’s call through the radio as he screams above the roar;
“Is that the premiership for South Croydon?”
On September the 23rd, 2017 the South Croydon Football Club completed the ultimate David v. Goliath triumph and won its first Division 1 premiership. Opponents Vermont had lost just one game all season and finished atop the ladder. The Eagles had defeated the Dogs by 76 points in the second semi-final just a fortnight earlier.
Only the most optimistic of fans could’ve predicted the Dogs winning on that Saturday afternoon. They arrived that morning with only hope, hope that they could defeat their much more fancied and notoriously better opponent on the day.
Amongst the tears, laughter and incredible smiles, one would not be alone to ask the question; How did a club, who’d finished 10th in 2015, 9th in 2016, achieve the unthinkable in 2017?
At the end of the 2015 season the South Croydon Football Club had no president and football operations manager John Dinnell had decided to step down after 10 years. But more importantly they had no coach. That problem however was soon to be fixed via a very reputable suitor.
PICTURE: David Crosling
“He (Leigh Adams) came to us, he’d been watching us through the last few games of the season (2015) because he was mates with a couple of guys at the cricket club,” says Dinnell leaning back in his chair, a wry smile as his mind wanders back to days ‘B.P.’ – Before Patch.
“The way he just sat there and spoke about what he wanted to do, what he thought of the club without any ‘ums’ or ‘ahs’ it was just really professional.”
Cathy White took over the vacant presidency at the end of 2015 and speaks of Leigh’s albeit limited yet impressive experience in coaching prior to South Croydon with a sense of pride.
“He only had his level one or two, but after his injury North Melbourne had taken him under their wing and had him doing development stuff, doing coaching with their VFL side Werribee,” White recalls glancing at Dinnell to confirm she’d gotten the Kanagaroos’ VFL affiliate correct. His simultaneous nod and chuckle confirms this for her.
With Adams on board as coach and a number of now premiership players already teed up to join the club for season 2016, including JJ Liston Trophy winner Myles Sewell, the Dogs hired Greg Stafford as a fitness advisor and worked the players hard over the summer to see what they had to work with.
Adams instilled a new game-plan which took the players a while to grasp, but improvements were seen. They climbed one spot on the ladder, winning two extra games. Come the end of season review they knew what they had to do to take the next step. Luckily they had a few more recruits already in the pipeline.
“Dale Walker came in via the Eric Stone connection, Alex Birch and Lucas O’Neill had also come on board through Eric,” Dinnell pauses for a second staring into dead space as he racks his brain for other names who had arrived at the kennel. He should probably be thinking about Eric Stone as head of recruiting.
Matt Jones (pictured) came back to his junior club once he was delisted by Melbourne, Frank Anderson became a full-time dog after cutting ties with the Casey Demons, Josh Allison returned from Boronia in Division 3 and mobile ruckman/forward Max King became a bulldog after his injury-ravaged time at Melbourne also saw him delisted.
But it was the skinny little whippet from Fairpark in Division 4 returning to his junior club that surprised everyone, becoming a key fixture off the half back flank before he left for Europe in Round 12.
“Ohh, Jason Want,” Dinnell and White squeal in unison.
“If he hadn’t gone overseas we would’ve won by more,” White says in cheek. She’d probably have a different reaction if they weren’t the premiers.
At the start of 2017, Adams set his own expectations: finals. He believed that their game-plan would get them there, especially after almost an entire pre-season doing match simulation. They started well, and went on to have wins against finals rivals Blackburn, Doncaster and Norwood. With four rounds to go they seemed certain to lock down a top-three spot.
But it wasn’t until the final round, where a 74-point win over Montrose along with Blackburn’s eight-point win over Doncaster confirmed the double chance, by 0.4%, and thus a qualifying final against Balwyn awaited them.
With a lump in her throat, White recalls the Balwyn win.
“For me, beating them, that was a watershed moment for our club, beating Balwyn, in a final, it was our first history-making moment,” she states with a massive sense of motherly pride.
The aforementioned loss to Vermont was followed by a hard-fought win over Blackburn and the Dogs found themselves in the big dance. They’d already made history by defeating Balwyn. They made more by beating Blackburn. They had one last piece of history to make.
“I kept saying all week, we only have to beat them once and we’ll save the best for last,” White quips laughing politely, constantly remaining humble. The president is a representation of her club.
Game-day arrives. A sea of red, blue and white march down Bayswater Road, almost halting the curtain-raiser that took place before the main game.
White was at a luncheon, Dinnell preparing for his role taking statistics.The Dogs start well and hold their intensity the whole way through, keeping Vermont at bay and then Anderson’s goal.
White recalls her emotions after that moment.
“The last 10 minutes of the game I cried, the threat of Vermont was always there and the time went forever.”
Premiership player Patrick Ashton recalls the moment it finally hit him and his teammates.
“After Frank’s goal, we’d bottled it up on the far wing for a while and Myles (Sewell) cruised past with his cheeky grin and goes, ‘We’ve done it’.” Ashton quickly mentions another factor, “Plus the wind had swung around with about six minutes to go, that helped a little.”
This April it will be business as usual for the Dogs. The usual suspects in the canteen and the bar, old faces returning for another season of footy.
John Dinnell will be standing behind the bench, flat-peak cap on his head, clipboard at the ready, taking down statistics for four quarters.
There will be one difference this time around – Cathy White won’t be in her usual spot.
She’ll be standing next to a white pole, with a smile consuming her face. She’ll pull hard on a thin white rope until a flag unfurls at the top reading:
EASTERN FOOTBALL LEAGUE
DIVISION 1 PREMIERS