Club marks a century in an uncertain era
During a period of uncertain times for some country football clubs, the Gnowangerup Football Club has good reason to celebrate.
The significant milestone of 100 years is put in perspective as rival clubs have fallen by the wayside in recent seasons as country town populations continue to get smaller.
But a couple of good drop punts from the town centre of Gnowangerup, home to about 600 people, the football club is enjoying a rare period of success on and off the field.
The period coincides with the centenary of the Bulldogs this Saturday as the club hosts Newdegate in the team’s final home and away match for the season.
The season won’t be over despite a few sore heads on Sunday as the club prepares at a tilt for their second league premiership in three seasons in what is likely a two-horse race for the premiership with Boxwood Hill, who celebrated their 50th anniversary a fortnight ago.
With a 43-year premiership drought from 1953 to 1996, which was followed by a 19-year wait for another flag in 2015, the Bulldogs are enjoying a strong period.
But it is off the field the club is particularly proud of in its centenary year, according to second-year president Lachlan Lewis.
“In a small town the football club is the main hub, it is the heart of the town,” he said.
“It brings people together, especially a country farming town, it brings people back in on Saturdays, Thursday and Tuesday.”
The Gnowangerup Sporting Complex continues to bring the community together with winter-sport Saturdays of football, hockey and netball.
Families are brought together for a day of sport and socialising across the region east of Albany, which Mr Lewis believes is the envy of neighbouring leagues.
At times the game of football has been a game of survival in the Ongerup Football Association with clubs Ongerup and Kent Districts folding in the past decade and Borden going into recess for 2017, leaving the competition with only five clubs.
“I’m running around and kicking the footy and now my kids are running around kicking the footy,” Mr Lewis said.
“We want to keep the OFA going because of the set-up with families.
“It will be hard for us to go to a league where it’s footy one day and have to play somewhere else to play hockey.
“We will join the Albany league and beat teams down there if we ever have to.”
The sporting complex suffered a major setback in February 2010 when a freak storm ripped the roof off the clubrooms and it was two years before their home was rebuilt.
“That brought the core of the group together and put in a lot more work and a lot more heart,” Mr Lewis said. “We had no central hub, we trained out of a garage storage shed.
“We have always had a good core so we were never going to go anywhere else. We had some good community members who organised grants.
“It took the whole community to get back to this place.”
Up to 500 people including many former players are expected at the club’s centenary this Saturday which will include guest speakers reminiscing on the generations of the club and an auction of the centenary jumpers being worn this season.
Former league coach and now reserves coach Robbie Miniter said the centenary meant a lot to all the families and members who had kept the club on the right path.
“To me I look at it that footy here has been my life, I’ve played here for 27 years,” he said.
“We have all got our different stories. It shows what the football club means to you and what the community can do for you.
“I went away twice to coach other clubs and Gnowangerup has welcomed me back so I feel a fair bit for this place. Even those people in the town that aren’t sports-minded, they come up here because it’s a good social feeling and want to be a part of it.
“If you have something like that your club will go on if people want to be a part of something.” Mr Lewis said the club was proud of its history and recent success stories include Timm House who was drafted to Geelong in 2016, and Kira Phillips who plays for Fremantle in the AFLW competition. “There is a good mix of older guys coming back to help and younger guys coming through,” he said.
“With these facilities we are going in a good direction.”
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