By Matt Fotia
For the third time since 2014 the Berwick Football Club is on the move after AFL Victoria ticked off the clubs transfer from the AFL Outer East to the EFNL last month.
And their president is confident this move is the right one.
Berwick’s growth as both a sporting club and as a community has been one of the main drivers behind the clubs frequent changing of associations.
The Wickers had been part of the MPNFL – in a regional sense – up until 2015 when it and eight other clubs formed the now defunct South East Football Netball League (SEFNL).
With just one division there was a very repetitive nature to the SEFNL competition.
Berwick, Beaconsfield, Cranbourne and Narre Warren finished in the top four places every season, with Doveton taking up fifth place every season bar 2018 where Officer claimed a finals berth. Neither Doveton nor Officer were able to win a final in that time.
The lack of competition and genuine gulf between the top four and the rest of the competition became a driving factor behind the competition’s extinction and in 2019 seven of the eight clubs moved to the AFL Outer East, with Tooradin-Dalmore joining the WGFNL. Hampton Park had previously moved to the SFNL at the end of 2017.
Berwick was placed in the Premier Division along with Narre Warren, Beaconsfield and Cranbourne. Pakeham, Doveton and Officer all went into Division One.
Every one of the former SEFNL clubs made the finals in 2019.
Berwick signalled its intentions of moving to the EFNL during the 2019 season, but during the week of their Grand Final against Narre Warren the club was told it had not been voted in by EFNL clubs.
Its second application to enter the EFNL was successful and the case was due to be heard by AFL Victoria before the 2020 season, but like much of life this year, it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Finally in August the clubs transfer to the EFNL was given the tick of approval, with the Wickers set to join the EFNL’s Premier Division in 2021, the highest standard of football the club has played since its five year stint in the VFA back in the 1980s.
BERWICK ARE IN | Berwick football club will become the Eastern Football Netball League’s 46th senior club in 2021 after crossing over from the AFL Outer East competition.
— Eastern FNL (@footyefl) August 17, 2020
President Glenn Gambetta said the news of AFL Victoria’s decision gave the club a real boost and has seen a number of older players commit to going around once again.
“The decision (from AFL Victoria to grant the move) has given the club a spark, you know talking to the players there were a lot guys who probably would’ve retired had we not been able to move, so there was a tonne of excitement from not only Berwick Football Club people, but there’s been a real buzz in the community,”
“If I go down to the coffee shop and things like that people are coming up and saying great work.”
Berwick’s move has benefited the club already with an increase in sponsorship interest for 2021 and beyond, as well as an influx of committee member applications.
But Gambetta says the decision behind the move was not just for the club’s benefits, it was a move for all the footballers of the region.
“This wasn’t a decision just for our club, this was a decision for the area, because there are guys out in Lang Lang or wherever they might be in Gippsland that have to travel to Rowville or Noble Park if they want to play at that top standard of local football, so I’m hoping that we can be that go to club for some of those guys who don’t want to travel all that way.”
The club’s transfer into the metropolitan competition comes as their home venue – Edwin Flack Reserve – receives a $3 million facelift which will see the Wickers upgrade their social rooms, canteen and recovery facilities.
Gambetta expects that visiting EFNL fans will enjoy the atmosphere, hospitality and surrounds at Edwin Flack when season 2021 kicks off.
“I think they’ll love the scenery – they’ll enjoy that there’s kangaroos across the road, I think they’ll appreciate the natural amphitheatre that the hill provides with the tiered seating and protection from the elements,”
“And they’ll enjoy our good hospitality as well.”
Berwick’s on field resume in recent times is impressive. They won three of a possible four SEFNL premierships (2015, 2017 & 2018) and were runner up in 2016. They also fell just short in the AFL Outer East last season, despite finishing as minor premiers.
The 2015 success was their first premiership since 1999 and came about from years of groundwork according to Gambetta.
“This was all started in 2012/13 after we’d had a pretty tumultuous history with past administrations not looking after the locals, so we decided to put a local coach on in Rhys Nisbet and we got the local players back,”
“In those premiership years I think 20 or so of the side had all played juniors at the club and that’s been the mantra, to have a strong relationship with the junior club to make sure we don’t lose any kids and create an environment that they want to come back to.”
Their recent dominance doesn’t mean they’ll come into the EFNL searching for instant success.
The club is well aware of the strength of the competition having played practice matches against Rowville, Noble Park and Balwyn in recent years, with the latter giving them a nice reality check.
So whilst their induction into the Premier Division means they may not see time up the top of table, the level of competition will be a refreshing change of pace and will provide a nice attraction for any potential recruits.
“We’re not under any illusions, we aren’t expecting to go in and be world beaters straight off the bat – we just want to secure our position and take it from there,”
“The attraction (on a recruiting front) in Eastern is not the money, it’s actually the standard of football,”
“Our guys would much prefer to be a middle of the road team, playing competitive football every week than be a top two team and have one in every three games being a whitewash.”