Home Australia From floods to footy famine — how these teams have come back from the brink to take the field in 2024

From floods to footy famine — how these teams have come back from the brink to take the field in 2024

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A blue and white soccer locker room, half underwater.

Graham Hosier left New Zealand 40 years ago for Australia, eschewing rugby because of Australian rules.

But the Corowa-Rutherglen Football Netball Club president still considers himself a Kiwi and feels a kindred spirit with one famous compatriot in particular: Sir Edmund Hilary.

“They told him he couldn’t climb Mount Everest. They told us if you went to recess you would never come back,” he said.

“Well, he climbed Everest.”

The Roos are one of several local Victorian football clubs returning after a year of enforced break, with each of them overcoming familiar obstacles.

“We were a high-flying club that had just hit a wall”

In October 2022, almost 1.2m of water washed through the Roos’ homeland at Corowa, on the New South Wales side of the Murray River.

When the water receded, the club was left with a layer of mud and nearly $300,000 in damage.

“It was very difficult to get a trainer, because we couldn’t show them the rooms while they were being repaired,” Hosier said.

The Corowa-Rutherglen changing rooms were flooded during the October 2022 floods. (Supplied: Graham Hosier)

By the time they appointed a coach in November that year, the Roos had lost 30 footballers and around a dozen netball players to other teams and university careers.

“We had a good group of third-stringers, but the senior list didn’t look good, so we made the decision in February 2023 to go on recess,” he said.

A wall with picture frames on top and exposed insulation on the bottom. A hammer rests on water damaged ground.

Team photos dating back 30 years saved from peak floods in Corowa-Rutherglen(Supplied: Graham Hosier)

Around the same time the Corowa-Rutherglen clubrooms were half underwater, police officer John Thompson and his colleagues on the Old Mentonians board were facing problems of their own.

The entire committee had just changed teams and the new members were scrambling to find a new place to play, displaced from their old Mentone Grammar stadium by an increasingly busy school football schedule.

“We were a high-flying club that had just hit a wall,” Thompson said of 2022.

But he said they hit the pause button for 2023 rather than let the club die, as the likelihood of an abrupt end resonated with the community.


John Thompson of Old Mentonians, Vicky McMaster of Yea Tigers and Graham Hosier of Corowa-Rutherglen.(Supplied)

“We were born out of Mentone Grammar, a group of boys left school in 1968 and created a club to continue their friendship,” he said.

“Talking to a lot of people I was surprised that things could fold up and disappear, and that trophies would end up in the bin or in storage.

“Our point of difference is that our expectations are not that high. We have many players aged 25 to 35 who prefer to train one night a week and play on Saturdays.”

“No one could recruit anyone”

In Yea, in the Victorian lower highlands, 2023 marked the first season in which the local club, the Tigers, was unable to field a first team due to a lack of players.

Former secretary Vicky McMaster said COVID-19 robbed the Tigers of both their “old stalwarts” and new recruits.

A team of netball players stands outside a cafe.

Netball players from Yea and out of town are regulars at Vicky McMaster’s cafe, meaning local sport is crucial to the business.(Supplied: Vicky McMaster)

“You always go through ebbs and flows, and some players say, ‘I’ll give it one more year,'” McMaster said.

“You have the opportunity to recruit numbers when that happens, but during COVID no one was able to recruit anyone.”

With a population of 1,500, McMaster said nothing less than the fabric of the city was at stake when the club withdrew from the 2023 Outer East FNL season.

“I have a cafe in town and netball players come in before they go to away games,” she said.

“When you have home games, there are a lot of people that come to town. There is a feeling, there is a life in the city that we didn’t have last year.

“There have been two floods in 18 months, fires last year… the city has had a tough run and it’s things like the club that bring the city together.”

‘When you’re under siege, you’re an introvert’

The first thing Hosier and his teammates on the Roos committee had to think about was how they were going to play in their stadium again.

Three months after the floods, the city council completely dismantled its buildings.

“We were trying to sell our club without rooms, gym or locker rooms,” he said.

A country football field from the air. It is under water and the buildings around it are submerged

Corowa-Rutherglen FC stadium flooded in October 2022 floods(Supplied: Graham Hosier)

“If I had said ‘come to Corowa and you would have had to change behind the towel to run away’ it would have been a tough sell.”

Fortunately, flood relief and community spirit came to the rescue.

Most of the uniforms and training equipment were rescued, while the local fire station washed the netball courts, allowing three teams to play the 2023 season.

A netball court covered in dried mud.

The Roos received help from across the community, including local firefighters who washed their netball courts so they could play in the 2023 season.(Supplied: Graham Hosier)

The Roos also picked the brain of the Shepparton Swans, who suffered even worse flooding in 2022 and played their 2023 season without club rooms.

The club converted raised coaches’ boxes into makeshift women’s locker rooms.

He found a kitchen at local warehouses, which will serve as their kitchen and club room this year, and purchased it with the help of a local company.

“We have five netball teams running this year, and we are going to have a senior (football) team,” Hosier said.

“It’s been a fantastic effort.”

At Mentone, the board began by hiring a new CEO and outsourcing his workload.

Among the outside help recruited was Steve Pallas, director of an online platform for grassroots sports volunteers.

Pallas said his main contribution was to focus the discussions.

A man with thinning gray hair smiles at the camera

Steve Pallas says motivation is important, but limiting various actions is key to getting football clubs back on track.(Supplied: Steve Pallas)

“Ideas were flying left, right and center: ‘we could do this, we could do that,'” he said.

“The main thing was to narrow the ideas down to key milestones, say who’s going to do it and what we’re going to do.”

“When you’re under siege, you’re introverted, and often a key limitation is that the burden is taken on by a small group of people. It’s one thing to (bring) people along on the journey to create that momentum, ease the burden of work and generate word of mouth to recover.

Pallas said the club’s execution was “extraordinary”.

“Early on, the Panthers did a call to arms where they informed interested parties, a bank donated $5,000, they had a lot of former presidents and players involved,” he said.

For Thompson, the professionalism of the rebuild was a revelation.

“I think the lesson for other clubs is that nowadays it is necessary to manage it at a professional level,” he said.

Eighteen men dressed in football smile at the camera

The Mentone Panthers have just secured a 2024 venue in Seaford, south-east of Melbourne.(Supplied: Panthers OMFC)

“Each committee member, the vice president, the president, needs very clear job descriptions, and you need more hands on deck.”

The newly renamed Mentone Panthers will now play their home games at Belvedere Reserve in Seaford, one of St Kilda’s training grounds.

The fight is not over

Thompson said there was still a long way to go to ensure the Panthers would be alive in five years, while at Corowa-Rutherglen the Roos also have a five-year plan.

“As a board we have said we need the council to help us rebuild and create a community center so other groups can use it,” Hosier said.

“There really isn’t a building like that in the city.”

Although McMaster now watches and benefits from the Yea Tigers from a distance, that distance is short. Emily Sundblom, the club’s secretary, works in her cafeteria.

“She didn’t stop trying to attract players. I made sure she had flexibility at work so she could talk to people if she needed to,” McMaster said.

“What she and the rest of the committee did went above and beyond. There’s a big difference between keeping something in existence and starting something over.

“Everyone needs a big pat on the back.”

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