STRATHFIELDSAYE may have surprised most with its rapid rise from Bendigo Football League newcomers to grand finalists in the space of just five years.
But not Jono Gawthrop.
Gawthrop was the inaugural captain of the Storm in their debut season of 2009 and on Saturday will join Kris Lea, Lachlan Sharp and Michael Pilcher as fellow members of the club’s historic first game who will play in the grand final against Golden Square at the Queen Elizabeth Oval.
Gawthrop recalls from Strathfieldsaye’s infancy, the Storm had the makings of something special in the BFL, despite the obvious challenge of stepping straight into a major league and competing against clubs built on more than 100 years of history.
“It was really exciting from the start, especially getting Clint Whitsed, who has a lot of respect, on board as our first coach,” Gawthrop said this week.
“Right from the start we wanted to create our own culture and identity.
“We wanted the club to have a real community feel, and that’s one of the most exciting things about our club.
“We’ve got a great backing from the community at Strathfieldsaye and that has helped create a really good feeling at the club.
“You can play footy at some places and may feel like you’re just part of a squad, but there’s a real family and community element to Strathfieldsaye.
“It’s fantastic to have seen that grow right from day one.”
The on-field journey to Saturday's grand final began on April 11, 2009, when the Storm hosted Castlemaine at Tannery Lane in their first game.
Gawthrop led the inaugural team of 21 through a banner that read: “Storm dreams start here. Pride, passion, we have no fear.”
And it was a dream start for the Storm, who defeated the Magpies by 25 points – 17.12 (114) to 14.5 (89) – in front of a massive crowd that paid a gate of $9000.
Of the four who are playing in the grand final on Saturday, Pilcher and Gawthrop were the Storm’s two best players against Castlemaine, while Sharp kicked two goals to also be among the better players and Lea kicked one.
“That day was just unreal,” Gawthrop said.
“We had a huge crowd there and to win that first game was a bit like a final... it was just an unbelievable feeling.
“We won four games that first year and lost a couple of close ones, but right from the start it just felt like we were on the right path.”
Gawthrop says there’s one word that has encapsulated the Storm from the moment the club made the decision in June 2008 to step straight into the BFL – passion.
“There’s so much passion that stemmed from Ray Patterson (first president), Pete Crapper, who unfortunately has passed away, and all the committee that backed the club,” Gawthrop said.
“All the passion and emotion that went into getting the club up and running... it’s all starting to spill out now a bit.
“It’s great we’ve got through to this week, and I look back on all the people who backed the club.
“They were so optimistic from the start and every year, we have been able to get better.”
The Storm have improved their ladder position each year from 9th in 2009 to 7th, 6th, 3rd and now they’re into a grand final. Overall, the club’s senior record stands at 46 wins from 93 games.
“The committee obviously made a hard decision after the second year when they went with Willo (Darryl Wilson) as coach over Clint, but Clint handled that really well,” Gawthrop said.
“Clint was the perfect guy to lay the foundation and Willo has then taken it the next step.
“It’s going to be really special on Saturday to run out with the three other boys who have been there since day one.
“But we’re not only playing for each other as a team, we’re playing for the whole community that has backed us from the start.”