REGARDLESS of all the knocks Bendigo’s VFL team has taken over the journey, Wednesday’s announcement of the imminent demise of the Gold was a disappointing day for footy in our city.
After 17 years represented in Australia’s second-best football competition - the VFL - Bendigo’s participation will end at the finish of this season after the Gold’s decision not to seek a licence renewal.
For seven of those 17 seasons in the VFL, the club has battled against the odds as a stand-alone entity, firstly, as the Bendigo Diggers from 1998 to 2002, and secondly, as the Gold from last year.
In between, Bendigo spent 10 years aligned with AFL club Essendon as the Bendigo Bombers.
But it’s Bendigo’s record as a stand-alone club that always had you feeling that eventually - even after last year’s successful SOS campaign - it was all just going to get too hard and that the decision to call it quits was a matter of when - not if.
The two biggest issues Bendigo has faced stand-alone stem both on and off the field.
Off-field, how the club has survived this long without a home base and social facilities to use as a guaranteed revenue stream is testament to all those who have steered the ship and kept it afloat from inaugural Diggers’ general manager Ken Yates through to current Gold executive chairman Tim Dickson.
Financially, Bendigo’s VFL team has long-lived hand-to-mouth throughout its stand-alone existence, but who know just how different things could have been had the Diggers’ plans for a $1.5 million two-storey building at the QEO, including a TAB and gaming lounge, in 1999 got through council?
On-field, while Bendigo made six finals series during its decade-long Essendon alignment, it’s clear that as a stand-alone team, we’re out of our depth in the VFL.
And that’s no surprise given the uneven nature of the VFL competition that mixes stand-alone teams with sides stacked with AFL-listed talent.
The gulf of that divide was never more evident than the final round last year when Bendigo - featuring its group of players where footy plays second fiddle to work or study - came up against a Geelong side including 16 professional footballers.
The result was a 201-point hammering for the Gold.
And as more AFL clubs continue to follow down the path set by Collingwood and Geelong and field their own VFL teams, that divide is only going to get bigger for the Gold.
I’ve got nothing but respect for every player who has put themselves out there to represent the Gold, Diggers and Bombers, but Bendigo’s stand-alone numbers in a results business are grim.
Across the Diggers and the stand-alone Gold, Bendigo’s record stands at just seven wins from 123 games.
Unfortunately, while the Diggers-Bombers-Gold have been great for Bendigo in terms of bringing top-class VFL football to the city, providing a pathway for the likes of Stewart Crameri into the AFL and bettering local players with their program, it’s clear on-field that despite all the hard work to keep it alive, the stand-alone model isn’t sustainable.
At least we had a crack.