AFTER 17 seasons competing in Australia’s second-best football competition, the curtain comes down on Bendigo’s VFL involvement on Friday night.
There are those who will be disappointed to see the demise of VFL football in Bendigo and the lost opportunities it brings to the city, and others who will say good riddance to the Bendigo Gold - there seems to be no sitting on the fence when it comes to opinion on the Gold.
With the Gold’s game against Collingwood at the QEO this Friday night being the last of what will end up 321 VFL matches Bendigo has contested since 1998 through the guise of the Diggers, Bombers and Gold, this week has presented an opportunity to reflect back on the 17-season history.
And there’s one season that sticks out where the immediate words that spring to mind are “what if?”
It’s most likely forgotten by those who weren’t at the club at the time considering it was nine years ago, but in 2005 the Bendigo Bombers were just one good quarter away from playing in the grand final.
The Bombers led Sandringham by five points at three quarter-time of the 2005 preliminary final and the dream of a grand final was within reach.
But history shows that the Zebras kicked 10 goals to three with the wind in the last quarter to win 17.19 (121) to 12.10 (82).
It was season over for Matthew Knights’ Bombers, while the Zebras went on the following week to defeat Werribee by nine points in the grand final.
It’s all irrelevant now, but what if Bendigo had held onto that three quarter-time preliminary final lead against the Zebras and gone on to win the premiership?
Admittedly, in 2005 the Bendigo Bombers team was largely made up of Essendon players with a sprinkling of VFL-listed players such as Nick Carter, Simon Rosa, Jordan Doering, Kain Robins, Callan Beasy, Justin Blumfield and Aaron Connaughton who were regulars in the team.
While Bendigo Bombers’ results were heavily dictated to by the health and quality of Essendon's list, what boost could a 2005 flag have had on growing Bendigo’s membership base and community interest, increasing sponsorship revenue and becoming a more attractive proposition for recruits to strengthen the VFL-list – after all, everyone loves a winner, as the Bendigo Spirit have proven.
Could that flow-on effect have then created an opportunity for a sustained run towards the top of the ladder – just like country rivals North Ballarat later did when it won three flags in a row - and provided some impetus that perhaps could have led to what would become the stand-alone Gold being in a much stronger position to move forward on its own once Essendon severed ties at the end of 2012.
But more importantly, could a 2005 grand final win have put the lack of a facility to call home that is one of the biggest black marks as to why VFL football in Bendigo will be lost after Friday night back on the council agenda, for where would the win have been celebrated and the VFL premiership cup been displayed?
Former captains Nick Carter and Simon Rosa – perhaps the two most recognised faces when it comes to VFL in Bendigo – have both enjoyed multiple premiership success with Golden Square, but both admit they still look back to 2005 with the Bombers and ponder “what if?”
But that’s all history now – just like VFL football will be in Bendigo come Saturday, and that's a shame.