The landscape of local football has changed drastically since the mid-20th century and perhaps no club embodies these transformations more than the Bentleigh Football Netball Club.
In its 53-year history the club has featured in four different leagues, called home to three different venues, undergone numerous uniform alterations and has had four different nicknames.
In fact the club that debuted in the Eastern Suburban Churches Football League in 1965, the ‘Bentleigh Terriers’ who proudly donned green and gold vertical stripes, would be completely unrecognisable today.
Fast forward to July 2018 and the club, now known as the Demons, is preparing for the colossal feat of 1000 senior appearances in league football when it hosts Dingley on Saturday afternoon at Bentleigh Reserve.
It has been a rollercoaster journey for the club with plenty of bumps along the way, particularly at the turn of the century, but since its return to local community football in the Southern Football League the club has made big strides.
Bentleigh FNC General Manager Garry Matlock should know; he’s been at the club for 50 years and has seen both the highs and lows throughout his time.
One of the lowest points was when the club was forced to withdraw from the Southern FL in 1999 due to rising costs of players’ payments, joining the VAFA in 2000.
Whilst the club was still present and competing in the Amateurs, the connection to the local community was lost with lengthy road trips every fortnight making it a logistical nightmare.
“Because we were in the lower grades [in the Amateurs], we were travelling to Werribee and Mount Evelyn every second week. You couldn’t get people to support you,” explained Matlock.
Matlock knew his club would not prosper in the Amateurs and put regaining entry back into the Southern Football League at the top of his agenda.
A decade in the VAFA did come with some success, the Dees winning their third senior premiership in 2009, but the clubs re-entry back into the SFL in 2011 was a cause for just as much celebration.
“It was extremely important [to re-enter the SFL} for a number of reasons. It gave us a chance to play local community football again” Matlock said.
“We were going around in circles in the Amateurs, we weren’t good enough for those higher leagues. We weren’t aligned to a college or anything, so we just fluctuated between divisions”.
“Community football has been terrific to come back to. It has led to the rebirth of our club”.
It’s an appropriate description of an organisation that is now strongly respected and valued within the SFNL community.
The senior team now compete in Division 1 and are currently in a fierce battle to lock up a finals spot, much like the reserves.
In addition to healthy senior teams, the club has been one of the stronger representatives in Under 19’s football in recent years and continues to consistently field sides.
But perhaps the biggest growth has been seen in the areas of women’s football and netball, which has helped to truly transform the club into a family friendly environment.
When commenting on the growth and development of the club in these areas, Matlock reinforced the importance of expansion in relation to the clubs permanency.
“It’s extremely important for longevity that you bring in young blood” Matlock explained.
“Having the women’s team is really important because it brings a different perspective to the club. It helps to calm the place down, the club is now more of a family club”.
“It [expansion] is particularly important in the Under 19’s because we want to be a club that can grow and succeed within. We don’t want to rely on importing players in like other clubs who don’t have an Under 19’s”.
So as the Bentleigh Football Netball Club have shown, a lot can change in the space of a decade, let alone 1000 games.
But unlike recent history, the Demons progressive direction and strong relationship with the junior organisation has the clubs foundations firmly set within the SFNL community indefinitely.
As for Matlock, he’s hopeful that the next thousand games will prove to be just as fruitful with some more history to be made.
“We’d love to win a Division 1 premiership!” laughed Matlock.
“But as a club we’re proud to be in the SFNL. We enjoy being in the league and we enjoy the community aspect of the competition”.
“We look forward to being a part of that competition for the foreseeable future”.
To celebrate the milestone of 1000 senior games, Bentleigh FNC is holding a club function prior to the senior game at 12pm with an array of activities on show.
Entry is free and everyone with a connection to the Bentleigh FNC is encouraged to attend.
More information can be found here: http://bentleighfc.com/bentleighs-1000th-game/