Grass Roots Australian Football — Portarlington Football Netball Club

150 Years in 2024

Call for information on Football, Netball and the Club’s connection with it local communities in Portarlington, St Leonards and Indented Head

Located approximately 30 kilometres from Geelong on the Bellarine Peninsula are the coastal towns of Portarlington, St Leonards, and Indented Head. One of the Club’s major objectives is to ensure to involve our local communities not only in its endeavours to provide excellent football and netball sporting platforms in a family friendly environment. Almost for the entire life of the football part of the Club of nearly 150 years the communities from all three towns have contributed to its existence through player participation, membership, and sponsorship.  

Historically In the 1830s and ’40s settlers were establishing a presence on the Bellarine and the small township forming near Indented Head was named Portarlington in 1851.  Census data reveals that Portarlington’s population was only around 150 people in the 1850s, but town-planning was well underway and with blocks sold off and local businesses emerging future growth was assured. St Leonards was also established in the 1850’s and had a smaller population.

A cricket club was established as early as 1872 in Portarlington. Two years later, at a meeting held at the town’s Bayview Hotel, 27 locals gathered to form the first football club on the Bellarine Peninsula. Accordingly, both the Portarlington Cricket Club and the Portarlington Football Club currently are preparing to celebrate their upcoming 150th anniversaries (and netball was established in the early 1970s, so a 50th anniversary will coincide with the cricket and football celebrations, as well).

Countless football clubs were formed in the decades immediately following the game’s codification in 1859, and yet the vast majority of them did not stand the test of time. Formed in 1874, Portarlington counts among the oldest extant clubs of any football code in the world. To put this into perspective, consider these few comparisons: Portarlington Football Club has been around 11 years longer than Richmond and preceded Collingwood by 18 years; it is four years older than Manchester United and was already in its twelfth year of existence when Arsenal was formed; it was approaching its 50th anniversary when the St George Dragons were founded; and Port had been around for more than 80 years when the Dallas Cowboys were created. Portarlington is, by any measurement, a historic football club.

Like all footy clubs, Portarlington has its own unique story to tell full of ups and downs. Its early history is particularly fascinating. For instance, when it was formed the only other established football club in the region was Geelong. Travelling roughly 15-20 miles over land during winter in those days was no easy feat, however, and this meant that taking a ferry across the bay to play games in Melbourne was both a practical and appealing option. 

In fact, a preliminary search of the records show that Portarlington played at least 13 games of football in 1885, of which 11 took place in Melbourne. This suggests that Melbourne teams were not so inclined to catch the ferry across to Portarlington, which is only natural given that they had plenty of nearby opponents for scheduling more convenient matches. But it also tells us that the Portarlington folk were very keen to play football and were willing to go to significant efforts to make it happen. Furthermore, Port’s record in these 13 games played in 1885 was an impressive 10 wins and three losses, so they appear to have been quite a formidable outfit.

Overall, however, it must be said that Portarlington’s playing record has been mostly characterised by only occasional successes interspersed among long periods of struggle. It has bounced around various local leagues over the decades. The club secured premiership successes in 1906, 1909 and 1911 in the local Bellarine Football Association. However, although competitive in the years post WWI and pre WW2, the Club’s first Championship/Premiership was in 1947. The 1950s proved to be a ‘golden era’ for the Club, with flags won in 1953, 1958, and a second Championship/Premiership in1959. 

The Club gained its eighth Senior Premiership 1978 and a ninth came in 1992 when it won not only the Senior and Reserve Grade football premierships but also the A Grade Netball Premiership and were runners up in the B Grade Netball. After the 1994 Senior Football grand final loss in 1994, the club’s fortunes took a turn for the worse thereafter, with poor senior playing performances compounded by financial hardship in the mid- to late-1990s. The past two and a half decades have been tough on and off the field. Indeed, the situation became so dire that by 2019 the club faced the very real threat that it might fold.

For almost 150 years, through thick and thin, the football club has been interwoven into the wider fabric of the Portarlington, St Leonards and Indented Head communities. Yes, the good teams and occasional premierships have been celebrated, and the club’s greatest players are revered—led by John Hyde, who played in Port’s Championship flag in 1947 before joining Geelong where he won the best and fairest award as a twenty-year-old in 1950 and starred as a key defender in the Cats’ back-to-back VFL flags in 1952-53. 

As is the case with all local towns, however, on-field success is not what defined the footy club’s role within the Portarlington community. It is for this reason that, when recently hit by the realisation that the club may vanish, members have banded together in a concerted endeavour to ensure its long-term future. 

Fighting back after facing likely extinction is a key part of the Club’s strategy, in particular reigniting the local community’s passion for its historic club. A major part of this is to ensure our entire local communities are aware of the upcoming 150 years celebrations and a call for any information people may have on the history of not only the Football and Netball side but also any information on the Portarlington Cricket Club as well.