The game of Football (or as it was once known Soccer) in Wangaratta is as rich and diverse as our great country. As Australia came out of the post WW2 doldrums on the back of a concerted push of the Australian governments of the day, so too did the growth of the world game in Wangaratta.
The game and the club can be traced back to the then major employer in the City (then known as a borough) to Bruck Mills. In those early years the textile industry in Australia was a boom industry and the mill expanded in the late 40’s into the 50’s in a building that was once an Aluminium smelter. This expanding industry needed employees and the wave of European migrants flowed to the North East to take up jobs in this foreign far away land. It wasn’t just the textile industry i.e. Bruck and the Wangaratta Woollen Mills but the thriving Tobacco industry in the region that attracted workers from afar. With plentiful work, the freedom, the ability to have money in their pockets, plenty of food and being able to see a future for their families the pull to the area was strong.
With all these people flocking to the area there was one thing missing, things to do with their spare time. As almost all these migrants being European and little or no English there was one common denominator: Football.
Some began to kick a ball around on a grassy knoll over at the Army base in Sisley Avenue and the eagle eye of a certain gentleman saw an opportunity. This man was the general manager of Bruck, Mr Jack Ballou (a Canadian, as the company was Canadian). Mr Ballou could see that the game of Football was a way to keep his workforce happy and engaged and a happy work force was a productive workforce. He created The Rayonaires (Rayon being a principle fibre used in the weaving of fabric at the time), the year was 1951 and Football was played in the town for the very first time on a competitive level. The team gained entry to the B.D.S.F.A (Border District Soccer Football Association) it encompassed teams from Benalla, Albury, Khancoban, Shepparton.
In their first season the Rayonaires took all before them winning the double in an undefeated season. It was an incredible feat with a team of men who all spoke their native tongues (although it was common to have Europeans who could speak multiple languages) There were Italians, Poles, Russians, Lithuanians, Dutch and Englishmen. What it demonstrated to all for the first time in the area that Football is the universal language.
The game was on their way and whilst that first year was successful the ensuring seasons were more competitive and the Wangaratta teams found the level of the opponents constantly improving. Teams were been established in Whourly, Milawa, King Valley and Myrtleford.
The early games were played on a grass area behind the Administration block at Bruck, and then moved to the Bruck Oval. In later years nomadic existence was experienced with the club moving to Appin Park, Avian Pak trotting track and in 1965 the council finally relented and gave the club a permanent home at South Wangaratta Reserve.
In time Bruck ceased their direct involvement and the Rayonaires became Wangaratta Rovers, Wangaratta United and finally in 1959 when then Governor Sir Dallas Brookes proclaimed the City of Wangaratta the club became Wangaratta City Soccer Club.
In those early years there were many people who were deeply embedded in the game and the culture of the sport, it must be said that without the direct involvement of such men as John De Luca, Bob Leask and John Allen the game would not be where it is today.
It was not until the late 60’s that juniors were introduced. The club up till that time relied on the transient workforce to refresh the senior team. It was the vision of the aforementioned men along with established senior player Chris Stoper established a junior team. They wanted to harness the children of the past players to ensure the clubs future. Bob Leask took over the junior program in 1968 and the by 1970 his team had won the first ever Cup final in the North East Soccer League. This team went on to be dominating force until the “72 season taking all before them.
The Wangaratta senior team finally tasted success again in 1975 winning the League championship with largely a team of graduates for Bob Leask’s junior team.
In 1975 without a doubt was the most single important football decision ever made by the club administrators. They applied to leave the NESL and join the AWSA. The WCSC was a dominate player in the NESL senior division with a team that could have been a powerhouse for years to come, yet the brave decision to leave was decided upon. Why? The committee could see the writing on the wall for the NESL with the Shepparton Clubs becoming much more financially stronger and being able to recruit players out of Melbourne for serious money on those days. A move to the geographically closer and more junior friendly environment of the AWSA was the direction that the club had to go in. The initial approval was given by the AWSA in late 1975 and then on the eve of the 1976 season the approval for entry was withdrawn, the clubs had to then go back with cap in hand and ask for re-entry to the NESL. Finally in the 1977 the WCSC played for the first time in the AWSA and with for the first time ever had four team representing the club, Seniors, Reserves, Under 16’s and under 14’s. Within two years the club would field all the way down to under 8’s. The decision by the visionaries back in 1975 had been well and truly vindicated.
The clubs quickly became a powerful player in the league and the senior team completed a hat-trick of league titles in the golden era 1980, 81 & 82.
Many junior titles also began to accumulate over the ensuring years as the game continued its steady upward trajectory. This grassroots growth was further enhanced when the club established within the guidelines and assistance of the VSF the rooball program; this introduced the game to many young children in a non-competitive environment. This program continued to grow and the establishment of the Saturday league for children and their families who didn’t want the commitment of Sunday football. The rooball program has now morphed into the mini-roos program and is run under lights on a Friday evening and some years ago was recognised as the single biggest program in the state.
Since the establishment of its permanent home at South Wangaratta Reserve the steady improvement and expansion of the facility. The recent realignment and establishment of the marquee pitch on ground three now has carries the name of The Bob Leask Memorial Football Field in recognition of his tireless work in junior development.
With the help of Government grants and serious fundraising the lighting upgrades of the main oval in 2019 has seen the ability to play night matches at South Wangaratta Reserve for the first time.
The history the game would not be complete or enriched without the advent of Female football with the club or the city. The first female team represented the club back in the early 80’s and after a slow establishment the growth over the past 10 years has been on a steady up trend. Where in the past the girls were forced to play within the confines of the boys program the growth has seen the establishment of their own divisions which has helped with growth of numbers but also the technical development of the players. Such was the growth of female participation the WCFC wanted to ensure an less intimidating environment to participate. The Club sort financial assistance through the grants program both federally and at state level to extend the clubrooms to have female change rooms. This has put the club as a leader in the field to have designated female facilities within the north east regions.
The Wangaratta City name has been part of the sporting landscape since the 1950’s, the term soccer is something that the national body wanted to move away from to thrust the game onto the world stage. In 2005 the Australian Soccer Federation changed its name to Football Federation Australia and encouraged clubs to do the same, but not making it mandatory. The Wangaratta Club did the due diligence on the matter and encouraged input from members past and present. The Wangaratta City Soccer Club became the Wangaratta City Football club in 2006 and reverted back to the original red and black striped shield as the emblem.
The growth of the game within the city of Wangaratta has seen it become a far distant thing that those migrants used to do on a Saturday afternoon at the army base in their spare time. The club is now a well-respected part of the wider football community within the north east and border region and now hold a place within the sporting landscape of the city. The growth of the game and club over the past 40+ years (since joining the AWFA) now sees the WCFC the single biggest sporting club with the city in terms of participants.
The Wangaratta City Football club has come a long way since those early and ground breaking years and the sport is now is an option for all to participate in and enjoy.