A cast of impressive footballers and memorable characters came together to help Imperials-Wonwondah to a drought-breaking premiership in 1980.
The club had not won a flag since Imperials and Wonwondah merged in 1976, and the drought for each standalone club went back even further.
Wonwondah had last won a premiership in 1957, when it defeated Homers by three goals.
Imperials meanwhile had not reached the top of the Horsham District league since 1966, when it defeated the team from Longerenong College by nine points.
Imperials however had returned to the grand final several more times, finishing runners-up in 1967, 1971 and 1972.
Rod Garth joined Imperials in 1969, and went on to become a vital figure at the club both as a player and as an administrator.
He said the club's welcoming atmosphere and a belief that they were destined for premiership success helped keep him at the club.
"We played in a couple of grand finals in the early 70s, then I'd had some offers to go and play up in the Mallee League or the Wimmera league. But I stuck at Imps because I just thought it was going to happen," Garth recalled.
"I really enjoyed the club. I went there in 1969 and I've been there ever since."
Garth's faith was repaid in 1980, thanks in-part to an influx in new recruits.
Club stalwart Peter Miller played mostly reserves football that season.
Miller remembered an impressive cast of players joining the club.
"That team was really put over the top by a lot of guys that joined the club that year," Miller said.
"But it was a really great, really enjoyable year."
Brothers Chris and Larry Friend were two of the new recruits coaxed to the club by Jeff Creek and Noel 'Brown Dog' Brown.
Chris - who went on to play more than 500 Wimmera league matches after the club moved to the Wimmera league in 1983 - said he remembered a joyous year in 1980.
"I had just turned 18, got a bit of freedom and I wasn't that interested in football (the year before). Larry was more interested in sport than I was," Friend said.
"But then we met all the blokes at Imps and we got on really well with them. Larry always said it was one of the best years of footy he ever had."
Garth said the camaraderie among the group was fueled by one key factor.
"That good feeling always happens when you're winning games, doesn't it?" he said.
"There were a few players that came in and gave us that bit extra, and I think we only got beaten once or twice for the whole year.
"We just gelled, you know? We filled in the gaps where we were falling down in the past with new recruits, and had a great year."
Imperials-Wonwondah came up against St Michaels in the grand final, a match-up Friend said favoured his club.
"St Micks were a good side, don't get me wrong," Friend said. "But while we struggled against Quantong during the year, we always seemed to have the wool over St Micks for some reason."
Guided by co-coach Gary Smart, onballers Michael Perris, Peter Taylor and Greg Harvey, and finished off by goal-kicking key forwards Jeff Creek and Col Darrington, the grand final turned into a one-sided finale.
After a tight opening half, Imperials-Wonwondah ran away with the contest, claiming a 46-point victory for its first premiership as a merged club.
Friend said he could not remember too much about grand final day - perhaps owing to the week-long celebrations afterwards.
However he said one of the most memorable moments came off the field.
A group of enthusiastic supporters nicknamed 'The Animals' had followed Imperials-Wonwondah all season, offering verbose support from the sidelines, often with a drink in hand.
"I remember grand final day, they were all dressed up in United-coloured suits, and they carried a green and gold coffin (the colour of St Michaels) into the ground," Friend said.
"They did the death march onto the hill at City Oval with this coffin. Then they put the coffin onto the ground, opened it up, and it was just full of beers.
"That just set the day up. It was very funny. They were quite a fun bunch of fans."
OTHER GRAND FINAL FLASHBACKS:
Surprisingly, despite a season remembered fondly by those around the club, Imperials-Wonwondah (Horsham United as it became known in 1986) has never had a premiership reunion for its 1980 flag.
Miller suggested that perhaps the 1980 premiership was overshadowed by the club's tremendous feats achieved later in the decade.
After a stunning move to step-up into the Wimmera league in 1983, the club shocked the region in 1988 in one of the most memorable grand finals in the competition's history.
Guided by coach Phil Bunn, the club defeated Warracknabeal by 13 points at the Dimboola Rec Reserve to claim the Wimmera Football League premiership.
It was to be the club's only premiership as Horsham United - it made two more grand finals in 1994 and 1995, before merging with Natimuk and moving to the Horsham District league in 2014.
"We won the 1988 flag and I guess we just overlooked 1980," Miller said.
"We'd decided to make a fresh start in the Wimmera league but nobody ever really gave us a chance.
"I remember when we joined, our president said to us that we were going to work on a six-year plan to make finals, but instead we won the premiership in our fifth year."
The lack of celebration for the 1980 premiership was due to end this year, before the COVID-19 pandemic derailed a 40-year reunion.
Friend was hopeful something could still go ahead.
"It's a bit strange that we never had one, because we all got along so well," Friend said.
"It was just a great bunch of blokes.
"A lot of strangers that got on really well and built into a grand final side.
"Hopefully we can still do something - it would be great to catch up with a few people."
THE 1980 TEAM:
Editor's note - Chris Friend racked his memory to come up with what he believed to be the full team on grand final day in 1980.
With no access to the Horsham Historical Society due to COVID-19, this was the best recount of the team we could get.
If you know more or can help fill in some gaps, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
FB: Terry Breuer, Rod Garth, Daryl Mitchell
HB: Bruce Thompson, Ian Cutter, Noel Brown
C: Gary Muller, Greg Harvey, Michael Perris
HF: Chris Friend, Col Darrington, Peter Taylor
FF: Jonny Cross, Jeff Creek, ???
Foll: John Bodey, Gary Smart, Larry Friend
Inter: Bruce Knox, ???, ???
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