AFTER more than 20 years as a pivotal figure in Wimmera football, Stephen McQueen has been forced to say goodbye.
McQueen was made redundant by AFL Victoria last month following a COVID-related restructure.
McQueen first ventured into football administration coaching the Horsham District under-14s interleague side in the late 1990s.
McQueen said he wanted to give back to football in the region after a successful playing career, and eventually moved onto the board of the Horsham District Football Netball Lague.
"I was always going to do something in football after I retired," McQueen said.
"Having played 80 per cent of my football out at Rupanyup, it was just a bit too far (away from Horsham) for me to be a committee member or something like that out there. I had no ties to any Horsham club at that stage, so it was just a nice fit to be on the board at that time.
"It was good fun and a good chance to just give something back."
McQueen said shedding the allegiance with Rupanyup to be an unbias member of the board was initially a difficult process.
"For a long time, I just couldn't go and watch a Rupanyup game," he said.
"That was hard - they had won the premiership the year before, and for my first game on the District league board, I handed over the premiership flag before the game. That was a real test.
"There was a steel rail fence in front of the old sheds at Rupanyup, and I remember holding onto that so tight my knuckles were turning white, just trying to restrain myself from shouting something. I knew from then I had to avoid their games.
"But it was an interesting journey, especially early on. It's a fine line, and I have no doubt whatsoever that there were clubs that thought I was still aligned with Rupanyup.
"I was pretty careful - not quite to break the alliance because I'll never do that; I'll always be a Rupanyup person - but I didn't want to be seen as bias towards anyone.
"That's something I've really tried to maintain the whole way through."
McQueen later became an administrator for AFL Wimmera-Mallee, the AFL Victoria governing body in charge of football and netball in the region.
McQueen said his primary job boiled down to helping football prosper.
"The whole point of the job was to help clubs, and to keep football going in the region," he said.
"That's what I got into the role for, and I did the best I could. I wouldn't say I was always right, but I did the best I could.
"If something went wrong, you apologise and you get on with it. I hope people respected that attitude."
It was the type of job that by nature often attracted more criticism than praise.
"Unfortunately, that's just part of the job," McQueen said.
"I remember going to a grand final one year and as you walked past a group of people - which you would do a dozen times in a day - you would hear snickers and people bagging the commission.
"There were times where you thought, 'Is it all worth it?'
"But you just have to grit your teeth and wear it. Every decision, there is going to be a winner and a loser. As long as you stick to the rules, believe you've done the right thing, and stand by your decisions, you can hold your head high."
McQueen said one of the biggest lessons he took away from the role was a broader perspective of football in the Wimmera.
"It's a pretty passionate sport, and people are very passionate about their clubs," he said.
"But I still say to people, every club in the Wimmera is very similar, structurally. They've all got their umpire hater, their fella that drinks too much on the sidelines, wild social functions ... all those sorts of things.
"The clubs have more in common than they might admit, and generally, the people running the clubs are always doing the best they can.
"It doesn't matter what club it is, doesn't matter if they're on top of the ladder or on the bottom, people are just trying to do the best they can. And I think that's worth remembering."
Throughout the journey, McQueen credited the late Greg Goldsmith, John Smith and Dave McCluskey as three of his most influential mentors.
He also thanked Tracey Beddison for her guidance in the early days, and current HDFNL chairman Fred Mellington, who he has worked with closely since the very beginning.
McQueen said friends and family underpinned his unforgettable tenure in football.
McQueen said his personal highlight was watching his son Bailey growing up playing football.
He said watching Bailey captain Noradjuha-Quantong to an under-17s premiership in 2015 was the pinnacle - even if it meant putting aside his administrator's hat for a moment.
"I remember I was being a bit cautious with the job, not wanting to outwardly support someone. I didn't want to show my allegiances too much," McQueen said of the grand final.
"But a stack of Harrow-Balmoral boys were standing behind me - their senior side was playing that day - and they said to me, 'Steve, we'll let you barrack just this once'. That relieved the pressure a little bit.
"When Bailey got his medal (for best on ground honours for the day), I couldn't watch. I was too emotional.
"Watching your son grow up playing football, that's pretty special."
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