Football in the Horsham District Football Netball League has endured a lot since its inception 75-plus years ago.
All these years later the league is still running, however, it looks a little different. Given time, things invariably change - and the Horsham District Football Netball League is no exception.
Too many football teams to name have taken part in the HDFNL since its beginning. Sides like Homers, Goroke, Jung, Longerenong College, Gerang-Kiata have made their mark on the competition before becoming extinct.
Other current sides like Noradjuha and Quantong have been forced to merge in order to survive, while some clubs like St Michaels (now Horsham Saints) have made the move to the stronger Wimmera League. Current clubs such as Edenhope-Apsley (KTNFNL) and Jeparit-Rainbow (Mallee League) joined the competition from other leagues.
Nine teams competed in the 2021 edition of the HDFNL and interestingly six of those were merged teams - Noradjuha-Quantong, Harrow-Balmoral, Kaniva-Leeor, Edenhope-Apsley, Natimuk United and Jeparit-Rainbow.
Kalkee (still standing) is the most successful HDFNL club in terms of senior premierships, with 15 to its name.
Franz Tursi, who won the HDFNL's best and fairest in 1973 playing for Longerenong College and went on to umpire the HDFNL and WFNL for many years, said it was likely due to dwindling populations that HDFNL teams have been forced to merge and fold.
"Farms got bigger, populations got smaller," Tursi said.
"People moved on, whether they stayed in the Wimmera or moved down to Melbourne. There was a demise.
"Some clubs had to merge just for their own survival.
"Population drift has probably affected a number of clubs, but they're pretty settled I think now."
The standard of football in the HDFNL has varied but has always been considered relatively strong. The neighbouring Wimmera Football League however is seen as stronger; this is likely due to the fact the WFNL caters to larger towns like Horsham, Stawell, Ararat, Warracknabeal and Minyip/Murtoa which have more resources.
Still, the HDFNL has been home to some of the region's great players over the years. In 2021 numerous ex-AFL players were running around for HDFNL clubs including ex-Brisbane Lion Michael Close (Harrow-Balmoral) and ex-Carlton and Collingwood forward Chris Bryan (Kaniva-Leeor), as well as numerous players with state league experience.
According to Tursi the standard of the HDFNL was "quite good" in his playing days.
The Wimmera it was quicker in comparison to the District League," he said.
"They had different coaches and different facilities. But guys that went from district league into Wimmera League adapted quite quickly and held their own without too many problems.
"I was captain of College. When I first got there we had some cracking sides. We could hold our own with Wimmera League in those days.
"Going back at times I thought the District League went through some periods where it was pretty ordinary. But I think it's got better now and has got stronger."
While towns with HDFNL teams may not house the same populations or have access to the same finances as their Wimmera League counterparts, HDFNL clubs are renowned for being integral components of their small communities.
Something that has been a relative constant for HDFNL clubs is their ability to draw crowds and bring their communities together for game day.
"The District league is a community set up," Tursi said.
"It's a community situation where if you haven't got it the community dies.
"A football and netball club it's the heart and soul of their community."
These days (restriction pending) you can pop down to any HDFNL game and you are likely to see a good portion of the town enjoying themselves supporting their team.
With more resources and finances, presently clubs have been able to secure more star football imports than ever before. Some of these players can travel from Melbourne and interstate. While this is good for the standard of the league it, unfortunately, was a hindrance for some sides this year with COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Tursi recalls sides in his playing days as being "mainly" made up of locals.
"You might have got an import from someone who was pulling out of the Wimmera League and deciding to go back to the District League," he said.
Not real imports like the way they are doing, like carloads coming up from wherever these days in the WFNL and HDFNL for them to survive."
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: