By Peter Argent
The Wirrulla Football Club was formed a century ago – back in 1919, a year after the first game was played in the district in mid-1918 as a Red Cross fundraiser.
What’s unique about the Bombers is that the club jumper has had a variety of designs and colours over the century, culminating in its current guernsey.
“Initially playing in the Western Districts Football Association, Wirrulla’s original jumper was red with a white star on the chest, then in the 1920s it changed to red with black trim,” club historian Craig Johnson explained.
“After the Second World War the design was changed to red with a white V and we became the Roosters. We used these colours until 1995.
“To avoid a clash with the Elliston Roosters after the formation of the Mid West League in 1988, we wore a clash jumper against them until 1995, which was red, white and black, the St Kilda colours.
“We moved across to these red, white and black colours for 1995 and ’96 campaigns, but this jumper wasn’t popular.
“This was changed to red and black and we became the Bombers in 1997.”
Wirrulla, a grain belt town located 60 km north east Streaky Bay on the Eyre Peninsula, was a founding member of the Western Flinders Football Association which started in 1924, playing In Grand Finals in four of the first five years. They were bridesmaids each time until they eventually beat United in 1929 to claim the club’s first flag.
A second premiership came in the final year of the Western Flinders competition in 1938, where they had success against United again (a merger of the Cungena and Yantanabi teams).
The success continued after the club joined the Central Flinders competition in 1939, defeating United yet again.
After the recess for World War II, the competition was rebranded the Streaky Bay Football League and Wirrulla collected the first post-war victory, defeating Rovers by five points in a thriller in 1946.
They would have success again in ‘49 against the same opponents, this time by more comfortable 38 point-margin but that would be their last title for 20 years.
It wasn’t until former Port Adelaide champion Wally Dittmar, a 1959 SANFL Magpies premiership player and state representative, who made his mark on the club.
He took them through its most successful epoch from 1969-71 when they won three consecutive flags.
There was another triumph in 1982 against the Rovers again with Glen Kelsh in charge, before Wirrulla became members of the Mid West Football League which was created in 1988 from a merger of neighbouring Leagues, Le Hunte and Streaky Bay.
Wirrulla endured grand final defeats in 1995 and ‘96 (wearing black, white and red) before a breakthrough inaugural flag in the Mid West football competition arrived in the 2008 grand final in which they defeated the West Coast Hawks by 18 points.
Among the host of stars for the club are Braden Holmes, who won the 2008 medal and the competition’s best under 21 player in that premiership year, while David Fulton collected the 1993 accolade and Errol Walker was the winner back in 1973.
One of the club’s icons is Glen Kelsh who won Mail Medals in 1982 and again in 1985, the year he was also leading goal kicker with 102 goals. He also kicked a club record of 123 goals in 1987 and 122 in 1988.
A member of the Port Adelaide Magpies 1995 flag, smooth moving left footer Troy Olson would return home and win the ’97 Mail Medal, along with being the competition’s leading goal kicker on six occasions, kicking upwards of 1,100 goals across a distinguished career.
Taking out the competition’s top honour in 2006 was Murray Kelsh.
Mark Howard won the Mail Medal back in 1981, while Tyler Baldock was both the Mid West Mail Medalist and best under 21 player in 2011. In this stellar year he also represented the SA Country team in a match against WA Country at Football Park.
Mike Baldock, a four-time best and fairest and Mail Medalist in 1988 was a member of the Eyre Peninsula’s SA Country Championships winning side in 1991 and 20 years later his son, Tyler, collected the same honour in Port Pirie.
Last year Mitchell Gum added his name to an industrious list of Medalists, while other winners include Ron Doley and Ted Doyle (tied in 1952) along with indigenous talent Don Tschuna (1972).
“Sadly the club and league secretary’s house burnt down in early 60s and with that we lost a lot of early history,” Johnson said.
“Among the great club stalwarts off the field have benn Col Anderson and John Duncan – our trainers for many years who finished in the 1990s, while John Duncan Junior and Roly Agars took over from that pair and only recently retiring.
“Keith Johnson and Trevor Watson put the funds together to build our new clubhouse in 1981, being secretary and treasurer for long tenures.
“Harry Olson goal umpired for many years after retiring from playing.”
On the field, Johnson said Simon Webb – the association’s leading goalkicker in 2018 – would be the club’s longest serving player, closing in on 350 games and still playing.
“He (Webb) played his first 230 without missing a game and hasn’t missed many since.”
Main image: The Wirrulla Football Club 1970 Premiership team