Last Sunday night the members of the Devon-Welshpool-Won Wron-Woodside Football-Netball Club gathered to decide the fate of a treasured community organisation. A shortage of footballers had already forced the Allies' committee members to give up on fielding teams this year. Now the members had to decide whether the club, which has a history extending back to the formation of the Devon FC in 1883, should be placed in recess or wound up.
The Allies remain alive after almost 100 per cent of the members voted to place the club in recess. But recent events have taken a heavy toll.
"There has been a lot of despair in the last couple of months," DWWWW president Murray Farley said. "A lot of people feel gutted. They've worked hard to keep the club going. Matters were made worse by the fact life member and past president Matthew Moore passed away last week. He was one of our strongest workers – just a no-fuss bloke."
Farley's club has been under severe pressure since an internal war broke out after the 2007 season. The split that resulted saw a significant number of members decamp to form the Woodside and District Wildcats. In the following five years, the Allies won just three senior games.
With DWWWW now in recess, the players that remained on its books have dispersed, with the majority joining neighbouring clubs Yarram and Woodside.
"I've got nothing but respect for the playing group," Farley said. "A lot of those kids, for the last three or four years, were playing two games each Saturday. They were told it was going to be better and it didn't happen and they just got disheartened."
For Yarram coach Griffin Underwood the Allies' demise has brought him no joy.
"I've got mates out there who have played for the Allies for their whole lives, so it's tough to see their club go down," he said.
Even at Woodside, the situation has been met with a muted response. "I wasn't part of the split, so I don't have any ill feeling towards them and I certainly don't feel any elation now," Wildcats secretary Dennis O'Keefe said.
However, the footy followers in the Yarram region knew that having a community of 2200 people essentially supporting three clubs was unsustainable.
"I think our people are just glad that we're back to two clubs feeding off the town," O'Keefe said. "It's been bloody hard."
Yarram, which crossed from the Alberton league to the North Gippsland league at the end of last season, has been made markedly stronger by DWWWW entering recess.
Three former Allies, Dan Vardy, Ben O'Loughlin and Josh Becker, all played in Yarram's senior side last weekend when the Demons opened their inaugural NGFL campaign by defeating Traralgon-Tyers United.
And Vardy, O'Loughlin and Becker all finished among Yarram's goalkickers.
"Picking up those guys has helped us," Underwood said. "It gives us a bit more depth. And the fact they all kicked a goal on the weekend was very handy."
Spirits are also high at Woodside, which is coached by former Yarram player Chris Pettitt, after the Wildcats beat Boisdale-Briagolong in a roller-coaster match last weekend.
"Numbers-wise we're very, very good," O'Keefe said. "It was absolute chaos around our rooms on the Thursday night before our first game."
Nevertheless, the survival of both Yarram and Woodside is by no means assured.
"I think it's still touch and go with such a small country town," Underwood said. "You need work in the town to keep people, so I think even two clubs is still pushing the limit.
"It only takes one year where a few people might go and one of the clubs might be scraping the bottom of the barrel again."
But what of the Allies? After all, the club has not folded but has been placed in recess, with people like Farley dreaming that it can again return to the field.
On the positive side, Inverleigh (Geelong and District league), Great Western (Mininera and District), Sale City (North Gippsland) and Thornton-Eildon (Yarra Valley Mountain District) have shown that it's possible to fight your way back after spending time in recess.
Yet many other clubs have quickly gone from recess to being wound up completely.
"At this stage, a lot of our members are looking at ways to keep our group of people together," Farley said. "Last year, even though we were struggling, we were still doing 100 meals on a Thursday night. "If we still do the meals, even if it's once a fortnight, it will keep people together out there and keep them in touch with what we're trying to do.
"A lot of cards would have to fall our way to get going again, but I'm not giving up hope."