Rangers still alive and well after 131 years

An hour south of Sydney, in a small suburb of Wollongong, the Balgownie Rangers lay claim to being the oldest running football club in Australia.

An hour south of Sydney, in a small suburb of Wollongong, the Balgownie Rangers lay claim to being the oldest running football club in Australia. They may no longer be kicking it in the top tier of the Illawarra but they-ve produced some Socceroos in their time and they plan to be around for many years to come.

The club was formed in 1883 to service the immigrant interest in football in the area and compete against other local sporting clubs. The expansion of the Mt Pleasant Colliery and other mines in the area brought an influx of migrants from Great Britain who had a passion for football.

Seven years later they officially registered to play in the newly formed NSW Football Association - the first village on the south coast to play organised football and they claimed to be one of the strongest teams in the state.

Currently in their 131st season, and while they might not be competing at the level of some of their former glory, the club has five teams in the District League who are all on track to play finals with four rounds to go.

They have of course been collecting silverware along the way, with the First Grade team winning the title three years in succession from 2008-10 and their Youth and Reserve Grade teams crowned League Champions in 2011.

According to Club President Travis Faulks - who is himself lacing up his boots for his 20th season with Balgownie, the club continues to hold a special place in the community and its rich history is related proudly by its players.

“We-ve always tried to relate positively to the community and we-re lucky that we have such a loyal supporter base.

“We pride ourselves on having good people and a good culture. Win or lose we-re about enjoyment and fulfilment and we-re currently achieving that.”

The Rangers home ground is named after their most famous son, James “Judy” Masters, who played his junior football there in the early 1900-s and went on to captain Australia on five occasions in full internationals.

Masters scored five goals for his country and remarkably in over 400 club and representative games was never cautioned - surely a feat that hasn-t been replicated. He was born and died in Balgownie a true product of the area and in 1999 was added to Football Federation Australia-s Hall of Fame.

More recently the club was home to Matt Horsley who went on to make over 200 appearances with Wollongong Wolves, played 79 matches for Perth Glory and represented the Socceroos on one occasion.

In coming to grips with the realities of running the Rangers, Faulks said Balgownie was no different to many other volunteer football clubs but hoped the club would continue to survive well into the future.

“We struggle, but we do what you have to. It can be very tough but you just have to keep a lid on finances.

“We-re currently working with Football South Coast to improve our grounds and amenities.

“At the end of the day we-re 131 years old - and still kicking.”