Before time began
On May 8 1885 the first River Murray Football Club was formed with A L Benda as inaugural captain. Whether or not Australian Rules Football was played in the town prior to 1885 is unknown. Some 34 years later in 1919 Murray Bridge won the inaugural River Murray Football Association premiership. Prior to this time matches were played on an ad hoc basis as premiership competitions did not exist locally. Details of matches played between 1885 and 1918 are often sketchy. Murray Bridge (early colours yellow, red and black) certainly played regularly against both Mannum and Strathalbyn. Over a period of time, Murray Bridge footballers played against teams such as Mannum, Mount Barker, Callington, possibly Pt McLeay, (where football was strong until the first world war), Tailem Bend, Meningie, Milang, Palmer, Pinnaroo, Pt Elliott, Monteith, Tatiara Assiciation, Star central (Hills Association), Bordertown, Victor Harbor, Hahndorf, Bridgewater, Mount Gambier, Penola, Mount Lofty, and Nairne. At stages during this time Murray Bridge and more than one team e.g. Centrals, Souths, Towns, Railways, and St Andrews. In 1920 the highly successful Murray Bridge Rovers Football Club was formed. A Murray Bridge Football Association was formed in 1922 and the towns footballers were split into three clubs namely Rovers, Bridgeport and United. United won the inaugural premiership. In march 1926 the Murray Bridge Football Club was again formed and together with Murray bridge Rovers they joined the Hills Association. Rovers colours of Royal Blue and white clashed with those of Milang. In a compromise Rovers agreed to wear a red band when playing Milang. Rovers defeated Onkaparinga to win the 1926 premiership. Murray Bridge Football Club withdrew from this competition in 1928. Rovers stayed but lost the Grand Final to Mount Barker. Rovers were minor premiers in 1929 and defeated third placed Strathalbyn in a Semi-Final. A press report suggest senior football was not played in 1930. However, a Bridgeport team participated in the River Murray Football Association in the River Murray Football Association along with Mypolonga, Ponde and Port Mannum. A move to form a new competition in early 1931 failed as many teams mooted as possible starters were already committed to another association.
Imperials and traditional rivals Ramblers, were formed in 1931 when the re-established Murray Bridge Football Club was split into two teams to enable the River Murray Football Association to start. Mr Ray Heinrich, who played some games for the club in 1931, recalled that he attended a meeting in Short's Bridge Street Café to discuss the formation of both clubs. Information handed down suggests that the two most prominent footballers from the original Murray Bridge Rovers were given the task of dividing the players into two equal groups. Keven “China” Harford picked the Murray Bridge Imperials and Roy Fitzner the Murray Bridge Ramblers. Keven Harford became the innaugural captain of The Imperial Football Club. Imperials won the first ever match played in the RMFA when they defeated Ramblers 11-10-76 to 10-13-73 on Monday June 8th 1931. In a hard fought grand final which was "inclined at times to roughness" , Imperials took out the inaugural premiership by 8 points. Scores were Imperials 4-14-38 to Ramblers 4-6-30. A photograph of this team hangs proudly in the foyer of the clubrooms today.
Pre World War II
Imperials began playing in blue and gold colours with the Guernsey design being vertical stripes. In 1934 the club colours were black and white. After loosing the 1932 grand final to Jervois, Imperials then fell on lean times. The club recovered to play in the 1937 Grand Final but were again defeated by Jervois. Football in the Murray Bridge area was suspended in 1942 and 1943 because of the war. The competition was resumed in 1944 with Murray Bridge represented by a single combined team. Imperials (and Ramblers) were re-established as separate teams in 1946.
The Tough 40s and 50s
As new black and white guernseys were apparently unobtainable Imperials adopted double blue colours. Numerous changes in guernsey design have taken place in the intervening years with the current design being predominantly navy with a white and powder blue logo on the chest. Imperials had immediate success on reforming defeating Jervois for the 1946 premiership. The club then played in the next three Grand Finals winning the premiership in 1948. In the seven seasons between 1947 and 1953 an Imperial player won the Mail Medal (MVP-or its equivalent) which is a record unequalled by any other club. Norm Weibrecht, Bill Lipp, Ron Hutchinson, Eric Smelt and Les Stone formed part of a golden group of footballers. Between 1946 and 1953 the club won four premierships out of seven Grand Final appearances. Imperials took out successive premierships in 1952-53 and again in 1957-58.
The Sensational 60s and 70s
In the mid-1960s the club made the bold move of leaving the Le Messurier Oval, which they shared with Ramblers, and established their home ground and clubrooms. Premiership success came again in 1967 and 1969. The 1969 was a thriller with goal kicking champion Barry Dillon sealing the grand final win by a point in the dying moments. A club record of three premierships in a row coached by Warren Schenke was achieved in 1976-77 and 78. In this latter period Imperials played in six successive Grand Finals. Legends were born in Zadow, Langsford, Kempe and Williams. This group of local product played senior football at tender ages sticking together for three straight flags.
The Electrifying 80s
Seven Grand Finals -Nine Seasons The 1980s saw the club compete in seven Grand Finals for two victories, 1983 and 1988. The margins were 1 point and 5 points respectively, a total of 1 goal. A late point by Chris Smelt sealed victory in the 1983 grand Final with twelve seconds remaining, a stirring finish. In 1988 after starting with coach Mark Hienrich and Garry Hodge taking over early in the season, the club won its fourteenth premiership after competing in the two previous grand Finals. In blustery conditions Imps held on to a five point lead to hold off a fast finishing Mypolonga. In 1985 the oval lighting system was constructed and became the best in the River Murray Football League. These are a far cry from the early days when it was only possible to train in daylight hours. Mail Medallists were few and far between, the last being Les Stone of 1953. It took until 1984 before another Imperial player (Greg Zadow) won the next Mail Medal for the club although Terry Williamson was awarded the 1978 Medal retrospectively by the RMFL in 1998. Zadow also won the award in 1986. Chris Smelt joined his father Eric as the first Father/Son combination to win the Mail Medal. This took place in 1987. Imperial Football Club completed a hat trick in 1988 through the talents of dynamic centre man Des Hicks.
A Dominance Develops The 1990s produced five Grand Final appearances for three titles. In 1993 the club lead by incoming president Trevor Curtis and a rejuvenated committee recruited "Footballer of the Year" Tony McNicol who dominated the Ruck and helped guide the club to the flag. A wet day at Mypolonga was the scene where Mannum received there first of three "doses of the blues" in the nineties.1994 saw a Grand Final loss to Mypolonga but the club was back on its feet by 1997 after luring ex league players Stuart Totham, Robert Chichowski, Jamie Duhne and Sean Hannam. These lads assisted the role of Brett Lienert who after a successful league football career with The Sturt Football Club in the SANFL came home in 1995 to claim the 1995 Mail Medal. Under David Schenscher, the club played in the 1997 Grand Final, going down by 11 points, many say an extra five minutes would have seen a reversal of the outcome. This would be the last game the club would loose in the 1990s, a dynasty had began. Robert "Chiko" Chichowski kicked and RMFL record of 131 goals in the season, including 23 in one game against the Redlegs to bring up the century, crushing the previous match record. The jumper was changed in 1996 to predominantly Navy Blue with a white and light blue logo.
The Undefeated Years
1998 couldn't come around quick enough as the club was keen to make amends and went through the season undefeated, although having a draw mid season against eventual finalists Mannum at Mannum. The Grand Final was all over in the third quarter as Imps ran riot kicking 6 unanswered goals. Once again Chichowski kicked a record 133 goals in the season. In 1999 past player and ex SANFL League player John Lipp answered the call to coach the club to another successful year. A young Martin Mattner played all season as a sixteen year old before making a name for himself at Sturt, The Crows, and ultimately Sydney where he became an AFL Premiership player in 2012. Going through undefeated (drawing twice) and dominating the Grand Final once again over its nemesis Mannum, the juggernaut kept rolling.
David Schenscher returned to the helm to start a new millennium of younger players. Mathew Gogel, the Golding brothers, Travis Lienert and Co all tasted their first grand Final experience, invaluable at such a young stage of their careers. Unfortunately, only second place to a more committed Tailem Bend on the day.
The club also made the 2001 Grand Final to be their fifth in succession. Meningie were the opposition on the day who had beaten “The Blues” on each of the three occasions throughout the season. The premiership was won by The Bears in their 100th season of existence. The game was played in warm weather under immense pressure. Niether side could crack their opponent open until half way through the second half. Imperials made a late charge to be within striking distance, however they failed to kick goals when the opportunity presented itself.
The 2002 season brought about a change of coaching staff. Tony Fielke was appointed coach and brought Steve Green as his assistant. A new level of professionalism was set and the rest is now history. Both the League and Reserves went through the season undefeated, raising the bar to new heights in the RMFL. The Grand Final was a beauty as Meningie were not expected to get near "The Blues". In very warm conditions The Bears had a twenty point lead late in the game when the Blue machine kicked into gear to run out 9 point winners. Many supporters thought we were gone including Jack Zulian who left the Mannum Oval in disgust not knowing the true outcome!
Yet another grand Final appearance. After defeating Mannum at the Showgrounds a fortnight earlier Imperials faced a re-charged Mannum outfit at Tailem Bend. The last time a Grand Final was held at Tailem Bend was in 1984. In arguably the worst conditions for a Grand Final for many years Mannum shook the Imperial monkey from their shoulders and won the game in an upset. Mannum's hunger for their first flag since 1956 was evident as they played tight restrictive footy. Imperial runners and playmakers could not shake the closeness and the team lacked the desire needed for a premiership.
Our eighth Grand Final appearance in a row. Meningie held their first ever Grand Final. The weather was atrocious as our club fielded all four teams. The day was to turn sour though losses to the under 15s, 17s and Reserves. The League boys were up against hot favourites in Jervois. Jervois jumped to an early lead and looked comfortable being seven goals up at half time, kicking with a stiff breeze in the third quarter. This should have been the death knell for "The Blues". This was not to be. Each player clawed their way back into the match in the one of the most inspiring revivals in years. To come in seven points down at three quarter time with all of the momentum was brilliant. The scenes around the huddle was something you don't experience very often. Every blue blooded supporter was there revving the players as the scent of beating the outright favourites after coming back from the dead now seemed a reality. At the five minute mark an early foray into the forward line became unstuck. This would have meant one straight kick to hit the lead. Jervois steadied through experienced players stepping up at the right time to save what appeared to be a possible embarrassment. A huge sigh of relief came from the Jervois members wing at the sound of the final siren. Our young guns did not let us down, just made us hungrier for the next one!
We had a tougher than expected year. Jervois once again were a power along with Tailem Bend. Our boys were battlers that could challenge for a Grand Final birth. Unfortunately, we were bundled out unexpectedly in the first Semi-Final. Meningie played with greater desire. Tailem Bend and Jervois went on to contest the Grand Final at Johnstone Park where Jervois ran rampant with a 20 goal win. The Imperial Reserves won another premiership along with the Under 17s. Unfortunately, the Under 15s were favourites but went down to a much more desperate Mypolonga.
Jervois started the season as warm favourite along with Ramblers who were expected to improve. The Blues lost the first match of the year to a far superior Rambler side by 20points. The writing was on the wall they had to improve. They did just that losing just one more match for the year to Jervois at Jervois. The team got better as the year progressed with Matt Seyers taking out the Player of the Year and RMFL Leading goal kicker awards. The years’ highlight was no doubt the 75th Anniversary match against Ramblers at Le Messurier Oval. Many of the old faithful turned out to support the teams. Special “one off” heritage guernseys were worn to commemorate the occasion which were later auctioned off at the re-union function. The under 15s started things rolling with an unexpected victory. What was to follow was truly amazing as the Under 17s and Reserves had both won, putting pressure on the League side not to go down. The League side was down by a goal at three quarter time but finished the game off with a six goal to one burst. Three teams competed in the Grand Final also, however the results were not forth coming. All three were in winning positions but were beaten fairly on the day.
After a very disappointing 2006 Grand Final result, the club reviewed its position on its recruiting process and formed a football department. As a result, changes were made and subsequently an increased quality of player was the new order. Key recruits were Tyson Wait and Roger Puckridge. The club formed it's "Blue Army" of supporters and took three teams to the Grand Final at Jervois, where the League side faced a home based team in Jervois who were the red hot favourites. Unfortunately, the Under 15s and Under 17s went down. The League game had everything and at the 11 points up at the 20 minute mark. Jervois managed 2 late goals, the last with 6 seconds on the clock.
2008 was a disappointing year, mainly through injuries to quality players. The League side was bundled out of the finals in a disappointing Preliminary Final at Johnstone Park by Mypolonga. The following week the club took three teams once again to the Grand Final at Ramblers, the Under 17s taking out the flag while the Reserves and Under 15s were gallant in defeat. Damien Garrett won the Lokan Medal for the RMFL Reserves B & F.
2009 - "The Year of the Blues"
2009 was our year. The club guernsey was changed to incorporate more light blue and the three spiked version was adopted. The League side picked up several quality recruits in Jamie Honner, Boyd and Zeb Kenny along with Daniel Girdham who came to the club the previous year. Tyson Wait returned after a season with the Port Magpies and Roger Puckridge returned after a serious knee injury. The club dominated all grades with exception to the Under 17s who were sparring with Tailem Bend.
September 19 at Mannum was to be a special day in the club's history taking all grades with a massive backing of Blue Army Supporters. The under 15s laid the template in a flawless display for Coach Steve Sumner. Jarrod Lienert took the Best on Ground Medal. The Under 17s were up against a far fancied opponent in Tailem. At 3/4 time the Blues held a 3 goal lead, but Tailem were coming. The final minutes saw a 5 point lead to Tailem. The Blues transferred the ball to the forward lines where Sean Samblich (high in Imperials best) took a mark on an acute angle. The shot hit the post as the siren sounded and the team was shattered. The game was a ripper and those lads held their heads high.
The Reserves were completely dominant over Mannum and a six goal haul to Brad Shiell helped to secure the flag. Dale Leech won the Best on Ground Medal for a blistering display on the wing.
The League game was tight for a half then the floodgates opened. The final was a blowout as the Blues destroyed the home side in Mannum. Matt Seyers controlled the forward lines with poise nailing 6 goals. Sixteen year old Chad Wingard kicked 5 goals in a display of athletics and wizardry. Patrons Medal Best On Ground went to Zeb Kenny for a high possession game on the ball.
The club savoured the moment but re-focusses for another assault in 2010.
2010 Was to be a challenge after the success of the previous year. The early injuries to both Zeb and Boyd Kenny hit hard, however to the boy’s credit they won the necessary games to put themselves into a handy position on the ladder. The mid year signing of Joel Fitzgerald signalled a rise in optimism, particularly after a 21 goal haul against Mypolonga. Late injuries to Luke and Blake Harrowfield, and Jamie Honner did not help the cause. A loss in the preliminary final to Mannum brought down the curtain.
The three other sides made it through to the Grand Final. The under 15s had a stellar year and the wizardry of Dwayne Wilson saw him win the under 15s medal. This side dominated on the day for maiden coach Daniel Matthews. The under 17s had a red hot go against a highly fancied Rambler outfit. They went down by 12 points in a gallant effort.
The reserves were the story of the season. They played in the Qualifying Final against Mannum and were by their own admission terrible. The fronted against Tailem Bend on the following Sunday at Meningie and fell into a win by a solitary point, compliments of a soccer goal by Callan Hutchinson. The following week it was a gritty two point win over Mannum at Jervois, sending them into the Grand Final against favourite Meningie. This game was a cracker. The final term we did not score a goal and held on to a slender lead for the final 15 minutes, defending stoutly. Relief and excitement were the emotions as the final siren sounded.
2011 - A year of change
2011 saw Shane Collins appointed to the senior post after nine years under Tony Fielke. Collo immediately stamped his mark with the introduction of a leadership model that made the players more accountable to themselves. Needless to say this transferred onto the field where the results were astounding. The club took 4 grades to Meningie on Grand Final day and as was the case in 2009 we came home with 3 championships, League, Reserves and Under 15s.
The league demolished a more fancied Rambler outfit, the first time the two clubs had met since 1987, the first time we'd beaten them in the Grand Final since 1983. Tyson Wait won the Patrons Medal to sit alongside his 2009 and 2011 Mail Medals. Many fine contributions make such a convincing victory, however the final will be remembered for the performances of the 16 year olds in Dwayne Wilson and Dylan Hollitt.
Final Score Imperials 16-15 (111) def Rambers 9-9 (63).
Goal Kickers: L. Harrowfield 5, M. Kowald 3, D. Wilson 3, J. Tewren 2, D. Girdham , T. Puiatti , D. Hollitt
Best Players: T. Wait, B. Kenny, L. Harrowfield, A. Temby, D. Girdham
2012 – GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS
Shane Collins would once again steer the ship and had to make some adjustments to the list. Full forward Justin Trewren returned to his home club at Gawler, but we picked up Phil Smith who won the mail medal that year along with Kerren Hall. We made the preliminary final against Ramblers at Mannum but could not get across the line in the A’s. Our younger players in Dylan Hollitt, Sam DeMichele , Loui De Michele, Brayden Dalitz, Jacob Rance, Luke Warland, Ayden Hall, Nat Wright and Ryan Altschwager were all selected in their RMFL U17’s team. A great achievement for our club. Speaking of younger players our very own Chad Wingard claims round 22 of the NAB Rising Star continuing the accolades Chad was congratulated on winning the 2012 Wanganeen Medal. Former Imperial player Marty Mattner heads to the AFL Grand Final. Imperial Football Club hosted the Grand final this year and an outstanding effort from club members helped to make the day a success. We made the preliminary final against Ramblers at Mannum but could not get across the line in the A’s. Our Senior Colts and B grade teams made it to the Grand Final in 2012 with both winning the ultimate prize. Craig Caire, Clay Leckie, Mathew Gates, Trish Lipp were all given life membership this year.
2013 – IMPERIAL TALENT
May saw council commence works on the entrance to Johnstone Park and again our junior players displayed the true blue spirit. Lachlan Marsh, Aidan Morrell and William Crane helped the SAPSASSA Footy team to go through undefeated coached by Tyson Wait. Coach David “Sprock” Schenscher and 16 of the U13 team were invited to play in the mini league at Unley Oval at half time. 6th July saw the Arch erected and now stands proudly at the entrance of Johnstone Park. Senior Colt Clarry Garlett won the Connelly Mail Medal and Nat Wright won leading goal kicker. 2013 Reserves Lokan Medal went to Ryan Edwards. Senior Colts premiers in 2013. Reserves win 15 5 to Ramblers 4 14 in the Grand Final the A grade made the grand final and lead most of the game, still in front at three quarter time. Mannum's experienced players took over the game and out on 8 goals to 2 in the last quarter. Imperials losing by 3 goals in the end. Tyson Wait would win his third Mail medal, joining Norm Wiebrecht as the only Imperial players to win the Mail Medal 3 times. Home grown talent Chad Wingard was named in the All-Australian squad in just his second year in AFL football and winner of the John Cahill Medal. Life membership was given to Peter Highett and Ryan Eyre. The footy season may have been over but new gym equipment was donated by a passionate club member for the players to utilise and take pride of place in the gym extension again completed by other passionate club members.
2014 – TRUE BLUE SPIRIT
Prodigal son Steven Sumner was appointed coach of the league side. Our footy boys were busy breeding and early 2014 saw several bouncing boys born as future Imperials. By the end of Feb the new gym extensions were almost done and looking pretty damn good. 2014, the year of extensions and again club members came on board to help out with the clubrooms refurbishments with new carpets and curtains, major bar upgrade, new cool room, extended blue room and a fresh lick of paint and more. By May 17th all works were done and the new and improved clubrooms look amazing. May also saw brick work begin on the Arch and entrance to Johnstone Park thanks to Steven Mobbs and Bob Dreschler and the “Build the Blueroom” campaign was launched 17th May, the aim was to reach a target of $25,000.00 to enable the completion of the blue room. Supporters of our club were encouraged to buy a True Blue Membership for $500 and by 22nd May the target had been reached. TRUE BLUE SPIRIT indeed. That SPIRIT kept going and by 31st May the “Build the Blueroom” Campaign had reached in excess of $30,000.00. June saw Jared W Kuchel and Mitchell Lienert debut in their first A grade game. Members took advantage of the local bye in June and volunteers were on deck to kick off the Blue Room Construction, by Mid-August it was completed. July, our U13 boys were given the privilege of being the Guard of Honour for the Crows/Hawthorn game on Adelaide Oval. The boys proudly wore their IMPS guersneys. Matty Brooks was the 2014 U15 Bryan Medallist. Kyle Daish plays his first A grade game. This year the Reserves only made the Grand Final but unfortunately lost, 7-1 (43) to Ramblers 10-8 (68). Jason Puiatti, Shaun Williams were presented with Life Membership.
2015 – BEST CLUB
The club picked up the services of Gareth Williams, a gritty rover/on baller from the Great Southern Football League. Imperials hosted the Anzac Day Football Match in 2015 with Imperials defeating Ramblers 98 to 43. Louis De Michele gained the ANZAC Day Medal, following on with best U21 in the RMFL for 2015. Brad Wright plays his first A grade game. Steve Sumner once again coached the league side this time making it to a grand final, only to once again loose against Mannum. There were a couple of moments in the second quarter where the door was left ajar and we needed hints to go our way, but not to be. Reserves just went down to Mannum by a couple goals, The Senior Colts and Under 15s played their best football but were up against the best sides all year in Mannum and Mypolonga respectively. League, Reserves and under 17s sides made the big dance on the day but we couldn't get a win, which does speak well for our program. Under 15 Bryan Medal was won by Lachlan Marsh.
Lyall Parker Shield winners. Lyall Parker Shield; best club scored by points per grade since 1984 Imps 19 Tailem Bend 3 Border Downs 2 Ramblers 2 Meningie Mypolonga
October saw the announcement of Shane Collins as the New Coach of the A’s for 2016 and Stevie Sumner stepped down after a two year stint. Daishy steps down as President after 5 years in this role. Luke Harrowfield, Dorrie Leahy, Joan Barker, Brian Richards and Richard Hindle are each awarded with Life Membership.
2016 – 50YEARS AT JOHNSTONE PARK
Sadly club stalwart Eric Scheer passed away in February. The 7 year project of the improvement to the entry of Johnstone Park, coordinated by Shane Snell was completed in April. This collaborative project would not have been possible had it not been for the members of our club. Just in time for the first of our 50th Year Celebrations of Johnstone Park. Daniel Girdham played his 150th League game in April. We can celebrate in the knowledge of this great club having to date won a total of 82 flags with the club improvements and loyal supporters the future looks very exciting indeed.
The Imperial Football Club is the most successful club in the R.M.F.L., winning twenty premierships out of forty three Grand Finals over an eighty year period. This equates to an average of one Grand Final appearance every two years, and a premiership every four years, the envy of other clubs. The club oozes history and tradition, and is currently building on to it's already impressive achievements as it looks to a future of success.