In 1980 Eltham were relegated to Division 2 after winning only 1 game and for the first time in the Club’s history would not be represented in the top grade.

The Panther’s hit back in 1982, taking out with Div. 2 Premiership with a win in the Grand Final over Macleod, but we were again relegated the following season. Although the Panthers played finals in 1985-1987 we were still a long way off being back in Div. 1.

1988 saw the club finish the home and away season 3rd, losing the 1st Semi-Final, but the Panther’s gave the impression to be ready to take on the challenge. 14 wins (including being undefeated at home) set the Club up for the 1989 season. Andy Dale had taken on the job of coach and Andy ‘Bluey’ Russell captained the Club for the 2nd year. Former Eltham Junior and dual Brownlow Medallist Peter Moore returned to the Club and played a number of games including one against Watsonia where he tossed their fullback over the fence. Best known is one torpedo goal that he kicked at Central Park, in the mud against Research from the half forward flank when other players were struggling to kick 10 metres in the bog.

A few years ago I asked him about these 2 incidents and he played down the long bomb (said he was lucky to have found some firm ground to kick from) but he certainly didn’t have any time for the Watsonia fullback.
For the 1989 season Andy Dale showed his class by continuing at the club and was not only vice-captain but coached the side when Peter Moore was away.
Peter Moore agreed to coach and Andy Russell was again appointed Captain. Peter Moore put a strict plan in place and it paid off. Ray Mooney was the club’s fitness adviser (had been at Collingwood) and made certain the players were fit. The ‘duck waddles’ where players had to get down low and walk (thus
looking like ducks) is best remembered.

The squad was strengthened by obtaining Ian Kyte from Caulfield who would coach the Reserves and then play for the senior side and the return to their old club of Rohan Burch and Sam Oldfield.

Twelve club’s lined up with Eltham drawn to play Research (who played at Eltham Lower Park) and Northcote Park once, which was a good draw for the Club.
The Council in its efforts to repair the surface of Central Park had put chook mature into the soil and when the rains came, green slimy stagnant water sat on the top of the surface and the consequence was that any unattended cuts and scrapes became infections. Paul Hingston was one who ending up in hospital with an infection and many other players developed nasty lesions. ‘A bog heap’ is the term given by everyone I asked about the state of the ground that year. The mud was so awful that there were times during a game when the ball landed, that it became buried and players would dig around trying to find it. Players would run onto the field and many would quickly lose a footy boot and would have to
go back and search for it.

Eight wins in a row set the scene, with important wins over Epping (23 pts) and Research (41 pts). Big wins were recorded against Thornbury (191 pts) and Hurstbridge (168 pts). A wakeup call came in round 9 when Eltham travelled to Northcote Park and were beaten by 18 pts, but the Panthers got back on track with wins over Templestowe, Macleod and Mernda
Epping then travelled to Eltham Central Park and showed the Panthers that they were a real threat with a 45 pt win.  Epping came to prove a point and targeted several Eltham players. Grant Wilmot got reported and got weeks and from reports players continued to clash in the car park well after the game. It was Eltham’s first loss at home since 1st August 1987.

Thornbury were a club in disarray and the Panthers were showing no sympathy with Coach Peter Moore setting his forwards a target of 10 goals a quarter. Eltham thumped them 52.41.353 to 0.0.0., which is still a DVFL record. Dean Sonnberg kicked 6 but when he failed to handball to Dave Ramsay running past and took a shot himself and missed, he received a wack from one of his own teammates. Goals were coming so quick that some of the backmen (Paul ‘Slippers’ Hingston and Dave Harvey) had a bet on which one of them would be first to kick a goal. Jamie Strickland (who told me to tell Skips that ‘Sticko’ was the best No.3 to play at the club) played away from his usual spot at full forward and had he been played there he may well have reached 100 for the season.

Epping tried to break that that record score the following week but fell short, only kicking 54.23.347 to Thornbury’s 0.2.2.

Eltham finished off the home and away season with wins over Hurstbridge (126 pts), Watsonia (24 pts), Reservoir (43 pts) and South Morang (132 pts) to finish with 16 wins and 2 defeats, top spot and a percentage of 222.3.
The Reserves sadly missed out on the four by 2 pts thanks to a draw against Research. Their percentage of 179.4 was higher than 4th placed Northcote Park (165.8)
The senior side had held onto the no. 1 spot since round 3 and went into the 2nd Semi-Final against Research full of confidence. Played at Warringal Park Heidelberg, it was said ‘the crowd saw a mud match not a football match’.
Research scored the first goal of the game within minutes, The DVFL Annual Report said then ‘Ian Kyte started to dominate. Former Junior David Harvey and Gary Ramsay were rock solid in defence while Grant Wilmot, Travis Walker and Cameron Walker jumped in for the Eltham cause.’ Bluey Russell in the centre andAndy Dale were also mentioned as playing well .
Eltham lead by 2 pts at ¼ time, but Research held a 6 pt lead at the main break. Eltham held Research scoreless for theremainder of the game, kicking 1.2 and 1.4 in the final 2 quarters to win by 12 points. 5.10.40 to 4.4.28. Andy Russell, Sam Oldfield, Rohan Burch, Dean Sonnberg and Andy Dale all kicked 1 goal. Best for Eltham were Ian Kyte, Rohan Burch, Cam ‘Maxie’ Walker, Gary Ramsay, David Harvey, and Grant Wilmot

Epping won through to the Grand Final after winning its last 10 games including both the 1st Semi and Preliminary Finals. Over half of the Epping players had featured in 3 of the last 4 Grand Finals, so experience was on their side but the talent more with Eltham. Work had been done to ensure that the playing surface for the Grand Final would be suitable and it was in a much better condition than 2 weeks earlier.
$6,900 was taken at the gate a Div. 2 record at the time. Sadly David Ramsay was out injured but otherwise Eltham was at full strength. The Eltham players ran onto the field amongst  the mayhem. The Reserves Grand Final had ended with players and spectators brawling which resulted in 23 charges against Research players (including 1 for a player striking spectators) and spelt the death knell for that senior club.

Epping started with 2 goals on the board. Eltham 1st goal came from Anthony Taylor at the 15th minute mark and 2 goals from Sam Oldfield and 1 each from Ian Kyte and Travis Walker put the Panthers on top. At ¼ time Eltham lead 6.2. to 2.2. Eltham continue to dominate and jumped them again with a big 2nd quarter, especially from Robbie Solar to lead 12.8 to 5.5.
In the 3rd, Epping came back strong and peppered the goals, scoring 8 goals to Eltham’s 2 and the Panthers were under the pump. Had it not been for Darren Bishop at fullback Epping may have well taken the lead.
Going into the final quarter Eltham lead by 9 points and a Premiership was truly on the line. Countless sides would have succumbed to Epping’s charge but not the Mighty Panthers. Eltham scored first and it
went goal for goal from then on and no matter what Epping did they could not get within 9 points of Eltham.

Cam Walker would come equal 5th in the DVFL Best & Fairest Award for A Grade Div. 2, Andy Dale would top Eltham’s vote getters in the Leader Newspaper’s ‘Stars of the Game’ Award, Jamie Stickland would kick 75 goals to finish 3rd , in the League’s goal kicking, with Dean Sonnberg (60) 5th and Sam Oldfield (45) 9th, Colin Smyth would finish 2nd in the B Grade Div.2 goal kicking with 80 goals for the season, Grant Wilmot would play his 100th A Grade game, Bluely Russell would finish the season on 166 A Grade games. Andy Dale (DVC), Robbie Solar and Jamie Strickland would be named in the DVFL Representative Squad, Club legend Eddie Mapperson would be awarded the VMFL ‘Recognition of Service’ Award for 1989, Greensborough would win the Div. 1 Flag.
A kid named Mark Minney would kick 22 goals in Eltham’s Under 13’s Div 1 team and play his 100th game as did another junior by the name of Greg Wilson

Article contributed by Alan Sheehan