WIND the clock back four months and the Ballarat Red Devils were in strife.
The proposed National Premier Leagues Victoria was no longer going ahead and was to be delayed until at least 2015.
On the face of it this might not seem like a major disaster, but for the Reds it was nothing short of catastrophic.
Having finished on the bottom of the Football Federation Victoria state league two table, Ballarat was to be relegated to state league three.
Despite winning just one of 22 games for season 2013, spirits had remained high at Trekardo Park throughout the year, with one eye fixed on the revamped 2014 National Premier Leagues Victoria.
In essence, 2013 was used purely as a development year, with results almost taking a back seat.
That was until court action brought about by two zone representatives threatened to derail the new competition.
On November 8, 2013, FFV announced the NPLV would no longer go ahead and Ballarat had almost thrown a season away in false hope.
The decision was met with anger by Reds chairman Duncan Smith.
“I am unbelievably and extremely disappointed the FFV have made this decision. They have no regard for country and regional football,” he said at the time.
“It is a disgrace that the NPLV will not go ahead for 2014.
“It has taken country football back 10 years.”
What followed was months of anxiety, heartache and a genuine feeling of the unknown.
Would Ballarat be playing in Victoria’s peak soccer competition or be subjected to battling it out in state league three – the fourth tier in the state?
Still, the Reds pushed on.
They landed the major signing of former Australian goalkeeper Danny Milosevic as football director in December, just days after it was announced the NPLV would, in fact, go ahead.
However, there were never any guarantees Ballarat would be granted a licence.
It was not until February 7 that the Reds officially learned they would be part of the 2014 NPLV season, by which time they had already signed playing manager James Robinson and business manager Darrin Caroll.
But now, however, the lingering air of uncertainty has disappeared and Ballarat is just two days away from launching its most important season in history.
“What’s not to be excited about? This is universally recognised as the best League in Australia outside of the A-League and Ballarat is in it,” Smith said.
“It really has been a whirlwind, to be honest. A lot of people have put their hand up to get involved and without this happening, I really doubt that we could have got there.
“The players have been working hard over the past 60-odd days and now finally they get their chance to represent Ballarat on pretty much a national stage.”
Charlie King will captain the 20-man squad, which includes 15 players from Ballarat, three recruits and two international players.
King moves back to lead the team from NPLQld side North Queensland Fury along with fellow defender Daniel Tinker.
Also returning to play after a few seasons away in the Victorian Premier League is keeper Aaron Romein and brother Shaun, while Tristan Romein also returns after playing last season in state league one with St Albans.
Other returning players are forward Pat Karras (Port Melbourne NPLV) and Nelson Salvatore (Moreland Zebras NPLV 1).
Last season’s Reds players include Liam Harding, Adrian Curtain, Simon Murphy, Dom Swinton, Michael Trigger and Bolish Salvatore.
Without doubt, the biggest name however is full back Danny O’Donnell, former Liverpool under-18 captain who only arrived in Ballarat on Tuesday.
“A lot of the team are Ballarat born and bred and to be playing in one of the best leagues in Australia with a Ballarat shirt on ..... well I wish I was playing,” Smith said.
ROUND 1 v Bentleigh Greens (a) March 15 (7pm)
ROUND 2 v Goulburn Valley Suns (a) March 29 (6.30pm)
ROUND 3 v Northcote City (a) April 5 (3pm)
ROUND 4 v Heidelberg United (a) April 13 (6pm)
ROUND 5 v South Melbourne (a) April 17 (8.30pm)
ROUND 6 v Pascoe Vale (a) April 26 (3pm)
ROUND 7 v South Melbourne (h) May 3 (3pm)
ROUND 8 v Port Melbourne Sharks (h) May 10 (7.45pm)
ROUND 9 v Green Gully (h) May 17 (3pm)
ROUND 10 v Dandenong Thunder (a) May 24 (7pm)
ROUND 11 v Hume City (h) May 31 (5.45pm)
ROUND 12 v Melbourne Knights (a) June 8 (3pm)
ROUND 13 v Oakleigh Cannons (h) June 14 (3pm)
ROUND 14 v Bentleigh Greens (h) June 21 (3pm)
ROUND 15 v Goulburn Valley Suns (h) June 28 (5.45pm)
ROUND 16 v Northcote City (h) July 5 (7.45pm)
ROUND 17 v Heidelberg United (h) July 12 (3pm)
ROUND 18 v Pascoe Vale (h) July 19 (3pm)
ROUND 19 v Werribee City (a) July 27 (3pm)
ROUND 20 v Port Melbourne Sharks (a) July 30 (8.30pm)
ROUND 21 v Green Gully (a) August 2 (3pm)
ROUND 22 v Dandenong Thunder (h) August 9 (3pm)
ROUND 23 v Hume City (a) August 17 (3pm)
ROUND 24 v Werribee City (h) August 23 (7.45pm)
ROUND 25 v Melbourne Knights (h) September 6 (5.45pm)
ROUND 26 v Oakleigh Cannons (a) September 14 (3pm)