Vital to know where our road to AFL starts | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

VISIONARY: North Ballarat Hall of Famer and Ballarat Football League past president Ken Eyers saw potential for AFL in Ballarat and had a passion for developing sport across the city. Picture: Lachlan Bence

VISIONARY: North Ballarat Hall of Famer and Ballarat Football League past president Ken Eyers saw potential for AFL in Ballarat and had a passion for developing sport across the city. Picture: Lachlan Bence

REALLY, the early foundations for this day, AFL in Ballarat, were formed in a bingo hall in Wendouree.

This was the dream of a man known by many about Ballarat as the Godfather, who helped fund sporting development and facilities across sports in this city from running the town’s first bingo.

He was the visionary whose long-held dream was for the game’s top level to find a home in Ballarat.

AFL in Ballarat started to become real two years ago when City of Ballarat, Western Bulldogs and the state government made a serious pledge.

Ken Eyers will never get to see his dream unfold on his home turf. He died nine years ago, weeks before his beloved North Ballarat Roosters won the first in a three-peat of Victorian Football League flags.

His close friends tell Press Box that Eyers would have been over the moon to learn of the scenes set for Ballarat on Saturday: AFL in town and a huge community party.

While it is really incredible to get swept up in all the hype and colour of such a huge moment in Ballarat sporting history, it is equally important to remember where we started. It is vital to reflect how we got this far.

Until a couple of years ago, AFL in Ballarat seemed a lovely pipe dream except for maybe lobbying for more pre-season bouts.

Until a couple of years ago, we could look down the Midland Highway – albeit a little enviously – at the expanding, modern Cattery in Geelong and reason it was in a larger regional city boasting one of the oldest football clubs of any kind in the world.

Eyers was one of the few who consistently believed in what was possible.

SET: Mars Stadium, from above, ready to host Ballarat's first AFL game for premiership points. Picture: Skyline Drone Imaging.

SET: Mars Stadium, from above, ready to host Ballarat's first AFL game for premiership points. Picture: Skyline Drone Imaging.

The legend goes that Eyers saw potential in trips with mates to watch football in Adelaide where there would be food and drinks, top live music, then bingo.

He learned from then-North Ballarat MLA Tom Evans, the Roosters’ number one ticket holder, the gambling game would be legalised in Victoria. So, in 1977, Eyers secured a bingo licence to raise money for the club, with weekly bingo sessions held firstly in Wendouree and later in lower Civic Hall.

Bingo helped build North Ballarat Sports Club, the nearby table tennis and badminton centres, and Ballarat Football League headquarters, Saxon House, at City Oval.Funds also boosted other sporting clubs willing to do the work, and help run the bingo hall.

Eyers was also one of the driving forces behind North Ballarat Roosters joining the VFL in 1996, a move he felt was a massive step to one day bringing AFL to Ballarat.

He lived through the opening stanzas of what became a formidable Roosters alignment with AFL club North Melbourne on the field.

The sporting landscape has definitely changed and evolved. 

What this city has now is an AFL partner in the Western Bulldogs determined to deliver, not just in bringing AFL to Ballarat but in developing our community and communities across western Victoria.

This is a pretty awesome way to build on a vision that started many years ago in helping Ballarat sport strive to reach the highest levels.

ACTION: Western Bulldogs will run out determined to deliver AFL to Ballarat and to build on hard work in developing community programs. Picture: AAP Image

ACTION: Western Bulldogs will run out determined to deliver AFL to Ballarat and to build on hard work in developing community programs. Picture: AAP Image