Brief Club History
In 1895, James Gale, a property-owner at Elliott, up the Cam Road behind Somerset, hosted a meeting of local men who were interested in forming a cricket club. A retired clergyman, William Harrison, who had bought 200 acres in the district, suggested they could be called the Free Yeomen. That was the name of a club he had captained on his native Isle of Wight, off the southern coast of England. “Free” was later dropped and Yeomen became Yeoman.
On 11 November the cricket team played its first match. At the end of that season, it is easy to imagine one or more of the players saying something like, “We’ve had so much fun, boys, we ought to keep going together through winter and play football.”
Whether that happened in 1896 or after a later cricket season we don’t know, because the Club’s records were lost when the Elliott Hall burned down in December 1957.
Football didn’t start before May in those days, so whenever the first Yeoman football match took place it would have been in mid-winter. Men from closer to the coast at places like Seabrook, Cam Road (Somerset) and Wynyard or those from further inland such as Yolla, Henrietta and Oonah, would most likely have been the opponents.
The Club’s first premiership may have come in 1906. It certainly finished on top in 1907 and perhaps in 1908 and 1909, although Ridgley also claims those titles. Further success came in 1910, 1913 and 1914, before the Club went into recess during the First World War. Sixteen Yeoman footballers enlisted for service with the AIF - 8 were killed on active service.
When the survivors returned in 1919, they joined other soldiers in the Burnie Militia team. At the end of the season, Yeoman was re-established. They won the Burnie Association premiership in 1921.
When, in 1922, the North West Football Union expanded from its base around Devonport, Yeoman applied for admission, registering its colours as black and red with a white sash. Its home games were to be at West Park, while headquarters remained at Elliott.
The authorities of the NWFU decided in 1925 that the major team from the Wynyard municipality should bear the name of the biggest town there. So Yeoman became Wynyard but fielded another team, under its old name, in the Table Cape Association. Premierships were won in 1925, 1928, 1929, 1930 and 1931.
The TCA went into recess upon the outbreak of World War Two. Yeoman joined the Darwin Association for 1940, winning the flag before that competition also halted.
Hec Murray coached the Club for three years after matches resumed in 1944. During the 7 years they played in the Western Division of the NWFU, the 1947 season saw their best performance - a 3 point loss to Burnie in the Grand Final.
The NWFU became a municipality-based competition in 1951, with Yeoman forced out in favour of Wynyard. The Club retained nearly all of its players and dominated the new Darwin Football Association with an undefeated season in 1951. Another flag followed the following year. Then, players gradually left for various reasons and it was to be another 26 seasons before the ultimate success was achieved again.
The Club had played its home matches in the first decades in a paddock on the Gale farm, about 90 metres north of the Elliott Hall. In the early 1920s, a new ground was opened for cricket and football about 2 kilometres south. By the late 1960s, it had become obvious that the population of the district could no longer support a team, so the move was made to Les Clarke Oval at Cooee in 1970. The Club began to pick up strength and after taking the 1978 flag was at or near the top of the DFA ladder. Grand Final losses in 1981, 1982, 1985 and 1987 brought great disappointment before Owen Johnstone coached the Club to the premiership in 1993. Owen returned to do it again in 1998.
The DFA Reserves competition began in 1971. Yeoman won premierships in 1978 and 1992 (Coach John Richardson, Captain Gary Pearce, Vice-Captain Andrew Armstrong) before a hat-trick from 1995 to 1997.
In the 18 seasons since that last Seniors premiership in 1998, the Club has had its share of lows. A severe shortage of players in 2007 had Yeoman on the verge of folding. But the Club had what some less enduring clubs lacked - a hard core of willing and competent administrators who were determined on survival. The battle continued. A shift to Wivenhoe in 2009, forced by the Burnie Council’s plans for Les Clark Oval, meant the Club was now on its fourth home ground.
In 2010, Yeoman became the first DFA club to field a female team. Later, the team was transferred to the Burnie Dockers. It’s to be hoped that when the Dockers won the State Grand Final last year the efforts of the pioneers at Yeoman were not forgotten.
After taking the Seniors’ wooden spoon in 2016, there was a certain amount of despondency around the Robins. But that didn’t last long. The appointment of a new Coach and the recruitment of a number of accomplished players, along with the return of some old faces, has lifted spirits. The 2017 season brought a revival of fortunes and now we wait with optimism to see what 2018 holds for this historic Club.
Let the last words go to Arny Horton, one of Yeoman’s star players from before the First World War. Writing for Club Patron Ray Harnett’s 1988 book about Elliott, Our Treasured Memories Unfold, Arny said:
I hope that the traditions established by Reverend Harrison and others will grow and that the name Yeoman will continue to be an honoured and respected name on the North-West Coast.