Skinner Reserve, Braybrook (Sunshine VFA), Victoria

SONY DSC

In the foreground of the picture above, Sunshine players John Potter and Bob Baird fly for the ball in a VFA First Division match against Caulfield at Skinner Reserve in 1974. Half hidden behind the players, we get a glimpse of the imposing black scoreboard that graced the outer wing of the ground. Actually, Skinner Reserve was a pretty imposing venue. Despite the massive playing area, high grassy embankments gave the ground an enclosed feel.

The Jack Chigwidden Stand, named after a long-serving secretary of the club, stood on the northern wing. This was one of the taller VFA grandstands, and it provided a good view over the inner west all the way back to Melbourne.

Sunshine moved to Skinner Reserve from Selwyn Park in 1966 and remained there until the club folded eight matches into the 1989 season. My first trip to the ground was in 1981 for a Sunshine-Oakleigh game. This involved a train trip to Tottenham (a few hundred metres short of the soon-to-be-closed White City station) and a long walk north westwards along Ashley Street and Churchill Avenue to get to the ground (taking the train to VFA grounds at Kilsyth, Caulfield and Berwick also involved decent hikes).

For a supporter accustomed to the allure of attractive venues such as Camberwell, Northcote and Sandringham,  and the gritty history of the Brunswick, Williamstown and Port Melbourne grounds, Skinner Reserve impressed with its windswept barrenness. Almost perversely, it became one of my favourite opposition grounds to visit, and the austere black scoreboard was one of the better VFA boards. The tiny Second Division crowds didn’t make much of a dent at Skinner Reserve; the ground seemed to have been built for a much bigger club.

Sunshine had won the 1971 Second Division flag and spent the next three years in the top grade of the VFA. The club was unlucky to finish last in 1974, suffering several close defeats during the year. Sunshine defeated eventual premier Port Melbourne at Skinner Reserve that season. The Crows were already in some financial trouble by this time, and a return to Second Division didn’t promise much assistance on that score. By 1981 the club was at a low ebb and famously suffered a 290 point loss at Waverley in round 1. Sunshine dragged itself out of the mire in 1985 and had four excellent seasons under the coaching of Ron Brown without quite winning the flag. The failure of Second Division meant that Sunshine got a crack at playing against the big boys of the VFA again in 1989. A 255 point loss to Brunswick in the opening round was the signal that Sunshine wasn’t going to be able to make the grade. The loss of Brown as coach hadn’t helped, as it had led to an exodus of players.

Sunshine23

I took this photo at the Sunshine v Oakleigh game that was played on 10 July 1988. Oakleigh won, 18.9 to 4.9 in front of an official crowd of 800. I say ‘official’ because VFA crowds published in newspapers often seemed to be surprisingly high! But there does seem to be a decent gathering of spectators in front of the grandstand here. I know its not much of a photo, but it gives some impression of the atmosphere of Skinner Reserve during the latter VFA days.

SONY DSC

The same view a quarter of a century on. People out, phone towers and rust in.

Skinner Reserve today is even bleaker than it was thirty years ago. The Chigwidden Stand  has a desolate look about it, while the encircling mounds have been cut down to size in places. A turf wicket shows that cricket is still played at the ground, but I don’t know about its status in the winter. The FDFL had a crack at it, as did soccer. The scoreboard is long gone, and no trace of it remains. If anyone does have a better picture of it, I would like to see it.

As far as the Sunshine FC was concerned, at least the Crows supporters never saw their club’s classy navy and white woolblend guernseys replaced with shiny, advertisement-ridden, screen printed abominations, or with bland and anonymous white away jumpers. Sunshine was never forced to modify its tough western suburbs style of football to appease an overregulating central body; its supporters never had to witness their players playing a dull and cynical possession brand of football. Most importantly, the club never became a zombie arm of an AFL club and was able to stand on its own two feet until the end. Looking at the fate of some of the VFA clubs that did survive the ‘90s, the quick and clean end of the Sunshine FC seems preferable.

Sunshine22

Oakleigh champ, Michael Owen drives the ball forward against Sunshine at Skinner Reserve on 10 July 1988. Owen played 203 games for Oakleigh from 1981-94. If I’d had any sense, I would have taken a shot of the scoreboard instead. After all, you can take a photo of blokes in blue jumpers chasing a chap in a purple jumper anytime.

Sunshine24

Photograph courtesy of Sunshine Historical Society

SONY DSC

Sunshine v Sandringham at Skinner Reserve in 1974 (photo courtesy of Sunshine-St.Albans-Melton Advocate)

SONY DSC

A shot from Sunshine’s great win over Port in the mud, 1974 (photo courtesy of Sunshine-St.Albans-Melton Advocate)

SONY DSC

Sunshine v Dandenong, 1974 (photo courtesy of Sunshine-St.Albans-Melton Advocate)

SONY DSC

Skinner Reserve in 2014

SONY DSC

The Jack Chigwidden Stand looking forlorn, 2014

Sunshine34

A view of Melbourne from the Chigwidden Stand

25 comments

  1. Terrific job, loved the photos, the scoreboard was on the outer wing, directly opposite the stand. no football or cricket there now due to a fire in the clubrooms about 2 years ago.

  2. The Mayday sign was on the clock on the northern side, the scoreboard, which I operated numerous times, was on the southern wing. Skinners is exactly the same dimensions as the MCG, and it was hell to play on as a junior. Fantastic post, thanks for the memories.

  3. Went to this ground a week ago – kids visit to the excellent playground next door. Can’t believe I saw a Footscray Vs Swans Pre Season game here – Leon Cameron’s first game for Foots I believe.

    There was a soccer game on and when my youngest needed to use the toilet we went inside the stand – it is in VERY good condition inside. Clean and tidy. Massive ground for sure.

  4. Yes great memories back then, how good was footy in the VFA back in the 70s & 80s, I remember catching the train from Alamein into Spencer Street & then the train to Tottenham & riding my bike to Skinner St reserve in 77 i think to watch my beloved Frankston take on the hard nuts of Sunshine – those were the days…. It was scarey place for a Eastern suburbs 14 yo back in the day! Cheers Brian….

  5. Yes loved my VFA footy then, Also did the same train/bike trips to Box Hill, Camberwell, Oakleigh, Preston, Pahran, Coburg, Port Melb & Caulfield in the late 70s to watch the Dolphins take on 1st division clubs….. Great memories…..
    Was always fond of Sunshine & related to the area growing up in housing commission etc….

  6. I worked in the scoreboard many times for a gracious $20 and played junior footy for sunshine at the time, very fond memories of the mid 70’s

    • Thanks, Ray. $20 would have been decent scoreboard pay in the mid-70s. (I was getting $50 for two games each home game for Willi only a year or two ago.) Thanks for visitng Scoreboard Pressure. Cheers.

  7. My cousins played for Sunshine one in the 70’s playing in the 71 grand final under Don McKenzie and then my other cousin is in the 1986 runner up photo you have posted. Great memories. Knew Jack Chigwidden who the stand is named after. Was in Benalla when George Allen had his heart attack. Sat in the outer on a Sunday afternoon and still know the words to our theme song.

  8. Posted the link to this wonderful web page to the Facebook group titled “Sunshine, 3020 – We Grew Up Here”. Lots of “Likes” and comments reliving many old memories (including a few from past Sunshine players!). Thanks for your work. Seb

  9. having played and coached sunshine,the first vfa game at skinner reserve was 1966 and it was sunshine vs prahan under 19 thirds,in a game I played in on a sat afternoon,bill brown was coach,many great memories of games at skinner….cheers Ron Brown

  10. Great to read comments. and hope we keep the crows memory alive. Photos bring back great memories. Hello Ron Brown Sunshine legend. Team mate at the Crows.

  11. Played for the crows in 1977 and 78 with harold Martin as coach and then the great Jumping Joe Benson. Great times for a 18 y.o. Loved the ground its open spaces made for good footy.
    We got runners up in the seconds in 1977 beaten by Yarraville.

  12. Photo of Dandenong Sunshine match features Sunshine player Ralph Woods and probably his opponent was the legendary Frosty Miller.

Leave a Reply to Meike Ruotsalainen Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s