By Ben Waterworth
Few suburban football leagues across the nation can honestly say they have an attractive and high-quality bottom division.
But the Eastern Football League is lucky enough to claim that it does.
This season marks 27 years since Division 4 was introduced into the EFL. Clubs had been playing in three divisions since 1962, until the league decided to expand in 1986.
‘Having four divisions means that from the top of first division to the bottom of the fourth, we can accommodate for a wide range of levels across all clubs,’ EFL Football Operations Manager Phil Murton said.
Eight clubs were placed into Division 4 for its inaugural season in 1986, including current EFL clubs Lilydale, Nunawading, Wantirna South and Kilsyth.
For the record, Mt Evelyn won the inaugural Division 4 premiership, defeating Lilydale by 17 points at East Ringwood Reserve. Mt Evelyn’s big full forward, John Harrison, topped the individual goal kicking table with 86 goals for the home and away season.
‘People that aren’t normally involved in Division 4 from year to year are genuinely surprised when they see a game,’ Murton said.
‘If Division 4 is our lowest division, then it’s a great reflection on the standard of footy across the competition.’
The ever-increasing standard of footy reflects the dramatic rise in crowd numbers over the past decade.
In 2000, 3965 spectators attended the Division 4 finals series. But in 2010, 5769 watched the best teams in Division 4 go at it in the finals series. For all those playing at home, that is a 45 per cent increase over 10 years, by far the biggest rise of any of the four divisions in the EFL.
’People understand that Division 4, while our lowest level of senior comp, is still a very high standard of footy in the scheme of things, particularly over the past 10 years,’ Murton said.
‘With the running game that footy at all levels has become, Division 4 is full of young, quick, fit men often getting their first taste of senior footy.’
Heathmont has been the most successful Division 4 club over the past 27 years, winning four premierships (1994, 2004, 2008 and 2011).
Unfortunately that means the Jets have been relegated from Division 3 on three separate occasions, something they will be out to avoid in the coming years.
'This year, we are really looking to get rid of that yo-yo effect that has been hanging over our heads for the past decade or so,' Heathmont coach Steve Buckle said.
'We're looking to cement ourselves in third division this season, but we have a plan to be in second division in five years time.'
In 2012, 11 teams will compete for the Division 4 premiership, including Park Orchards, who will make its senior EFL debut.
Division 4 kicks off on 14 April, with Nunawading to have the first bye of the season.