A labour of love that involved a desperate search, a painstaking recreation and an arduous build has finally come to a successful conclusion for Merewether Advance.
In September 2019, Northern NSW Football in conjunction with Merewether Advance and Football Nation Radio, offered a $5000 reward in search of the club’s missing honour board naming Newcastle footballers who fought in World War I.
Melbourne-based football historian Dr Ian Syson visited Newcastle to search for the board, which was lost after the Merewether School of Arts on Glebe Road was demolished.
Unfortunately the board, made from Queensland maple 104 years ago, unable to be found and so was sadly consigned to history.
But instead of accepting defeat, the club decided to rebuild the board to remember the significant contributions and sacrifices northern NSW footballers made to defend Australia throughout history.
Between 70 and 80 were killed.
So Merewether Advance enlisted the services of Hunter Custom Building to recreate the board from scratch, with Steve Wattam Signs completing the sign writing.
Merewether Advance vice-president Greg Groombridge said the Newcastle Football club were passionate and proud of what they had achieved in recreating the board.
“We’re such an old club in the Newcastle district and I think it is due recognition for what happened beforehand,” he said.
“Recreation of the honour board I guess is a noble gesture of recognition on our part to the contribution the football community made all that time ago.
“To actually see it made had a big impact on me. Looking back on the history of our club in the late 1800s and early 1900s, we had our 125-year anniversary a couple of years ago in 2019 and had a lot of people asking questions who didn’t realise we had such a rich history and there is such a rich history of football in Newcastle.”
Groombridge said the club were delighted with the final product.
The COVID-19 pandemic made things difficult last year as the club endeavoured to complete the board but the end result was more than worth the wait.
“Pretty much when we couldn’t find the original we decided to recreate it. It started with tracking down where the School of Arts was. Ian thought he knew an address. I think there’s a garage station there now on Glebe Road,” Groombridge said.
“We approached FNR and Northern NSW [Football] for some funding and basically went thirds in it. We looked at a builder and a sign writer to complete it. But it was in the middle of COVID so it took months.
“We tried to duplicate what it looked like including the design, the flags, the King and Country. We tried to capture the flavour of what it looked like.
“We showed the builder what we were looking at doing and he came up with a proof of concept. We made a couple of little changes here and there then gave the go ahead. It’s made out of really good timber, Tasmanian Oak. Quite a lot of time was spent building and then checking. The varnish was the final piece on top of the sign writing.
“It was quite a bit of work. The guy who built it was enamoured with the whole idea. It was a labour of love.”
The board’s future is still up in the air. Merewether Advance do not have a clubhouse of their own, with their three Zone League One teams, two All-Age teams and over-35s team playing out of Jesmond Park.
Groombridge said the club could potentially approach their major sponsor, the Duke of Wellington Hotel at New Lambton, to have the board positioned there. But nothing was confirmed for the long term, though donating the board to a museum could be an option.
The club’s future is also looking bright as they continue to build on their efforts in recent years.
“We’re very happy where we are at the moment. In the last five years we’ve gone from one club with two teams to six teams and made quite an effort to get promoted to a higher division,” Groombridge said.
“We’ve always had a presence in our local community and always had strong cultural ties to our community. If you look back on the history of the club we were very competitive in those days when the board was made originally.
“The war effort really decimated the club. We were out of action for four or five years. We’ve had periods leading up to today where we’ve progressed through the grades and been competitive.
“It is something we want to continue to build on.”