For a small city club thriving in the heart of Toowoomba, the 2019 season is one of celebration for the Willowburn FC Magpies, marking their platinum 70th anniversary.
Willowburn FC pride themselves on success not only on the field, but also from the grandstand.
Strong values and inclusive culture have moulded Toowoomba’s oldest football club, with Willowburn more than just a club, but a sporting community.
Established in 1949 with three senior teams, Derek Smith, along with some mates and neighbours from Rockville State School, then formed Willowburn FC’s first junior team in the 1950s, highlighting the community backbone of the club from its early days.
“Willowburn didn’t have any junior teams in its early years, it wasn’t until the 1950s when things started to change and wheels started to move,” Smith said.
“We ended up with an Under 18 team, though most of us were only 14 and 15 and had to play up against some boys twice our size.”
Willowburn has transformed from three teams 70 years ago to a club eight times the size with 24 teams heading into the 2019 season.
This growth off the field has transitioned to success on it, with Willowburn FC participating in all four senior Toowoomba Football League Grand Finals in 2018.
The Willowburn Magpies senior women’s team is the most recent success story for the club, recording a staggering unbeaten season in 2018 with 24 wins, scoring 161 goals and conceding only seven.
Their success showcases to the community a shift in the game over the past 70 years and identifies with the female community of Willowburn and surrounds, highlighting the growth of women in sport in the area.
Club president Gerard Alchin will welcome the latest milestone of a history-rich, sporting community with open arms as the Willowburn Magpies celebrate by holding a 70th anniversary dinner and season launch on Saturday, 9 February.
“It’s a genuine privilege to be involved in a sporting club with such proud history,” Alchin said.
“As president, I feel a responsibility to help steward the club’s culture and help carry on traditions that were established by many great people well before my time.
“I always love speaking with people – and there are many – who were once involved in the club at some stage and hearing their stories as to what the club meant to them.
“Our goal as a club is to honour our past and continually be forward thinking for our future.”
Honouring the past includes paying homage to one of Willowburn’s favourite Magpies, Jake Simpson, who lost his battle with cancer four years ago.
“Jake had all the makings of a future Premier captain. The initials JS5 are on every Willowburn jersey to remember this remarkable young man and the legacy he left,” Alchin said.
Current Willowburn Women’s coach Stephen Pennells will also mark 52 years with the club in 2019 – a staggering achievement for a father figure of the game in the Toowoomba region.
“Being a part of this club since 1966 has been an amazing journey for myself, starting as a five-year-old playing on a Saturday morning, then watching and idolising the great senior sides playing locally and in the Brisbane competition,” Pennells said.
With countless memories as a player and coach of numerous sides over the years, Pennells’ fondest memories come during the 1980s and 1990s when Willowburn played in the XXXX League in Brisbane.
“As coach of the Willowburn team in the 80s and 90s, winning our way up the promotional ladder in Brisbane, to finally reach the pinnacle of being promoted to the XXXX League, which was the highest level of competition in Queensland at the time, is something I hold very close to my heart,” Pennells said.
“Willowburn playing in the Brisbane competition was the greatest achievement for the club to date, as it was tough for the players, coaches, committee and supporters to travel every second weekend to play in Brisbane, win games, have success and slowly climb up the promotional ladder.
“Willowburn FC remains the only Toowoomba club to achieve promotion into the top tier of football in Queensland during that period.”
With the highs of success of sport at any level also come the lows, with coach Pennells taking an absence from coaching following the relegation of the Willowburn XXXX League side back to division two, having finished the regular season second last.
“After this disappointment of a season, I stopped coaching for a brief period of time until taking over the job in the juniors with my son’s side,” Pennells said.
“This proved to be a great experience, one bittersweet to say the least, as I witnessed plenty of young talent develop their skills in the game.”
Pennells teamed up again with his son Brenton from 2012-2014, coaching the Willowburn men’s team to a staggering 10 trophies of the 12 that were on offer over the three-year period.
“I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach very skilled and talented teams over the years, sharing a lot of success with a lot of players and forming friendships which will last forever,” Pennells said.
The continued success of Willowburn FC over such an extensive period of time is a credit to the community figures, those such as Pennells, who have dedicated themselves to their craft and laid the foundations over the years, for Willowburn to taste success both now and into the future.
“To see Willowburn FC in such a strong position going into its 70th year speaks volumes for the present committee, coaches, players and supporters who have shown Willowburn is more than a club, it is a family,” Alchin said.
Football Queensland would like to congratulate Willowburn FC Magpies and all those involved with the club for reaching its 70th anniversary.
Words: Jacob Cocciolone
Images: Willowburn Football Club