"THE CLUB has always aimed to be playing at the highest level."
Those 12 words from club great and VFL life member Brian Woodman might sound like a simple statement, but it is an edict that has built Springvale (now the Casey Demons) into one of the most successful clubs of the recent VFA/VFL era.
The club has undergone constant growth and change since joining the competition in 1982, winning six premierships in its first 18 seasons and being a constant presence in the finals, missing out on just 12 occasions in 38 seasons and only twice since 2007.
They have gone from Vales to Scorpions to Demons, moved from their long-time home at Newcomen Rd in Springvale through five years as nomads to finally find a new base at the newly-built Casey Fields in 2006, and they have embraced the change from standalone status to successful AFL alliances with St Kilda and now Melbourne.
WHO'S LOOKING GOOD The VFL players of round one
Through it all, that edict still runs deep in the veins of a proud club that will play its 750th VFA/VFL match when it runs out onto the Swinburne Centre (Punt Rd Oval) to take on reigning premier Richmond on Saturday.
The success is evident in the numbers – 424 wins, 322 losses and three draws, a winning record against 25 of the 36 clubs it has played against in that time, plus those premierships in 1983 (Division 2), 1987 and the golden run of four in five years from 1995 to 1999 that included the last VFA and first VFL flags.
Woodman returned after a 104-game VFL stint with South Melbourne to captain the club through its transition from the Federal League to the VFA in 1982 and played in the 1983 premiership among his 110 games before becoming general manager from 1996-2012, and couldn’t be prouder with what has been achieved.
"We could see opportunity in the VFA, and the club and the VFA had been talking anyway (during 1981) and at the end of the year they made an approach and we put in an application," Woodman said.
"The club was always progressive and aggressive and, fortunately, we got a good bank of previous VFL players as well as some young players coming through our club and we won the 1983 flag after two years in the second division."
Springvale recruited 1973 Richmond premiership player Laurie Fowler as captain-coach from Melbourne to take over from inaugural VFA mentor Phil Pinnell, and with ex-VFL player Ted Carroll kicking four goals, the Vales downed minor premier Brunswick by 17 points in the Grand Final.
Promoted to Division 1, the club won just 14 games in the next three years before landing a recruiting coup to sign dual Carlton premiership player Phil Maylin as captain-coach from Footscray and finished second before beating Port Melbourne in the decider.
After fighting off a recommendation to have them expelled from a restructured competition, the now Scorpions dominated the second half of the 1990s, winning premierships in 1995 and 1996 either side of the VFA being rebadged as the VFL and backing up in 1998 and 1999.
"We were a talented running team and luckily all the coaches had the same mindset and spirit," Woodman said.
"Once they came to the club they found everybody was the same – we just wanted to be successful, we wanted to be modern and we wanted to be at the front."
But bigger change was to come.
The VFL merged with the AFL Reserves in 2000 and while Springvale made the finals after electing to stand alone rather than aligning with an AFL club, it wasn’t long before they decided the move had to be made – the facilities at Newcomen Rd being deemed unacceptable being part of the reason.
The Scorpions aligned with St Kilda for 2001 but were effectively homeless for the next five seasons, playing games at Moorabbin, Shepley Oval, Waverley and only on special occasions at Springvale before entering into a historic agreement to move to the new Casey Fields complex in 2006.
"We were tossed out of Newcomen – when the AFL reserves teams came into the competition we were told we weren’t allowed to play there," Woodman said.
"From time to time they let us play celebration games and 2005, which was the last year before we moved to Casey, they let us play all our games at Newcomen.
"We were very lucky to be on the outskirts of Melbourne to a point and the City of Casey were looking to develop Casey Fields so it was a perfect fit.
"We were playing games at Moorabbin and at Shepley Oval in Dandenong and it was just not conducive to the long term – as a committee we were frustrated.
"We saw in the local paper (in 2003 or 2004) about this new concept of Casey Fields so we went and saw Mike Tyler and the City Of Casey and the councillors and said we would love to come and play there, and they didn’t think twice about that.
"Our club has a history from when it was formed in 1904 that it has always wanted to play at the highest level possible – we went from the Dandenong District to the Berwick Association to the Federal League to the VFA, we continued to always want to play at the highest level.
"And we were winning flags all the way along – it has always been a club aiming for success."
Rebranded as the Casey Scorpions under Woodman’s tutelage and switching the club’s alliance to Melbourne in 2009, they continued to make the finals regularly, losing the Grand Final to Footscray in 2016 and after becoming the Casey Demons to Box Hill Hawks in 2018.
After finishing ninth in 2019 and losing the 2020 season, Casey started the 2021 season with a big win over the Hawks last Saturday and will enter Saturday’s clash with Richmond as one of the biggest threat to the Tigers’ title.
It’s something Woodman has admitted to thinking about.
"The competition has its own vagaries and now you’re in this level of footy where you have players coming and going and you’ve got injuries from AFL teams, you’re never quite sure how the season is going to work out," he said.
"You can only hope that when it gets to the end we’re playing well and we’ve got some good players, and there’s a chance that could happen.
"I’m always a believer in consistently being up near the top, even without winning, is better than winning one and not being up there for another 10 years.
"But even without premierships at Casey we’ve had an enormous amount of success in playing finals and there’s always this year that you look at it and hope you can take it to the highest level."