TALK about bad luck.
Tolland Wolves Football Club couldn't have predicted a global pandemic would delay their 50th anniversary celebrations this year.
But while the party has been put on hold until 2021, it hasn't diluted the club harmony which has seen it grow from just a couple of junior teams to the institution it is today.
Club stalwart and life member Steven Wait has worn the blue and white since 1977, when he was a young tacker in the under-sixes.
It's dominated his winters ever since. The 48-year-old boasts the honour of being the only player to feature in all four of Tolland's Pascoe Cup titles in 1999, 2007, 2009 and 2012.
"You throw the cricket gear into the back of the garage and get out the Tolland gear. It's rinse and repeat," he said.
"It's a bit of a cliche but it's forging those relationships, and that in my opinion is one of the great things about local soccer. There's is no money and there's heaps of people like me who are one club people, and that's who you play for.
"It's not a matter of getting a bit more money elsewhere, and I'm not being disrespectful to the other sports because there's heaps of one club players there too, but it's just what you did."
Barry Sadlier is effectively the godfather of the Wolves.
A Wolverhampton Wanderers fan, Sadlier formed the club after Tolland Primary School opened in 1970, beginning with just under-eight and under-nine teams assembled from a joint affiliation with Mount Austin Primary School.
The first senior team competed in the men's second division in 1975, but the club only fielded junior teams for the majority of the 1980s before making a return to the senior competition in 1989.
Known for their ability to scrap for everything, Tolland was unlucky to run into a dominant Henwood Park when they won six straight premierships in the nineties, besting the Wolves in three consecutive grand finals from 1994-96.
So when they finally lifted the cup with a 1-0 grand final win over Hanwood in 1999, it made the victory even sweeter.
"The reason '99 was so special for us was Henwood Park went on a record run, they didn't lose for about six years in a row. We lost a couple of grand finals to them, I can't remember how many but it seems like a lot," Wait said.
"Through our early years we were just battlers. In 1989 we were getting bashed up by sides because we only had a first grade side and no reserve grade side, and that set the tone a bit.
"We didn't have that much talent in those teams in the early years, we just had a crack.
"We won the (1999) grand final 1-0, they (Hanwood) probably should have won it by three or four goals but it didn't go their way.
"For me personally I got player of the finals series too that year and to be part of that period of history against those Henwood Park sides, which were so dominant, was great.
"I moved to Wagga when I was three and been here ever since. I just sign up every year and get on with it."
FROM LITTLE THINGS
AT the Wagga Showgrounds there's a shed where the Wolves sold hamburgers and hot dogs to raise funds in their early days.
The initials of the founding members who helped build the shed are etched into the concrete.
Nowadays the club has grown from those humble beginnings to feature about 35 junior teams, which was overseen by Donna McGrady before she gave up the role after 22 years this season.
The life member has been at the Wolves for 33 years, remains the club registrar and is justifiably regarded as a club legend.
"We've got a lot of long term members, people who have been involved in the club a long time and still are," she said.
"That's almost helped them have a vested interest. Almost all the juniors I've seen grow from little ones to to the senior ranks and go to uni.
"It's that family feel where parents get involved. Because you treat them nice and know them, they're happy to keep going."
A DEFINING MOMENT
MAURIE Hogan was Tolland president for nine years before relinquishing the role this year.
He revealed the club could have taken a different path after Sadlier briefly renamed it the Tolland Sporting Club to accommodate other sports, including a senior basketball team.
But pushback from parents ensured it wasn't long before it reverted back to a football club, after which Sadlier resigned and a new committee was formed.
"Because Barry was involved in so many sports and so were his kids, he wanted it to be a sports club, but others didn't want to be tied up 24-7. It could have gone in a different direction but I'm glad the decision was made," Hogan said.
"Donna helped bring it up from a few teams to well over 30. To have that many kids running around in this suburb is pretty good.
"If you don't have juniors you don't have seniors and she did it for 22 years straight, it's a massive job.
"For the Tolland, South Wagga and Mount Austin region, getting the club going provided a big opportunity for kids who wouldn't have had it otherwise.
"It gave all the kids on this side of the hill a chance to play sport."
THE WAIT PAYS OFF
Wait has filled many roles at the Wolves including president, men's and women's coach, and has played over 500 senior games, over 400 of them in first grade.
He was selected in Tolland's team of the century in 2009, when a dinner was held to celebrate the Wolves' premiership in 1999, and their re-entry to first grade in 1989.
The award for the Pascoe Cup team's Most Valuable Player award is named in his honour, although he modestly describes himself as "just a toiler who turned up a lot."
But one of his most memorable experiences was getting the chance to lace up the boots with 16-year-old son Jaxon in lower grades last year.
"I'm 48 and never thought that would happen. It was awesome and hopefully if the season goes again we can continue down that track," he said.
But Wait is unsure about the merits of forging ahead with a season this year.
"I don't know if a season should get going. I"m one for the let's get the professional sport going, but I can't see why we get a soccer season going and finish it in November," he said.
"I get the professional stuff when there's big money involved, but the local stuff they're trying to complicate it crossing over with cricket.
"I know there's a bit of player payments tied up in the Aussie Rules and league but in soccer no one gets paid."
Tolland played a huge role in pioneering the women's game in the city. It's a history littered with success, but also unimaginable grief.
In 1977 Kelly Jones became the first female player registered in the Riverina when she played for the club's under-ten boys side, and a female competition was introduced that year.
Tolland had a hiatus from the women's league during the late 'naughties', but returned in style by winning the second division Madden Cup in 1999, before stepping up to claim the Leonard Cup the following year.
The team would later claim back-to-back Leonard Cups in 2017 and 2018, before falling to Hanwood in an extra time thriller in last year's grand final.
Their return in 1999 is remembered as the 'second coming'. Wait coached the team for the first three years alongside David Antill, with captain Stephanie Scott and Bernadette Blake also influential.
Scott in particular helped build the team from scratch, assembling some of her friends at Charles Sturt University with Tolland juniors.
Antill said claiming the Leonard Cup in 2010 immediately after stepping up from reserve grade was a pleasant surprise after they beat Henwood Park 2-1 in the decider.
"We thought we'd be competitive and have a good season, but winning it probably exceeded our expectations a little bit," he said.
"Steph was the inspirational leader of the side and with a few of her uni mates and some of the Tolland girls, we were lucky enough to have a good run.
"We call it the second coming of the women's team and Steph was a driving force behind it. She got the best out of people and she was a 'I'll lead and you follow' type person.
In April, 2015, the club was rocked to its core when Scott, then a teacher at Leeton High School, was murdered by a school cleaner aged just 26.
Wearing yellow hair ribbons was her trademark, and the club mourned her passing with female players wearing them in their next game, while the men donned yellow armbands.
Her no.10 jersey has been retired and a club award has been introduced in her honour.
"She was going to get married the following weekend after she was murdered," Antill said.
"It would have been nice to have the first game of this year in Leeton, because both clubs have got a connection with her."
Coronavirus has prevented the club from putting on the social gathering 50 years of memories deserves.
But Hogan said it will be just as special in 2021.
"The greatest thing about the club is the friendships you make with players, supporters and administrators," he said.
"We're no different from any other club in any other sport. It's why you play."