The 2021 Steeline Cup Limestone Coast Football Association season will only feature South Australian sides after Portland decided against fielding any teams last week.
This means the Panthers will not compete across the border for the second successive season.
Last year Portland was locked away due to border restrictions and club president David Stafford said the struggle to attract players post COVID-19 lockdowns was the reason why his players would not compete in 2021.
“Basically our senior numbers are low because there has maybe been a different response returning to sport in Victoria because we did not have a season last year,” he said.
“The kids have bounced back reasonably well, but our numbers at senior level were not sufficient enough for us to viably field sides each week.
“It was a hard decision, but if we could not field competitive teams each week we would be doing the competition a disservice, so we will try to build over 2021.”
The tough call did not arrive through a lack of trying with Portland hosting a number of training sessions.
Unfortunately the players did not return in great force which is a side effect of COVID the entire Victorian community is feeling.
Stafford said the worrying trend left the club established back in 1955 with no choice but to make the emotional decision.
“There is a lot of history and friendly rivalry, so it was not easy,” he said.
“There were plenty of numbers with around 20 training during COVID lockdown last year, but they have all gone in different directions.
“Juniors were reasonable, but even after cricket finished senior numbers were not close with many non-committal.
“We still think numbers will bounce back, but the impacts of COVID this side of the border have meant volunteering is down.
“We are not the only sport experiencing this.
“Cricket was the first sport to come back with a modified competition and local AFL is starting up with fewer numbers as well, so everyone is taking a cautious approach.
“Hopefully as things progress people return to playing community sport like they were before COVID.”
Despite the disappointment of possibly another year on the sidelines for the seniors, it is not all doom and gloom for the Panthers.
The club’s juniors will still compete in modified Under 12’s, 14’s and 16’s competitions in the South West Victoria Football League.
Stafford hopes the sight of the black Portland jersey back on the pitch will inspire some past players to return.
“In the meantime we will make sure our kids get some football, so there is the opportunity to play in town,” he said.
“There are some chances to play in the South West Victoria Football League which has some modified competitions starting around May because of the numbers clubs are experiencing.
“You might find if we start in a modified competition, some could come back wanting to have a kick.”
Fortunately Stafford assured the club is in a much stronger state off the pitch financially and gave Limestone Coast soccer fans a reason to be optimistic.
He said the club would do everything it could to make an anticipated return to the Steeline Cup LCFA in 2022.
“As long as our numbers are sufficient and we can add to the competition at the senior level, our ambition will certainly be to return to the LCFA,” Stafford said.
“It is where our traditions lie and what we enjoy.
“We wish everybody in the LCFA the best and hope it will be a great season with no COVID interruptions.”
One major ripple effect of Portland’s pull out is the 2021 Steeline Cup LCFA fixture.
Steeline Cup LCFA president Eric Nieto said the board had to rejig the season calender after the Panthers’ bombshell announcement.
Despite the disappointing news, Nieto said another big winter of soccer was being prepared with kick off not far away.
“We were happy for Portland to come back after what happened last year, but unfortunately they could not get enough numbers to field competitive sides,” Nieto said.
“To lose someone who has been around for 40 years is not ideal because the season is now shorter.
“The Mount Gambier clubs are probably okay and I have not heard about anyone else struggling for numbers.”