A MERGED Hamilton side and Portland would join an expanded Hampden Football Netball League under a bold new vision for football in the south-west.
The Victorian Country Football League yesterday released a series of draft recomemndations as part of its Southern Border Review, including clearing the way for the Hampden league to spread its wings.
According to a leaked copy of the preliminary recommendations sent only to clubs and leagues, the panel said Western Border league clubs Hamilton and Hamilton Imperials should merge “at their earliest opportunity” and join the Hampden league.
But if arch-rivals Hamilton and Hamilton Imperials could not achieve a merger, both clubs have been asked to decide by next month which competition they want to play in next season.
The draft recommendation effectively clears the way for Imperials to achieve what they have tried eight times in the past 21 years — a move to the Hampden league. Their most recent bid to join the Hampden league was rejected by the VCFL’s board last October.
Hamilton Imperials president Darren Templeton yesterday said the Bulldogs were focused on making finals this year, currently sitting fifth.
“We’ll just play it by ear,” he said of the preliminary recommendations.
“I can’t imagine our views have changed much in the past 18 months.”
But he said the club had to consult members about any switch in competitions. He declined to comment further having not fully read the 17-page report.
Portland, which indicated to the review panel it was undecided about where it saw its future, the Western Border or Hampden league, had a “sound case” to switch to the Hampden league if it wanted, the draft recommendation said.
Portland chairman Rodger Hampshire and Hamilton chairman Paul Block were unable to be contacted.
The review panel’s preliminary recommendations regarding the future of Portland, Hamilton and Hamilton Imperials were based on current populations in the cities. It said Portland football club, the only major-league club from the city with a population at the last census of 9820 residents, was “extremely healthy”.
But it said Hamilton, with a population of 9397 was struggling to support two major league clubs.
“Hamilton are currently supporting two major league teams, that both appear less than healthy at present, particularly in terms of reserve grade football numbers and annual income levels as compared to other Hampden FNL and Western Border FL clubs,” the panel said.
The review suggests the Western Border league push back over the South Australian border, retaining only a minor Victorian presence. It recommends current WBFL side Casterton and neighbouring South West District club Sandford merge and play in the WBFL. But if a merger cannot be achieved, the review panel suggested they should remain in their existing competitions.
The Western Border league, which would be home to its five Mount Gambier sides, Millicent and Casterton/Casterton-Sandford and possibly Portland, would fall under the auspices of the South Australian Community Football League and not the VCFL. The review panel is recommending the potential inclusion of another Mount Gambier side or clubs like Penola, Naracoorte and Port MacDonnell join for next year or 2014.
The review panel is recommending the Hampden league remain the south-west’s major league.
Hampden league president Bob Guiney, Warrnambool and District league president Justin Balmer and Western Border league chief executive officer David Heard all declined to comment having not fully read the panel’s findings.
Leagues and clubs have until August 15 to provide feedback on the preliminary recommendations with final recommendations released in September.