HAMPDEN league president Bob Guiney says a merged Hamilton club entering the league heralds a new dawn for football in south-west Victoria.
Hamilton and Hamilton Imperials members have voted to amalgamate the long-time rival clubs and field a combined side in the HFNL, ending a 48-year association with the Western Border league.
Hamilton president Paul Block and his Imperials counterpart Darren Templeton released a joint statement yesterday announcing the merger.
The presidents said they wanted the new club — which remains unnamed — to play in the HFNL as early as 2013.
Guiney said the Hamilton clubs’ decision “changes the whole south-west demographic”.
“The landscape has changed with one decision,” he said.
Guiney said the introduction of a ninth team to the HFNL was a major boost and years in the making.
“It is massive news. We’re extremely pleased with the way it’s gone,” he said.
“We look forward to it with great enthusiasm. They are coming as one entity. I commend Hamilton Imperials’ and Hamilton’s presidents and their respective boards on what was no doubt a hard and complex decision.”
Block and Templeton wrote: “The Hamilton Football Netball Club, in conjunction with the Hamilton Imperials Football Netball Club, would like to announce that after successful members’ meetings, both clubs have voted overwhelmingly to accept the preliminary draft recommendation from the Southern Border Review, to merge our clubs in order to participate within the Hampden Football Netball League at our earliest convenience.
“Both clubs have acknowledged the challenge that is in front of us, in going through the merger process, but we are determined to make our new football netball club a success and ultimately a powerful football netball club, participating, in what will be, the premier football netball league within our area.
“There is a lot of work to be done and we need to maximise our time with our current playing groups, as well as working together on this exciting outcome.
“Both clubs are pleased with this result and the Hamilton community can feel proud that, in the very near future, we will have one club participating in the highest standard of football and netball within our region.”
The announcement comes less than a month after a Southern Border Review recommended the clubs merge and shift to the HFNL.
The review, spearheaded by the VCFL and SACFL, also paved the way for WBFL club Portland to join the Hampden league and suggested fellow WBFL club Casterton merge with South West league club Sandford and play in the WBFL.
Guiney said the Hamilton move brought “excitement and unfamiliarity” and would be “a good fit for the league”.
He said while the HFNL was strong, a Hamilton-based club would only strengthen the competition.
“We are in a fortunate position where our eight clubs are strong,” he said.
“This year has been an exceptional season.
“I couldn’t say who the early favourite to win the flag is for the first time in many years.”
Guiney said the hard work to prepare for the change started now for both the league and the merged Hamilton club.
“The grey hairs will start but the timeframe shouldn’t be a problem. We will have six months to bed it down,” he said.
“There will be things we miss and things they miss, but we’re certainly there to make the transition as easy as possible.”
WBFL president Jim May said he was not confident the merged side would make its HFNL debut in 2013.
“For that to happen, a lot of negotiation still has to happen,” he said.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen within a short timeframe.
“It’ll take them 12 months to get organised.”
May said he was disappointed his league would lose the two Hamilton clubs, although he thought a merger was “a sensible decision” if the clubs wanted to be competitive in the Hampden league.
He said the WBFL would wait until the release of AFL Victoria’s review into country football before it considered its future make-up.
“I can’t pre-empt what’s going to come out of that,” he said.
“Our preferred option was that the status quo remained for 2013 and that would give us opportunities to look at what we’ve got left for our structure, where teams are going.
“It’s going to take them 12 months to amalgamate. It’s not a matter of throwing two teams together and shifting leagues.
“There are a lot of things that would have to be put together. They’ve got player lists, they’ve got coaches, they’ve got a committee.
“They’ve got finances to organise. What’s going to happen with sponsorship?
“There are a million things they have to do.”