FOOTBALL in the south-west suddenly looks a whole lot different.
Portland and a merged Hamilton club will apply to join the ranks of the Hampden Football Netball League (HFNL), giving it a 10-club competition for the first time since 1999.
The move will invigorate the HFNL and president Bob Guiney is rubbing his hands with glee.
Great for Hampden, not so great for the Western Border league, which in two days has lost three clubs.
And is the decision really about the health of country football, or an example of what’s wrong with it?
Football in this region has been in an active state of flux across several decades as many smaller rural communities lose their capacity to support football-netball clubs, reflecting broader demographic changes associated with smaller farming families, population drift and loss of schools, hospitals and banks.
It was not so long ago that Mt Noorat and Heytesbury leagues supported thriving competitions.
The destiny of the HFNL, long regarded as one of country Victoria’s strongest leagues, was shaped in 2000 when the short-lived Western Lions withdrew after a first-round thumping by Koroit. At the end of that season, Colac jumped ship to align with the Geelong Football League.
It left Hampden with an eight-club competition and caused many to question the league’s decision to farewell Colac — one of its strongest onfield forces — without a fight.
With its eastern options exhausted, HFNL officials took their search for replacements in a westerly direction. This followed an initial signal of interest in 1990 from the WBFL, when the first of five applications arrived from the Hamilton Imperials.
As Imps kept knocking, the opportunity for seismic change arrived with the Southern Border Review, commissioned by the Victorian Country Football League and South Australian Community Football League.
Hampden emerged an overwhelming winner, with the recommendations yielding it a combined Hamilton club and Portland.
But what about Casterton? As its president Greg Bright observed this week, it has been left like a ‘shag on a rock’.
Will Hampden’s victory be by knockout of the Western Border Football League?
And will the new clubs lift the standard of competition in the HFNL or just its numbers?