Stronger together! The rise and success of merged teams in the SMJFL
Half of something is better than all of nothing.
These words sum up the essence of a merged football team or club. Mergers in football are nothing new, be it at AFL level with the successful coming together of Brisbane Bears and Fitzroy Lions in 1997 or any number of amalgamations between towns and fierce rivals in country Victoria.
Mergers are almost always formed out of necessity rather than opportunity. It is almost impossible to cast aside the strong feelings towards an opposition club, even when the demise of your own club is very real and very imminent. The thought of sharing your clubs’ name, colours, players and club rooms let alone the enormity of financial and administration considerations strikes at the very core of any proud and passionate member or supporter.
Perhaps it is the natural human resistance to change or fear of the unknown that paints mergers in a negative light. Where most see only the negative to such an option, even if it is the last option before folding, some see the opportunity a merger can present.
In 2018 in the SMJFL had 14 merged teams. Player shortages in some age groups at clubs have played a significant role in these mergers occurring. However, it is the opportunity seized by the clubs involved to ensure that junior footballers are not lost to football and the merger isn’t just a stop gap but a chance to create something more meaningful.
Mergers invariably lead to new friendships as well as the sharing of ideas and footy intellect.
When embraced by both clubs, mergers can quickly become sustainable and successful, both on field and off. Certainly, the on field success of merged teams in the SMJFL in 2018 has been significant with seven Grand Finalists and four eventual Premiers.
Port/South Melbourne, Highett/Cheltenham (CHOGS) and East Sandringham Rovers (East Sandringham and Hampton Rovers) all saluted in 2018, with the Rovers claiming two premierships, one in the Under 17 Division 2 decider.
The CHOGS took out the Under 14 Mixed Div 4 premiership whilst in the Under 17 Div 1 Grand Final, CHOGS pushed Beaumaris to extra time before eventually falling short of glory.
Port/South Melbourne enjoyed success in the Under 14 Mixed Div 2 Grand Final, capping off a stellar year.
The Under 17 Div 2 East Sandy Rovers team belted out two theme songs as they stood around a premiership cup none of them would’ve touched without a coming together of two clubs. In what was a brilliant day for the merger, the Under 16 Div 1 Boys team saluted having only dropped one game for the season.
As the SMJFL continues to grow each season, particularly in the female demographic, allocation of ground space and the traditional junior footy time slot of Sunday could one day be exhausted. Ultimate collaboration between clubs, the league and other stakeholders to ensure this growth is catered for is the highest of priorities.
Ultimate collaboration is the stand out trait of successful mergers. Give and take, concession and finding common ground.
In order to grow and prosper, as a league and a football region, there will be times when we can draw on the experiences of our merged clubs and be better for it.