Since merging in October 1996, Harrow-Balmoral have become one of the most successful football netball clubs in the Wimmera.
The Southern Roos have won thirty-two premierships in the Horsham District Football Netball League across the last 22 seasons, including five A Grade netball titles and five senior football premierships.
For the people involved in the process of merging Douglas-Harrow-Miga Lake and Balmoral ahead of the 1997 season, the success of the merged club can be attributed to one simple philosophy: keeping both founding clubs as equal as possible.
“We just went straight down the line on absolutely everything,” the club’s first president Tom Houlihan said.
“I just tried to keep it in the middle of the road as much as we could. It was about forgetting the Harrow’s and the Balmoral’s and all the old habits and just making it as fair as we possibly could be... We still operate under that policy. It is strictly 50-50.”
Both clubs insisted neither was given preferential treatment from the very beginning. Even the first meeting to discuss the possibility of a merger mid-way through 1996 was held in the strategically neutral Pigeon Ponds club rooms.
Balmoral committee member and former assistant secretary at Harrow-Balmoral Brenda Smith said it was an ideal that underpinned every decision.
“I really think the success of the merger was because of the little things we did at the start to make sure the founding clubs were so highly valued,” Smith said.
“I truly believe the fairness we valued from the start has been the reason for such success on and off the field.
“It was fairness down to the tiniest detail and now it’s just second nature.”
Unlike some other mergers in the region, both Douglas-Harrow-Miga Lake (DHML) and Balmoral were in a relatively stable position on the field when discussions began. Both could confidently field senior football teams, but had struggled to find success.
Balmoral had won five games in the now defunct South West League in 1996, while DHML had won just nineteen games of senior football in the five Horsham District league seasons prior to the merger.
Both clubs also had concerns about reserves numbers and having no junior players coming through the ranks.
With a dwindling country population, the clubs ultimately acknowledged the way forward was to act before things became dire.
Balmoral member Stuart Trotman said the club decided it was the right time to make a shift.
“Numbers were just diminishing in rural areas at the time – the feeling was rather than die off we’d be better off merging,” Trotman said.
“We were a fairly reasonable senior side, it was probably more the reserves players and getting a committee together and things like that.”
Balmoral considered other club’s in the area, but Trotman said merging with a similarly sized club was the ideal situation.
“There were certainly other team’s in consideration – but the general feel of it was if we went to a bigger town we probably would have got gobbled up and lost a bit more of our identity,” Trotman said. “With Douglas-Harrow-Miga Lake, it was an easier transition in a lot of ways.”
DHML committee member Peter Shrive said he was concerned DHML was no longer made up of local players.
“I had been one of the main people on recruiting for a number of years. We were recruiting a lot of players from Horsham to fill our team at the time. It was getting up around half of our senior team,” Shrive said.
“Once you start to get half your senior side coming from elsewhere there are danger bells starting to ring. There will be a time when the players won’t want to come and then you’re in strife.
“We could see we were in trouble realistically. We couldn’t keep going the way we were. If we had juniors coming through and seeing the strong juniors maybe we would have stuck at it, but that wasn’t there either.”
The result turned out to be a match made in heaven. While some older members of both clubs were understandably loyal to their original club and hesitant about merging, the move was quickly embraced by the larger community.
A flip of the coin from Tom Houlihan decided that the name Harrow would come before Balmoral, and the Harrow-Balmoral Southern Roos played in the Horsham District Football Netball League for the first time in the 1997 season.
Players from all across the region returned home to play for their local club in the following years, creating strong senior football and netball sides that have been maintained in the following 22 years of the club’s existence.
The newly merged club also had several of the most dedicated committee members who formed the perfect foundation.
“The general committee were just people who were so passionate about doing what was right for both clubs,” Smith said. “Tom Houlihan was our first president – I mean, can you get a man more passionate?
“There was just this really great buzz and ideas and philosophies that put us in a really good position. It was all about respect and fairness.”
Houlihan and Harrow-Balmoral also pushed for the Horsham District league to create a junior football and netball competition, rather than having the juniors in a separate league.
Houlihan believed the club needed to have junior players coming through the ranks to ensure the long-term future of the football club.
“For a club like Harrow-Balmoral, we wouldn’t be in existence now if not for junior football coming into the league,” Houlihan said.