Edenhope and Apsley come together, as rivals become Saints | Merging Histories

TOGETHER: Edenhope-Apsley players, Emma Forster, Tom Caldow, Patrick Kealy, Dave McLeish and Jenna Thomas excited before their move into the Horsham District league in 2007.
TOGETHER: Edenhope-Apsley players, Emma Forster, Tom Caldow, Patrick Kealy, Dave McLeish and Jenna Thomas excited before their move into the Horsham District league in 2007.

Before they came together in 1999, Edenhope and Apsley were arch rivals for the best part of 100 years.

It was a competitive relationship overcome for the greater good, to establish a sporting club that would still be standing 20 years later, despite the continued decline of country populations.

By the late '90s, both Apsley and Edenhope had realised the inevitable, that neither club would be able to survive on their own.

Amalgamating with the nearest club was the obvious solution. But former Edenhope-Apsley coach Chris White said some of the older members of both clubs found it difficult to set aside their rivalry.

"It was fairly controversial - as you can understand both communities were strong-willed and wanted to hold onto their own identity," White said.

History: Ex-players lining up in 2012 when Edenhope Apsley played in its first grand final since amalgamation: Austin Grigg, ex Edenhope pres, Franco Vanzini, Ed 1987-88 premiership player, Steve Ryan, Ed 86,87,88, Chris Ryan, Ed 86, 87,88, Jeff Ryan, Ed 86,87,88, Chris Cother, Aps 85, Brian Edwards, Aps coach 85, Simon Robinson, Aps 85, Robert Cox, Aps 85, Legh McGinty, Aps 85, Clayton Caldow, Ed 88.

History: Ex-players lining up in 2012 when Edenhope Apsley played in its first grand final since amalgamation: Austin Grigg, ex Edenhope pres, Franco Vanzini, Ed 1987-88 premiership player, Steve Ryan, Ed 86,87,88, Chris Ryan, Ed 86, 87,88, Jeff Ryan, Ed 86,87,88, Chris Cother, Aps 85, Brian Edwards, Aps coach 85, Simon Robinson, Aps 85, Robert Cox, Aps 85, Legh McGinty, Aps 85, Clayton Caldow, Ed 88.

"Official talks sort of failed initially... but both clubs were struggling for numbers, and we all started to think the only way forward was to actually get together."

As for so many clubs in that era, a declining population was the underlying reason for the merger.

Current club vice-president Stuart Grigg said too much work and industry had moved away from the region, leaving limited opportunities for employment.

"Most people move out of these small communities for work, not for any other reason," Grigg said.

Shane Sachse in the old Edenhope-Apsley guernsey.

Shane Sachse in the old Edenhope-Apsley guernsey.

"The movement of government agencies away from country areas happened years earlier, but it put pressure on the young people of that time to move on as well... By the end of it the writing was on the wall."

The clubs eventually set aside their differences and came together. Edenhope first voted in favour of the merger, before Apsley came together on Monday, February 22 1999, and voted for amalgamation with near unanimous approval.

Before the merger, Edenhope wore the red and black Bombers colours while Apsley wore black and white.

Edenhope-Apsley under-12s, 2006.

Edenhope-Apsley under-12s, 2006.

When the clubs first merged, they wore Port Adelaide colours as it was one of the few spare neutral guernseys in the KNTFL. It was only when they crossed to the Horsham District League in 2007 that the club chose to be the Saints.

The Power colours they had worn were considered too similar to Swifts, and instead, they fittingly chose the red, white and black guernsey, reminiscent of each club's original colours.

While the initial merger may have been somewhat controversial, committee member Steve Hocking said the fact that the club was still up and running in the present day vindicated the decision.

"A lot of the older community weren't too excited about it," Hocking said.

"But at the end of the day people realised that if we didn't do something we might end up without sport in our community.

Saint James Dixon in action in the 2012 grand final.

Saint James Dixon in action in the 2012 grand final.

"It was a necessity, and I think it's been vindicated by the fact that we've had another 20 years of sport in our district."

Senior football success has however eluded the Saints since their merger. They came closest in the KNTFL with a preliminary final berth in 2001, before moving to the Horsham District league in 2007.

They have been a perennially strong District league side and came closest to a football premiership with a grand final berth in 2012. But after leading by five goals at quarter time, they were chased down by a rampant Kalkee who won their fifth consecutive flag.

Chris White said one of the only regrets he had from the initial merger was not acting sooner, when both the clubs were in a stronger position.

"In hindsight, we probably should have done it 12 months earlier," he said.

"It would've set us on a better path for the coming years. We didn't have huge numbers and if we did it 12 months earlier we probably would've had instant success, which in turn makes it easier to keep and attract people to the club.

"But with the rivalry... there were a few old wounds from years gone past. They were soon overcome when we got on the field and had a bit of success, but it initially probably slowed things down."

Edenhope-Apsley's Adam Ferguson grabs Border District's Tom Sambell in 2005.

Edenhope-Apsley's Adam Ferguson grabs Border District's Tom Sambell in 2005.

In the last several years, the possibility of another significant change in the history of Edenhope-Apsley has been raised, as KNTFL side Border Districts approached the Saints to merge.

But after five years of speculation, in September 2018 Edenhope-Apsley members overwhelmingly voted against a merge, with 78 per cent of the vote.

Club president Carolyn Middleton said afterwards that the members showed they backed the Saints to continue being a strong club.

"It was from the word go when talks of mergers rose that people wanted to help keep the club united as it is," Middleton said.

"It's been five years and we hadn't gone to a vote. People wanted that definitive answer, on both sides of the story, whether it was merging or not merging. We didn't want the speculation that we were an unstable club.

"We have had positive feedback... support hasn't dropped at all and we are on a good track at the moment."

13 & Under netball premiers.
Sophie Tuffnell, Sarah Jude, Georgia McLennan, coach Carolyn Middleton, Laura McDonald, Mollie Garton, Sammy Mulraney, Nikki Cryer and Candice Nolan.

13 & Under netball premiers. Sophie Tuffnell, Sarah Jude, Georgia McLennan, coach Carolyn Middleton, Laura McDonald, Mollie Garton, Sammy Mulraney, Nikki Cryer and Candice Nolan.

The first president of the merged Edenhope-Apsley Stephen Ferguson said he was pleased to see the club still striving on.

"It's pretty hard with country footy at the moment... but all in all, obviously the club is still surviving and that is the main thing. Not just for the sport, but for the social side of it too," Ferguson said.

"It's more that it is about a community event on a Saturday than anything else."