Two decades have passed since a historic merger between Stawell and Warriors Football Club. This is how that merger unfolded.
Approaching the turn of the millennium, the football landscape in the region cast doubt over the futures of struggling clubs and leagues.
The Ararat and District Football Association was one of those in trouble in the late 1990s. Warriors Football Club was one of few sides remaining in the league, but just like other clubs, it was in a fight to stay alive in 1998.
The collapse of the ADFA was the catalyst behind the merged club today known as Stawell Football Netball Club Warriors.
"I suppose the Warriors probably started the merger talks when the Ararat league started falling to pieces. Clubs were merging, ressies forfeiting and there were only six or seven teams left," then Warriors president Tim Williams said.
"We couldn't see a future there. We seemed to have plenty of committee and supporters but we had run out of players."
Over in the Wimmera Football League, Stawell had an opposite issue - plenty of players but a "light on committee".
"We had a committee of about six who were left trying to run the whole thing in 1998," then Stawell president John Griffiths said.
"We were definitely interested in listening to hear what Warriors had to say about a potential merger ahead of the 1999 season.
It was something we needed to make happen- Tim Williams
"Warriors talked to Swifts at one stage but when that didn't happen they looked towards us."
There was no lack of on-field success for both clubs, with the two sides winning senior premierships within the five seasons prior to 1999.
Despite success, the clubs still looked towards a merger.
"The players just weren't around town for us," Williams said.
"It was something we needed to make happen."
Both clubs approached their members, with the two parties agreeing in principle to amalgamate in November 1998.
"There was not too much disagreement - we had a few against it but most could see the positives of merging clubs," Griffiths said.
"The benefits of how we could help each other were clear."
Warriors treasurer at the time of the merger Tony Dark said the two clubs were well suited to one another.
"Both cultures seemed to closely match which made coming together a lot easier," he said.
"Financially both clubs were not too bad as well which was handy."
Griffiths said a key change with the merger was the focus on netball.
"Stawell had never really embraced the netball club as such - they were always separate. The Warriors had a different outlook," he said.
"The netballers came into it too so we came in together as one football and netball club."
Dark said he recalled red tape presenting a potential problem to the merger.
"We applied to the AFL about a merger but we were knocked back," he said.
"We had the goal that (the merger) is what we wanted to do. One of the clubs had to fold but for us it was still classed as a merger, the red tape was irrelevant."
Griffiths said before the clubs merged, he had clear instructions from life members and supporters of what needed to be kept from the old club.
"Two things couldn't be touched - the name and the jumper," he said.
"The Stawell Footy Club was one of the first clubs in the area with about 140-odd years of history - too much history to change the name.
"Warriors were happy with that as long as they were mentioned, which they are at the end of our official name.
"We kept the red and black Stawell jumper but changed the logo to incorporate elements of both clubs."
Dark said there was a "definite buzz" around the new club for the 1999 Wimmera Football League season.
"There were exciting changes, with a different league for some," he said.
"There were also different expectations in terms of running the club, there was a step up in professionalism."
Griffiths said the transition was smooth, but there was one issue they struggled with.
"The hardest thing was getting the right coach," he said.
"We didn't want someone who had previously coached Stawell or Warriors, we thought it would be too much of a conflict.
"We wanted someone completely separate which was a hard one to get."
The Stawell Warriors settled right in as a newly merged club in 1999, reaching a preliminary final.
The new club didn't have to wait long to taste success, beating the odds to bring the 2000 Wimmera Football League senior premiership to Central Park.
Williams played in the premiership side.
"We took on Ararat who were undefeated and we hadn't gotten close to them all year," he said.
"We finished ahead 19.11 (125) to 16.19 (115). We had all other footy teams in grand finals at Horsham that day, they all lost unfortunately but as outsiders we were able to get it done."
Griffiths said the victory vindicated the decision to merge clubs.
"I think a lot of us felt justified with what we had done by winning the flag after copping a bit of flack," he said.
"It was one of the proudest days for us.
"That night there was standing room only in the clubrooms, there was people everywhere - it was mad."
Dark said he will never forget that win.
"The standard of the game was amazing," he said.
"Some moments you never forget, Ben Kelley's run down tackle in the goal square being one of them - it made for the best grand final I have seen."
The 2019 season marks 20 years of the clubs playing as Stawell Warriors.
"The kids now wouldn't know any different," Griffiths said.
"At the time it rubbed a few people up the wrong way but people don't worry about it anymore.
"Even now the current day players have training tops with colours from both clubs which is a nice touch.
"I think it was a successful merger and continues to be."
Williams, current day Stawell Warriors president, said the move to merge was the right one.
"I played for Warriors, Stawell and Stawell Warriors and I don't see any difference - it feels like the one club to me," he said.
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