News New Book - The Death of Fitzroy Football Club

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Roylion

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Oct 17, 2000
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A new book that may reveal further light on the AFL machinations in 1996, in trying to effect mergers between traditional Melbourne based clubs is finally out after a delay.


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The Blurb:

On 1 September, 1996, Fitzroy Football Club travelled to the hostile environs of Subiaco and lost by 86 points to the upstart Fremantle Dockers. Such sapping defeats were nothing new to Roy Boys by then—Richmond had thumped the Lions by 151 points just a week earlier—but this one gave way to the most heartbreaking scene in the foundation AFL club’s history. With support from only a small, hardy crew of loyalists who’d trekked across the Nullarbor, Fitzroy FC was pronounced dead at the scene.

The League bosses who presided over the affair, not yet fully insulated by the billions of dollars in TV revenue that would flood the game with riches across the next two decades, sold it as a story of partial survival: Fitzroy would merge with the ugly duckling Bears to become the Brisbane Lions. This was a merger in name only; the reality was it was a takeover. But to dedicated band of players, coaches and fans who’d stuck with their beloved club through thick and thin, the death of Fitzroy was a devastating blow. A working-class club which had won eight Premierships—seven of them as a dominant force of the VFL’s first three decades—was not only being killed off, but stripped of its dignity.

In The Death of Fitzroy FC, acclaimed football historian Russell Holmesby tells the story of Fitzroy’s demise in the words of the men and women who were there as it all fell apart. In an oral history spanning from the club’s last almost-glory years of the 1970s and 80s, through the painful death throes of the mid-90s, and taking stock of the Brisbane deal with the benefit of hindsight, club heroes explain the love and passion that kept the Lions’ fire burning so long. From club legends Garry Wilson, Bernie Quinlan, Matthew Rendell and Kevin Murray, and one of the club’s most passionate and indefatigable coaches, Robert Shaw, to the administrators who tried to save the ailing Lions, all the major players get their say.

Emerging from the heartbreak and loss are tales of madcap brilliance on the field, and the full, unvarnished story of the off-field problems that spelled the end of a proud and much-loved football club. Equal parts love story and cautionary tale, The Death of Fitzroy FC is a must- read, not only for old Roy Boys, but those who cherish the characters and traditions of the Australian game.
 

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Roylion

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Oct 17, 2000
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Interview with Joan Eddy, President of the Fitzroy Football Club. She makes it clear that the "death" of the Fitzroy Football Club is about the club's removal from the AFL. Also includes another interview with the author Russell Holmesby and even a call from the daughter of 1932-1933 Fitzroy captain Jack Sexton.
 

FitzroyPete

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Jan 22, 2018
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I received my copy yesterday and, at a glance, it looks like it will be a wonderful read.
I like how Russell Holmesby got the thoughts of those directly involved - whether it be for a particular year or event - along the lines of Matt Zurbo's excellent Champions All: A History of AFL/VFL in the Players' Own Words.
The title is particularly confronting given that Fitzroy still competes in the VAFA.
But for many people who aren't directly involved with the Reds because they live outside Melbourne, Fitzroy's cruel eviction from the AFL was like a death.
 

Poison

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Oct 13, 2003
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I was monitoring this one waiting for the release, and took a walk down to my local Dymocks at Victoria Gardens as soon as they had a copy in stock.

It’s an enjoyable read, no doubt, and may coincidentally turn out to be quite timely as the AFL in 2020 grapples with the likelihood of a number of clubs and the league itself hitting financial turbulence.

I am fascinated by this period and while I typically don’t like books that are a verbal re-telling set out in chronological order, Holmesby does an excellent job of capturing the story from a range of different perspectives without any one person dominating the narrative, while effectively weaving the on-field events with the off-field turmoil that snowballs as the book progresses. In that respect I think he gets the overall balance right.

I do feel as if the book is undone to a degree by the lack of proofing. There are typographical errors all over the place, and something clearly went wrong with the print because the word “minimum” is spelt “miniMum” wherever it appears in the book. Names are incorrect (Scott Bamford is initially referred to as Shane) and in some places sentences go nowhere (e.g. “Miller then made a dramatic announcement to the media that unless the new entity could choose a total of , then the deal would fall over” at p194).

In any event, that’s not a reason to not buy it and I assume those errors will be remedied in future prints.

Also, as someone who is acutely aware of how close my own club came to losing its identity in 1996 and the various external pressures that were applied to us by the AFL during that period, can I just say, screw Ross Oakley.

To this day that man cannot be persuaded that his economic rationalization approach to the management of AFL clubs was 100% out of place. We had 12,000 members and were on our knees in 1996 too, and Oakley came out and said, “It’s all very well for people on the fringes to come out and rant and rave, they will have to carry the responsibility”. Now, with 70,000+ members and four premierships in the intervening years, Oakley still takes a swipe at us in the book, inferring that we cannot survive without poker machines (notwithstanding the club has just sold out of about half their licences).

To revisit the absolute contempt with which he then treated Fitzroy must be like reopening a bunch of old wounds. In any event it’s fair to say the game and the competition was made poorer by Ross Oakley, and to this day is poorer for not having Fitzroy.
 

FitzroyPete

Senior List
Jan 22, 2018
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140
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I was monitoring this one waiting for the release, and took a walk down to my local Dymocks at Victoria Gardens as soon as they had a copy in stock.

It’s an enjoyable read, no doubt, and may coincidentally turn out to be quite timely as the AFL in 2020 grapples with the likelihood of a number of clubs and the league itself hitting financial turbulence.

I am fascinated by this period and while I typically don’t like books that are a verbal re-telling set out in chronological order, Holmesby does an excellent job of capturing the story from a range of different perspectives without any one person dominating the narrative, while effectively weaving the on-field events with the off-field turmoil that snowballs as the book progresses. In that respect I think he gets the overall balance right.

I do feel as if the book is undone to a degree by the lack of proofing. There are typographical errors all over the place, and something clearly went wrong with the print because the word “minimum” is spelt “miniMum” wherever it appears in the book. Names are incorrect (Scott Bamford is initially referred to as Shane) and in some places sentences go nowhere (e.g. “Miller then made a dramatic announcement to the media that unless the new entity could choose a total of , then the deal would fall over” at p194).

In any event, that’s not a reason to not buy it and I assume those errors will be remedied in future prints.

Also, as someone who is acutely aware of how close my own club came to losing its identity in 1996 and the various external pressures that were applied to us by the AFL during that period, can I just say, screw Ross Oakley.

To this day that man cannot be persuaded that his economic rationalization approach to the management of AFL clubs was 100% out of place. We had 12,000 members and were on our knees in 1996 too, and Oakley came out and said, “It’s all very well for people on the fringes to come out and rant and rave, they will have to carry the responsibility”. Now, with 70,000+ members and four premierships in the intervening years, Oakley still takes a swipe at us in the book, inferring that we cannot survive without poker machines (notwithstanding the club has just sold out of about half their licences).

To revisit the absolute contempt with which he then treated Fitzroy must be like reopening a bunch of old wounds. In any event it’s fair to say the game and the competition was made poorer by Ross Oakley, and to this day is poorer for not having Fitzroy.
I have a copy of Russell Holmesby's book, poison, and am looking forward to reading it when I "clear commitments back at the studio".
I've flicked through the book and do like the chronological structure and having key "stakeholders" from each year voicing their thoughts.
Once I read Russell's book, my next mission will be to reread Dyson Hore-Lacy's "Fitzroy" from 20 years ago or thereabouts.
Well done on Hawthorn for avoiding a 1996 merger with Melbourne.
Once again Don Scott stood up to be counted, though in an off-field capacity this time.
I agree 100% (and more) with you about Ross Oakley.
I don't know if missing St Kilda's 1966 premiership team after suffering a late-season knee injury (against Fitzroy, ironically) made him bitter and twisted, but he seemed to have little regard for the everyday AFL supporter.
It was "my way or the highway" according to Lord Oakley.
 

FitzroyPete

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Jan 22, 2018
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Thanks for the link to DHL's book, megadeth92.
I read the book soon after its release, but this link will be very handy as I've long forgotten much of the book's content.
 

Tasmanian saint

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Apr 24, 2018
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Interview with Joan Eddy, President of the Fitzroy Football Club. She makes it clear that the "death" of the Fitzroy Football Club is about the club's removal from the AFL. Also includes another interview with the author Russell Holmesby and even a call from the daughter of 1932-1933 Fitzroy captain Jack Sexton.
I read some where years ago that there was an agreement in the merger that Brisbane lions had to play a certain amount of games a season in Melbourne ive always wondered why this never happened and why no one from Fitzroy kicked up a stink and tried to enforce it on the afl ? as I know Fitzroy have taken action in court on other issues like the lion emblem sorry if this has been answered before just curious why
 

FitzroyPete

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You do know why the AF Lwas formed right ??
you were bankrupt and no future
That's a bit harsh, Royals.
And I say that from the perspective of loving the East Perth and Fitzroy Football Clubs equally.
Given the AFL-orchestrated takeover (I refuse to use the word "merge") of Fitzroy by Brisbane, I doubt the League will ever be so proactive in hastening a club's demise.
Yes, they'd probably like some clubs to relocate but their strategy is more "softly, softly" than that of the mid-1990s.
 

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Roylion

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Oct 17, 2000
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you were bankrupt and no future
That's not correct.

Fitzroy was servicing its' debts. They made a profit in 1993, 1994 and 1995.

Fitzroy had finally got a social club that was making money through the Fitzroy Club Hotel (purchased in March 1992) and were making plans to return to the Brunswick Street Oval (just up the road from the Fitzroy Club Hotel) as a training and administration base. The club had actually gained approval from the Council in 1992 to do just that, but just couldn't find the spare $250,000 to renovate the old heritage grandstand and build a modern gymnasium over the existing community rooms.
 

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