Fitzroy’s Demons

Whenever a team begins to struggle greatly these days, the tired old comparison is pulled out by all and sundry…they’re as bad as Fitzroy! It seems that the only time the poor old Roys are brought up in the media is to compare their non-competitive final two seasons with whoever is struggling at the time. It’s become the ultimate slur on a club….you’re as bad as Fitzroy.

This is grossly unfair. Fitzroy’s life as a league club should be remembered as a whole. They even have the 1895 VFA flag to their names, a year before the big split which saw the VFL breakaway from the old Associatoin; Fitzroy being one of the rogue clubs. When the club won the 1922 premiership, they led all comers in the ‘flag race.’ They were the first team to win back to back flags (1898-99) and even boasted two elegant grandstands at their home ground on Brunswick St. They were well to do, the big boys.

1905 Roy boys

Fitzroy FC-1905, a year where the Roys won their 4th flag in the 9th year of VFL. Including Fitzroy’s 1895 VFA flag, at that time the premier competition in Victoria, Fitzroy claimed 5 flags in an 11 year window. They were a power. Image courtesy of PIcture Victoria

Despite some reports, Kevin Murray wasn’t the only player to pull on a Fitzroy guernsey before colour television came along. Some of the absolute champions of the game are Maroons, Gorillas, Lions and Royboys. Chicken Smallhorn, Bunton Snr, Butch Gale and Alan Ruthven to name a few. In fact the Fitzroy Team of the Century would take some beating from even the biggest clubs in town and nation wide.

The Roys popped up to win the 1944 flag at the Junction Oval, but the premierships ceased. The battle for survival began in earnest as the club left Brunswick St Oval for the 1965 season. Was this the beginning of the end, or had that already occurred? No one can really know. However an unstable home ground situation (Princess Park, Junction Oval, Victoria Park, Princess Park again, Western Oval and a toe dip at North Hobart and Bruce Stadium in Canberra) and a declining supporter base, intwined with intense financial hardships, is what got the Roys in the end.

It’s the Melbourne Football Club who have been brought to the feet Fitzroy’s final years for comparison of late. Equally a proud club who once stood at the top of the tree, the Demons struggle of late has not been easy. However they’ve had more ‘ups’ than the Roys did in my living memory, but this slump looks to be fairly serious.

Former Fitzroy coach Robert Shaw recently lashed out at the comparison, stating that it “is a slight on Fitzroy. The one thing they had was fight, right up to the last minute.”

Roy boy

Let’s look at some statistics of Fitzroy’s final two seasons, when the bottom really fell out and they unfortunately ceased to be competitive. But then we’ll add some context.

The Lions played in 44 matches (1995-6) winning just 3, meaning they won 6.82 % of those games. Looking at Melbourne last year and so far this year, (not including matches against the development sides GWS and Gold Coast) has seen them play 25 matches, winning just 4% of those.

-Fitzroy’s average score for seasons 1995-6 was 69.75 while the Dees in 2012-13 are averaging 66.08. Defensively the Roys conceded an average of 129.9 points, Melbourne 120.1 points.

-Fitzroy’s percentage over their two final seasons was 53.7%, Melbourne’s for seasons 2012-13 thus far sits at 55.03%. The numbers are stacking up neatly.

While the similarities in score lines are apt, the context is far different. Fitzroy knew the end was coming, they just weren’t exactly sure of when or how. Melbourne is in no such state as yet, with mergers not on the agenda and relocations not spoken of seriously since North nearly headed north.

Shaw put it like this. “I think the comparisons are wrong. This is a club with high draft picks. We never had any of those…they weren’t good enough, but they never lost their ability to compete with spirit and for the jumper.

Yes, there’s been somewhat of a player exodus at Melbourne. Tom Scully opted out and the club has lost McLean, Rivers and Moloney, while former Dees Scott Thompson and Darren Jolly have been getting a kick elsewhere for some time now. But it pales into insignificance when compared to the ‘heart and soul’ which was ripped out of Fitzroy in their final years. Consider the former Fitzroy players playing elsewhere during seasons 1995 and 1996, and what could have been for the Roys.

FITZROY 95 & 96

Ruck position aside (feel free to jump in if I’ve forgotten anyone) it is a formidable line up. Imagine if youngsters Brad Boyd, Jarrod Molloy, Chris Johnson, Matthew Primus, John Barker and not so young Martin Pyke could have learned their craft alongside the leadership of Roos, Osborne and Lynch instead of having to lead themselves? Look at the spine or Pert, Roos, Broderick, Osborne and Lynch?

While a number of these players were nearing the end of their careers, it highlights the un-fillable hole from which Fitzroy could never recover; players they couldn’t afford to keep, yet without them they couldn’t compete. A vicious cycle. The Dees have been able to go out and attract key forwards Mitch Clarke and Chris Dawes. Fitzroy on the other hand gave Richmond half of it’s list for a tired Jeff Hogg.

So how do I remember Fitzroy? As fighters against the odds. For lifting themselves during the 1980’s for one last unsuccessful tilt at a flag, for the fans and club officials fighting for the club’s survival again and again, for leaving no stone unturned. I remember two loud and foul mouthed supporters shouting themselves horse behind us at Princess Park one day and I remember the kids Bamford and Carter busting their guts to little avail in the final two years of this proud club.

Roy boy burger

Staunch

I can see a brave Brad Boyd lining up for Victoria in the Lions penultimate year, and I see the cheer squad banner spitting venom at the AFL after being forced to merge with Brisbane. I remember their fans being few but boisterous. They also won their final quarter of league football in a far off land to the west. Or east, if you keep on going that way.

And of course Fitzroy are back where they started this whole footballing caper back in 1883 at the BRUNSWICK ST OVAL, having fought back yet again so once more they can kick the pig skin in anger, this time around in the VAFA. For what it’s worth, the Melbourne Football Club are still kicking around on that old paddock of theirs too after all these years. Long may it continue.

Brunswick St 2

Carn’ the Roys! Go the Dees!

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10 thoughts on “Fitzroy’s Demons

  1. Spot on.

    We were cruelled by the AFL/VFL for years, and if given an equal chance to survive would have thrived in the current era of priority draft picks etc.

    That being said, I still think if Fitzroy were still around today we wouldn’t be playing in Melbourne very often – I think we would be in either Tassie or the Gold Coast, but even that would have been preferable to what eventually happened to us.

    • I completely agree, what happened to Fitzroy was sad and appalling. I am an American fan of the game and it, along with other factors, helped turn me away from it a few years. I also feel like given the willingness of Fitzroy to try anything to bring in new fans and members that the Roy Boys would’ve been a pioneer at using social media to grow their brand. It’s such a shame they didn’t get the chance

      • Hi George, thanks for your comment. I agree about Fitzroy’s potential use of new technologies and the like. If only they could have survived that little bit longer! At least the people involved can sleep at night knowing they left no stone unturned.

        Also interested in how you came to follow Australian rules? It always interests me how our game, which feels rather confined to Australia, escapes every now and then! Cheers

    • Yep, history will show that there was not a huge gap between Fitzroy’s demise and teh astronomical TV money which came into the game. And it was Victoria in the 90’s, survival of the fittest. Schools closing, hospitals and footy clubs. It was an unfortunate time to be on your knees.
      Fitzroy was an innovator. They realised they kind of had to be. In hindsight, imagine if they could’ve made North Hobart their own? A gold Tassie map replacing the FFC monogram? At the time, no. In hindsight perhaps.

      • I came to to Australian Rules Football via catching a highlight show that was aired in America on regional sports television usually on Friday afternoons or Friday nights. It was hosted by Stephen Quartermain. And it looked entertaining. They’d show the cheer squads with huge banners, flags and pom poms and it appealed to me. Then I saw a highlight show where Geelong had won a game and they showed the Cat mascot dancing across the screen. Since I thought the cat was black and white like the cat I had at the time I decided I was a Geelong fan. And then the brilliance of Gary Ablett Sr. (or God to us mere mortals) made it so for life!

  2. G’day John,

    Never commented on yer blog before but it’s probably time I did. Being born in the mid-1990s, I don’t have any memories of Fitzroy at all. But I am a bit of a student of their history. And it’s cool to have my local few pubs decked out in ‘Roys gear…

    Anyway, the notion of Fitzroy running themselves into the ground is half true.

    In the 1960s, they had some pretty ordinary blokes at the helm. And that’s what probably started the VFL campaign against them. And that’s really what it was. I reckon you’ll get a masochistic kick out of siphoning through this:

    http://www.bigfooty.com/forum/showthread.php?t=860522

    You might also like an ABC Radio National podcast on Fitzroy FC. Really interesting documentation of their exile. It also features something extremely iconic and aboriginal to Aussie rules: footy nanas!

    I stil think that, if the AFL admin of the 1990s had a philosophy like it does now, a 2013 Fitzroy would be interesting. On the ground you’d certainly have Marc Murphy and Jon Brown, as well as plenty of draft picks. It’s interesting to read their failed relocations to Brisbane (late 1980s?), Sydney, and then the blocked one to Canberra. Do you think Royboys would’ve taken ten less years of Melbourne permanency in favour of full history, culture, and aesthetics in a new town? Y’know, like the Swans – more of a transplant to a healthier head, for better hair. Even without a full blown relocation, Fitzroy playing half their games in the ACT would be doing far more than the Giants: you’d have a solid fanbase after (now) almost two decades of Fitzroy-domination, as well as maintaining Canberra as under the Barassi line.

    My old man told me a fair few Royboys became Dockers fans. Obviously, their last game and last win was against us, we were new, and they hadn’t had time to build up a serious dislike for us. I’ve always seen some parallels in the working class vibes of both suburbs/cities, too. An absolute farce that the AFL wouldn’t shift their final game from Subi to the MCG, despite Fremantle’s openness to it. I’m still very proud of the way my club cared for another, and although its only money, we spent more than the AFL ever did – and should’ve – in sending off the Fitzroy Football Club.

    And in defeat, we’ll always try – Fitzroy, Fitzroy, the club we hold so dear…

    • Hey Kyle,
      Long time reader, first time commenter!!
      THanks so much for your lengthy response! There’s so much to unpack.

      Firstly, thanks for that bigfooty link, haven’t worked throught all of it but it’s great to find all of those issues in the one spot. Secondly, I love that someone of your age has a passion for the history of the game. I’m in my early 30’s and find it a rare commodity amonst my own contemporaries.

      The post was not meant to really comment too much on Fitzroy’s demise and the reasons, but I completely share your view that it was a campaign against them. Having read Dyson-Horelacy’s dto the death. I have caught that audio doc and it’s a movibook on the topic, the league completely dudded them, right g piece, a piece that makes me get angry all over again.

      The South Melbourne move was incredibly unpopular at the time. The motives were not necessarily right, the league desperate for a presence in Sydney, and it remains one of the most tumultuous times in league footy.

      HOWEVER…the fact that it was not a merger, that the WHOLE club moved means that, as messy as it was, there is a sense on continuity from South to Sydney that Fitzroy doesn’t share with Brisbane. I see the Swans as the same club. I see Brisbane as a mis-match. Feel a bit like Fitzroy when they play in Melb’s but to me that’s it.

      Lastly, I loved your comment on the Roys final match. It’s not often over here in Vic that we hear the Fremantle supporter! You’re right, the AFL showed no compassion in the last round and i agree that the Dockers did a fine job in seeing off the roys. I experienced Fitzroy’s last match in Melbourne against my Tiges the week before and am similarly proud. It was the worst day. Firstly, Richmond needed the win for it’s finals tilt (unsuccessful) but there was NO joy in the 150 odd point thumping we handed out, particularly with the throng of ex-Fitzroy players we had. Richmond people cried, sung the Fitzroy song, and I still feel emotional about it.

  3. Its made me very emotional reading these reviews. I haven’t followed football since 1996 but reading this has bought back many sad memories. I just want to say that the difference between Melbourne at the moment and Fitzroy back then is that the Fitzroy supporters always cheered off their players after every game even after a decent thrashing. I don’t remember them ever getting abused or booed off. I can even remember the crowd singing the club song after we finally kicked a goal in the third quarter of one game (I think it was in Adelaide). We were so proud of them even in defeat.

  4. Beautiful footnote Kaye, it is an emotional tale for sure, Ive seen the hurt of the diehards up close. And you are spot on, the players busted their guts and the supporters loved them to the death, win lose or draw. Its the great tragedy of footy, no doubt, when they killed the Royboys. They said it was the money yet the league has thrown millions at dud clubs like Melbourne, new market clubs Gold Coast and GWS as well as novelty footballers such as those two galahs now playing rugby again.
    We are the boys from old Fitzroy
    We wear the colours maroon and blue,
    We will always fight for victory,
    We will always see it through,
    Win or lose we do or die,
    And in defeat we’ll always try,
    Fitzroy, Fitzroy,
    The Club we hold so dear.

    • Agreed. Rarely does a day go by when I don’t think about my Royboys, and it always almost brings tears to my eyes when I think about how much I miss them..

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