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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Carn’ the Roys! Go the Dees!