It’s Time to Bring Fitzroy Back

It's been 22 years since Fitzroy played their last ever AFL game, but certain factors in 2018 could help them thrive.

It seems as though the AFL have reached a very interesting and delicate point in its continuous chase for growth and popularity in 2018, getting so much right but so much wrong at the same time.

If you believe the hype from AFL House, the game is in great shape and is enjoying more popularity than ever before, with the last two Grand Final winners, Western Bulldogs and Richmond proving how even the competition is, while providing a feel-good story two years in a row.

However, some issues continue to baffle supporters and pundits of our great game, including constant experimenting with the rules, an obsession with taking the game overseas (China, New Zealand, and probably Antarctica next), debate surrounding a night Grand Final, and the woe of the Gold Coast Suns and their relevance and ability to remain in the AFL.

While the AFL have every right to try and grow their game, they cannot afford to forget about the unique traditions of Aussie Rules, and the areas and clubs which helped make footy so popular throughout most of Australia. So why not start by giving Fitzroy a chance to return? We’re sure they would get bigger crowds than the Suns.

 

A brief history of Fitzroy Football Club

Formed in 1884, Fitzroy played its home games at Brunswick Street Oval in the Edinburgh Gardens in Fitzroy North, a short tram ride from Melbourne’s CBD.

After early success in the VFA, Fitrzoy were one of eight clubs to form the new VFL in 1897, and won four premierships in the league’s first decade, before savouring success again in the 1913, 1916 and 1922 VFL seasons.

However, the club would soon experience on-field and off-field turmoil, and failed to qualify for the finals from 1925 until 1942, eventually winning their eighth (and final) premiership in 1944.

But trouble would soon find Fitzroy again, and they would endure many low finishes in the 1950s and 1960s, but did manage a successful rebrand in 1957 when they adopted the “Lions” nickname.

On top of dismal results on the footy field, the Lions were engaged in an ongoing dispute regarding the future of their home ground, as they were forced to leave Brunswick Street Oval after a falling out with co tenants, the Fitzroy Cricket Club.

After departing their beloved home ground in 1966, they would play home games at Princes Park, Junction Oval, Victoria Park and Whitten Oval while constantly changing training and administration bases until their ultimate demise in 1996.

After significant financial troubles in the 80s, talks of a merger with Footscray gathered momentum, and the Fitzroy Bulldogs were close to becoming a reality in 1989 before dedicated Footscray fans rattled tins and raised funds through any means necessary to save the identity of their club.

Following this, the AFL seeked a new destination for Fitzroy, declaring North Melbourne as the best option to merge with the Lions, and this was close to being confirmed in 1996, but again, the merger fell through and there were genuine fears that Fitzroy would fold during the 96 season. However, immediately after the North Melbourne merger was rejected, the Lions finally found a club to merge with, the Brisbane Bears.

What was remaining of Fitzroy would relocate up to Brisbane, and just like that, the Brisbane Lions were formed, ready to take the field for the 1997 AFL season.

Before the Brisbane Lions debuted, there was still time to farewell Fitzroy in 1996, and their last ever game in Melbourne confirmed how much the club were struggling, as they were defeated by Richmond by an embarrassing 151 points at the MCG.

Although the Brisbane Lions would go on to enjoy premiership success in the early 2000s, winning three flags in a row, the club has never had any real Fitzroy-feel about them, barring a few token gestures and occasional clash jerseys replicating the iconic red, yellow and blue.

 

Why Fitzroy could work today

Now we’re not saying that Fitzroy Football Club could all of a sudden rejoin the AFL and become an overnight success, but in 2018, there are some important factors which would help the Lions (Fitzroy, not Brisbane) become a popular, and possibly successful club:

 

Fitzroy, the suburb

Fitzroy and the Inner North in general is one of the most desired and popular areas in Melbourne in 2018.

What was once a working-class suburb with high poverty and social problems is now thriving with bars, restaurants, retail and other businesses, along with many new (and expensive) apartments and housing being built.

Gentrification can have a positive or negative impact depending on your personal circumstances, but Fitzroy being in the AFL could really unite the community and give its diverse population something to celebrate every weekend.

Along with this, Fitzroy is filled with a great mix of old-school and new-school pubs and clubs… imagine the buzz on game day if the locals had an AFL team to support and embrace. Regardless of whether you’re a local hipster, a punk from way back, or latte-sipping enthusiast who spends their Saturdays on Brunswick Street, a footy club in Fitzroy could capture the imagination of the whole suburb.

Lions memorabilia on show at The Rose pub in Fitzroy.

 

Nostalgia

Footy is lacking a real nostalgia-angle in these modern times. Heritage round and retro-jerseys came and went, players can barely go for a walk without being followed by a wannabe journalist, and games are now played from Thursday night until Sunday night, with the sacred Saturday afternoon no longer what it used to be.

So why not embrace tradition for once, and give an authentic Victorian team from an authentic Victorian area another shot at the big time?

In fact, we’re willing to make the call right now, that if Fitzroy rejoined the AFL, their iconic red, yellow and blue jersey would be the highest selling team jersey throughout the whole league.

 

Fitzroy would be more popular than the Gold Coast Suns

No disrespect to the very few people who are still supporting the Gold Coast Suns, but the AFL’s entry into the popular holiday destination has been borderline embarrassing. They barely attract 15,000 people to their home games, and when they do it’s mainly thanks to travelling supporters of the opposition.

Greater Western Sydney might prove that AFL expansion was a good idea, but the future of the Suns must surely be questioned.

The Commonwealth Games being held in the Gold Coast means that the Suns will not play a home game at their own stadium until Round 11 this season, but no one really seems to care on the impact this has on a “professional” sporting club.

In footy-mad Melbourne, Fitzroy would have no trouble attracting bigger crowds than the Gold Coast Suns, and the revenue driven AFL would soon reap the rewards, resulting in a win-win situation for all involved.

 

So could this really work?

While we will probably never find out the real answer, it’s fun to imagine the possibilities of seeing the Lions back in the AFL, playing in one of the most thriving suburbs in Melbourne. But whether it’s Fitzroy or any other traditional Aussie Rules area, maybe the league could consider a relegation and promotion system to encourage clubs like the Lions to dream big and engage the local community.

Until that day, we’ll keep enjoying modern footy while wearing our old-fashioned knitted scarves and oversized traditional woolen jumpers.

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