With Fitzroy’s existence under threat for most of my childhood, being a supporter of the Roys was never easy. But when the end came, it still felt like someone had died.
The mourning period lasted a long time.
It began almost three years before the club was officially wound up; swallowed whole by Brisbane. While mismanagement and a low supporter base inevitably brought about the demise of the Lions, there are others I like to blame.
Champion Hawthorn full-forward Jason Dunstall is one. When the native Queenslander knocked back a massive long-term offer from the Bears at the end of 1993, Brisbane turned its attention to Fitzroy’s best young player, Alastair Lynch.
With next to no resources at his disposal, coach Robert Shaw had somehow turned the Roys into a competitive unit in the early 90’s. But when Lynch jumped ship and was followed out the door by Paul Broderick and Michael Gale, who both signed with Richmond, Fitzroy was effectively doomed.
We had no money, now we had little hope. And as much as it hurt my 17 year-old self at the time, even I couldn’t blame our favourite son and skipper, Paul Roos, when he also quit the club a year later.
While I’d normally attend every game played in Melbourne, my attempts to break into the footy media meant I didn’t see many of Fitzroy’s games in the last two uncompetitive seasons. In some ways, my years covering local footy probably spared me some heartache.
I would have backed the proposed merger with North Melbourne, because it would have at least allowed me to support a Victorian team. Following an interstate team just seemed wrong, but with little other option, I reluctantly tried to support the Brisbane Lions in 1997, getting along to most of their Victorian matches.
But it just didn’t feel right. This was not my team.
Ever since my family migrated from Scotland in 1982, I have been in love with football. After coming to a fairly early realisation I was never going to be good enough to play at the highest level, I thought being a footy journalist would be the next best thing. I was lucky enough to start working at radio station 3AW as a producer on the football coverage and other sports programs and tried to turn my not having a team to support into a positive, thinking that impartiality would make me a better journalist.
However, after three years in football supporter limbo, and attending more games than ever before as a ‘neutral’ fan, I realised the best way to view AFL is through one eye.
So once I decided I was ready to start dating again, I then had to determine how to do it. Most people never have to choose their footy team. They’re usually born into supporting one. My immigrant family settled on the Lions in the first place because we lived in Doncaster, a Fitzroy zone, and I played junior footy with a team which wore maroon and blue.
I couldn’t just pick a team; that was too hard. So first I worked out which teams I could never support; that was much easier. Collingwood, Hawthorn and Carlton were in the most-hated list. The Bulldogs, North Melbourne and St Kilda were battlers and I couldn’t bear the thought of going down that path again. Richmond was always a team I felt ambivalent towards, until then President Leon Daphne led the push to block the Fitzroy – North Melbourne merger for fear of creating a superpower. So the Tigers were out.
That left me with three clubs. Through school, most of my friends seemed to support either Melbourne or Essendon, so I was used to attending their matches. And Geelong was always a good team to watch, striving to win an elusive flag.
It was during the 2000 season that I inched closer to a decision. The Cats were the first of the final trio to be ruled out, ultimately because of distance.
Maybe because I’m a sucker for punishment, I could identify with Melbourne’s premiership drought more so than Essendon’s regular triumphs under Kevin Sheedy. I wasn’t used to following a successful team and jumping on the Bomber bandwagon just didn’t feel right.
So I became a fully-fledged Demons member in 2001, following the Grand Final defeat to Essendon.
And while there’s been more downs than ups in my eleven years as a Melbourne supporter, it’s a journey I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I surprised myself how quickly my passion for the Demons developed and I think it was the years in limbo that contributed to this. Melbourne wasn’t just a rebound fling. Fitzroy will always be my first football love, but after a long grieving process, new love has blossomed.