AFL Round 8 – Essendon v Brisbane: A footy love triangle

Imagine that you had a high school crush. After an extended period of dancing around the ever-building tension, the moment came when those tensions spilled over. The only problem was that via a series of blunders at critical moments, the results were calamitous. In light of this, you decide to remain ‘just friends’ and go your separate ways relationship-wise. Years pass and you find yourself in a long-term relationship, though once or twice each year you run into your former crush – almost invariably while in the company of your long-time partner. After each such occasion, you pause for a split second and wonder about what might have been in another world; in another set of circumstances.

Brisbane in 1986 seems light years ago now. Of our family, only my Dad (Cliff Snr) and my six-year-old self had a great passion for Australian Rules football. Windsor-Zillmere were our team in the Brisbane competition, and our selections in what was then the VFL (North Melbourne for Dad, Essendon for yours truly) were made on something of a whim. But a major change was coming – the Brisbane Bears were looming on the horizon, and we were awash with anticipation. Our football crush was about to burst onto the scene.

The calamities came thick and fast before the opening bounce of the 1987 season though. The team seemed more a marketing ploy by Christopher Skase (in hindsight, a major red flag) than a legitimate competitor against the marquee Victorian clubs. Brisbane itself didn’t have a suitable ground, and Carrara Oval was hardly up to the standard that could be taken seriously. Urban folklore has it that players arrived at the inaugural training session, only to find that no footballs had been purchased. The mascot was a koala. As Peter Knights subsequently described the club’s early days, the Bears were nomads – not to mention a major embarrassment without having kicked a footy in competitive anger.

A quick father-son pow-wow in late 1986 sealed the deal; the Bears were more a circus than a footy club in the true sense; we would not be barracking for them. To this day, Dad barracks for the Kangaroos and I the Bombers. And yet….

Every season when Brisbane plays against Essendon, those “what if” thoughts percolate. The 2001 and to a lesser extent 2002 and 2003 Grand Finals were very awkward days as a footy fan. They were a bit like watching your old crush get married. You’re delighted for them and wish them well, yet the moment is clouded by the counterfactual – that could have been me.

I expected Saturday afternoon to be spent feeling good about my Bombers bouncing back to form and sympathetic for the struggling Lions, who had already been trounced twice at Etihad in what was still a young season. Instead, the visitors were full of verve and vigour early on. They jumped to an early 14-point lead, playing an aggressive brand of football typified by Daniel Merrett, whose sling tackle on Michael Hurley saw the Bombers go for the red vest well ahead of schedule.

Essendon responded to the feisty opening by banging home two goals of their own, but this would be the last time that either side could string a pair of consecutive goals together until the dying minutes. The next 20 goals of the match were split into 10 pairs of one goal each way. The scoring graph that may have delighted socialists but make no mistake, this was capitalist footy to its very core. The Bombers dominated the inside 50 count (61 to 39), but could not break down the Lions’ defensive wall as efficiently as theirs was picked apart at the other end.

Matches like these rarely bypass controversy, and a dubious Brown mark-and-goal from a kick which seemed to cross the line for a point before being snaffled ticked the controversy box neatly, before Brent Staker provided the dagger to the heart with a pinpoint set shot inside the final minute of play.

The Lions submitted their best performance of the year by some margin, a performance the Bombers were unable to match. And while the loyalty of the true footy fan precludes me from any serious contemplation of jumping ship, the lack of any further scheduled ‘awkward meetings’ in 2013 offer some small consolation.

Brisbane Lions 3.4 6.5 11.7 14.12 (96)

Essendon 3.1 7.6 10.9 12.14 (86)


Brisbane: Zorko 3, Brown 2, Raines, Moloney, Staker, Lisle, Polkinghorne, Redden, Leuenberger, Hanley, Black

Essendon: Heppell 2, Crameri 2, Bellchambers 2, Howlett, Myers, Kavanagh, Hocking, Watson, Ryder


Brisbane: Zorko, Golby, Hanley, Brown, Merrett

Essendon: Heppell, Goddard, Watson, Hibberd, Hocking, Hooker

Umpires: Wenn, Pannell, Fisher

Official crowd: 33,915

Our votes: 3 Zorko (BL) 2 Heppell (Ess) 1 Golby (BL)

About Cliff Bingham

Co-author of The Punters Guide to the 2013 AFL Season & writer for the 2012 Rugby League Almanac.


  1. Tony Roberts says

    Good to see that Brisbane wore proper Lions jumpers on Saturday, not the assorted Paddlepop and Kimba confections of recent years. This must have been the real guernsey’s first outing since….umm – oh yes! Bradshaw’s final appearance for Brisbane in the 2009 finals series. After that: Fev, flim flam, and flops.

    I understand that Saturday’s jumper was not, sadly, a full-time return to sanity and seriousness, but just another one-off marketing gimmick. Please someone, tell me I’m wrong.

  2. Andrew Weiss says

    Cliff i had a similar situation when the Adelaide Crows first started. Here I was a South Australian who was barracking for the Brisbane Bears and now I had the chance to barrack for the new SA AFL team the Adelaide Crows who some of my favourite Norwood players (Rodney MAynard and Stephen Rowe) were going to playing for.

    I decided to stick with the bears (which became the lions) and you could imagine my feelings of what could of been when Adelaide won back to back premierships in 1997 and 1998. But my true love came through with the goods a few years later with not just back to back premiership but back to back to back premiership and narrowly missing out on four in a row which has confirmed that i have made the right choice in the end.

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