Almanac Footy History: Fitzroy’s Fabulous Century

 

 

 

Longtime friend of the Almanac Fitzroy Pete (Carter) has written a book: Fitzroy’s Fabulous Century. Here he explains the origins of his love of Fitzroy, as well as something about the book.

 

 

Fitzroy – the erratic genius of the League. A team that inspired one week and infuriated the next. Yet, this very inconsistency was part of the charm of a club that’s still missed by many. True, the Brisbane Lions carry the Roys’ torch in the AFL and Fitzroy itself flies the flag proudly in the Victorian Amateur Football Association, based back at its spiritual home in Brunswick Street. And these are both wonderful things. But nothing can replace the joy the Roys, Maroons, Gorillas, Lions – the Royboys! – gave to so many during their 100 years in the top flight.

 

My decision to support Fitzroy is vastly different to that of your regular pass-the-baton-down-through-the-generations footy fan. I grew up on a farm in the Western Australian Wheatbelt; in a small country town named Tammin where men are men and sheep are herded. A few good footballers (I certainly wasn’t one of them) have come out of Tammin, including Derek and Dale Kickett, who collectively represented seven AFL clubs. I can still remember Derek, some three years younger than me, taking big grabs wearing his long-sleeved West Perth guernsey during lunchtime kick-to-kick sessions at primary school. As it turned out, Derek’s first taste of footy in the big smoke was with the Falcons in 1984.

 

West Perth was (and still is) the arch-enemy for this staunch East Perth supporter, who began following the blue-and-blacks in 1965 while in Grade 1. Kevin Murray – already with 166 Fitzroy games under his belt – was in the first year of a two-year stint as Royals captain-coach. When Kev returned to Victoria (he played a further 167 games for the Lions), I adopted the Roys as my VFL team.

 

But it was East Perth that still occupied centre stage, breaking my heart with successive grand final losses in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969, to go with defeats in the 1960 and 1961 title deciders before I had the slightest inkling of what footy was about. It was six grand finals, six losses for the Royals in the Swinging Sixties. As for Fitzroy, every Sunday morning after Mass, I’d read the Perth newspapers and think: “Oh dear, the Lions have lost again.” Kevin Murray’s 1969 Brownlow Medal was the catalyst for me becoming a fair-dinkum Roys supporter. It’s just that, unlike East Perth, I didn’t set my sights too high with Fitzroy.

 

Things soon changed for the Lions and they were more successful in the 1970s than the 1960s, culminating in a Night Series premiership in 1978 and a long-overdue finals appearance in 1979 to end a 19-year September drought. The turnaround was largely due to the club’s bold recruiting of Bernie Quinlan (Footscray) and Robert Walls (Carlton) in the space of a week in May 1978. “Superboot” quickly became my favourite Fitzroy player (replacing “Muzza” and the gallant John Murphy, who’d moved to South Melbourne), while Wallsy – who began 1978 as Blues skipper – later established himself as the Lions’ best coach since Len Smith.

 

I might be biased (well, I’ll be honest and say that I am), but the Fitzroy side of the late-70s to mid-80s deserved to win one premiership. But that wasn’t to be and there’s been enough ink spilt about the AFL-orchestrated Lions’ takeover by/merger with Brisbane without me adding to it. Although the club’s financial woes were well-documented in the 1990s – often by a very unsympathetic media – there’d been talk of relocation as far back as 1979. Life isn’t the same without Fitzroy, although East Perth is thankfully alive and well (though currently in a COVID-19-enforced recess like most sporting organisations).

 

Having worked in the Sports departments of both The Canberra Times and Perth’s The Sunday Times, I’ve had a long passion for writing. Plus, I’ve taught tertiary-level statistics for much of my working life. Throw these two ingredients into the pot and add my love of Fitzroy and I had a recipe for a book. Given the negative focus on the Roys near the end of their AFL life, I decided to write something positive about the club. And what better topic than the club’s 100 “greatest” victories during its century in the VFL/AFL. And so was born Fitzroy’s Fabulous Century: The 100 Greatest Victories, 1897-1996.

 

I included the obvious ones: the eight senior premierships, the nine 100-pointers and the 10 victories where a player booted a double-figure goal tally (there’s a slight overlap between the latter two categories). This accounted for 25 of the 100 wins. The other 75 included boilovers, comebacks, last-ditch finals entries, thrillers and even wooden spoon escapes. Plus, I threw in a few victories that appealed to me because of some statistical quirk or the colourful match reports, particularly from the VFL’s early days, where an ordinary game was made to sound sensational.

 

Besides deciding which of Fitzroy’s 869 victories I should include, the fun was in discovering obscure facts purely by accident. Collingwood’s fiercest rivals these days are arguably Carlton, Essendon and Richmond, yet in the VFL’s early years that “honour” belonged to Fitzroy. The Magpies beat the Maroons in the 1903 Grand Final by just two points before the tables were turned two years later. Interestingly, www.convictcreations.com said the angst between the pair was “based on topographical issues rather than on-field battles. When it rained, Fitzroy’s sewage flooded into lowly Collingwood. Obviously, taking Fitzroy’s sewage did little to endear Collingwood to its neighbour, but it did a great deal to endear Fitzroy to the rest of Melbourne, and so the Roys became everyone’s second team.” Given that sewage was a matter of distaste between the clubs, it was perhaps appropriate that umpire (“Ivo”) Crapp officiated in the 1905 Grand Final.

 

Fitzroy’s Fabulous Century is a 388-page book that you can read in bursts. Perhaps you might want to focus on those games where the Roys beat a specific opponent or revisit matches that you attended. To add to the footy feel, I’ve included quarter, half and three-quarter-time “breaks” that look at those “So Close Yet So Far” years that dogged the Royboys, the “Other Fitzroy Flags” (the seven Night Series, reserves and Under-19 premierships) and “The Roys and the Royals” (22 known players have represented both clubs at senior level).

 

Even if you never followed the Roys, reading about some of their great performances will leave you wondering how the AFL Commission could even consider throwing them out of the competition – let alone act upon such a misguided thought. In a profile on www.australianfootball.com, footy historian John Devaney described Fitzroy as “worldbeaters at the start of the (20th) century; out of business by the end of it”. He also gave a glimmer of hope to those who dream of a Roys return. “The possibility of Fitzroy re-emerging as a senior football club in its own right at some time in the future is slim but nevertheless, in theory, achievable.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if John’s scenario eventuated?

 

Please visit www.fitzroypete.com.au to read sample match reports from Fitzroy’s Fabulous Century: The 100 Greatest Victories, 1897-1996, published by Mr Smudge Books. Domestic buyers can purchase a copy for $30 (including postage) via PayPal or by emailing [email protected] for Mr Smudge Books’ bank account details. The book costs $50 for international buyers.

About Pete Carter

Author of Dreamer, Drifter, Drunk, 1919 The Royal Domination Begins and Fitzroy's Fabulous Century: The 100 Greatest Victories, 1897-1996 (see www.fitzroypete.com.au); diehard Fitzroy supporter who's never forgiven the AFL for its "clinical execution" of the RoyBoys; fanatical fan of and club historian at WAFL club East Perth, the Mighty Royals; lover of all things willow on leather (we're only talking cricket here).

Comments

  1. george smith says

    Even though I hate Fitzroy, it did my heart good to see the old champion Kevin Murray celebrating quietly after the grand final in 2001. He saw his Lions finally salute the judge after all the years of waiting, the loss of the Melbourne version of Fitzroy, and the new version taking all before them. and yes, yet again, it had to be Essendon.

    At that moment I had no idea of the horrors of the next three years, engineered by Wayne “Fairy Godfather” Jackson…

  2. David Mitchell says

    Hi Fats you old Wombat, no doubt this tome will be a most splendid read, diligently researched, well written full of legant prose and another good example of your journos impressive nose for unearthing interesting but often overlooked facts. I’ll put an order in for a copy post haste. It will take pride of place among my St. Kilda books. Cheers Mitch

  3. Good on you, Mitch. Thanks for your kind words and I hope you, Barb and family are all keeping well. Your beloved Saints get a few mentions, notably the 1913 Grand Final, which was the last time Fitzroy and St Kilda appeared in the same final series. Speaking of Wombats, Arthur O’Bryan – father of our former teammate Paul – appeared in the 1944 VFL Grand Final, sadly, the last time the Roys “saluted” at the top level.

  4. Indeed, George, it was good to see Kevin Murray rewarded with a Brisbane Lions premiership given that he supported the merger. With you being a diehard Woodsman, I can understand you not enjoying 2002 and 2003. The first of those two years was another of Collingswood’s long list of near misses since 1964.

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