Almanac (Footy) History: Vive les Roys – How Bill Stephen gifted the Royboys the best club song in the VFL (ever)

I had the great pleasure and privilege of interviewing Fitzroy FC legend, Bill Stephen, in 2005 for Maroon & Blue, my oral / social history of the Royboys.   Bill sadly died on Sunday night – David Leydon has written a beaut obituary so I’ll instead focus on something else about Bill – his songwriting skills.  For those unaware, Bill was the inspiration and brains behind the Royboys magnificent club song.

 

Here’s what Bill and a couple of his old comrades told me, originally published under the chapter title Vive les Roys!

 

Vive les Roys! 

 

Harry Meese, former FFC administrator:

 

We used to have songs, but none of them were really like the main club song, none of them were prominent or stuck out like Collingwood’s or Melbourne’s. Collingwood’s was to the tune of ‘Dolly Gray’. We never had a song like that, we never had anything I suppose we called our own. The song I remember most is:

 

(Harry starts singing)

If you’re Fitzroy come in and join us,

There’s a welcome there for you,

Premiers we will be,

This year, next year, in 1953.

If you’re born near the Riley Harbour,

(ed: aka Alexander Parade)

Or the Merri Creek will do,

da-da-da-da, da-da, da-da,

Fitzroy, the Old Maroon and Blue.

 

In the early 1950s, the team went to Perth. Billy was coach and there was a piano in the carriage with a few players around it. Billy was the prime mover and they made up this new club theme song.

 

We had correspondence from the French Embassy; they wrote to the club and said it was a desecration of their National Anthem. They were dirty on us at the time. They went crook about it. We just ignored them and held our breath. Nothing happened in the end.

 

Bill Jacobs, broadcaster, also FFC committee member:

 

The French did get upset – I think we said, ‘Stuff the French, it’s our song.’ It’s always been known to blokes like me as ‘Billy’s Song’. Every time I watch a Brisbane Lions game on television, and they sing the song, I think of Bill. That’s the one thing that can stir the Fitzroy ashes in me; when they sing that song. It’s such a great song, a really rousing song.

 

Bill Stephen

 

Some of my favourite memories were the Sunday mornings after the game. No-one did Sunday training in those days, you just went down and had a hot bath and a rub. And then they’d have a barrel of beer and everybody would be there, you’d get 200 people there, players and supporters, everyone would put in two shillings or something like that.

 

They’d have singers and performers there. Fitzroy had a great entertainer by the name of Norm Byron. Norm…was a great guy, lived very close, I think in Freeman Street. He was always there on a Sunday morning, and he would sing, sing lots of songs; he had a booming voice like Al Jolson, a bit different, but similar. And he would make up rhymes using people’s names, he’d go through the room and he’d name everyone in a song, he was a marvellous entertainer. Everyone would be thrilled, like you’d come down from the country and then find yourself in one of Norm’s songs. Norm wrote several songs, and one popular one was called ‘Riley Harbour’. He used to sing this song and we used to sing along with him a bit, it’s a beaut tune. But as a group we didn’t have a song that was sung regularly by either the team or the Fitzroy people. We never had any songs after a win.

 

I’d been to see the picture Casablanca and I was very impressed by the scene when they sang La Marseillaise and everyone stood up. The more the Germans tried to sing their song, the more the French people stood up and sang theirs. Anyway, we were on an end of season trip to Western Australia in 1952, travelling by train. Two nights and three days. So we’d meet of a night and we’d have a few drinks, and we’d just talk, play cards, or whatever was doing. And I said to the boys one night, ‘We should write a song. We should have a song.’ And I said, ‘I know the tune that we should have, it’s La Marseillaise.’ When I said this, Ken Ross said – I always remember him saying this – ‘Oh I know, the fighting song, the French fighting song,’ and I said, ‘That’s it, that’s the one!’

 

I had a pen and notebook, and I thought to myself, the best way to get them to do it, to get authentic, is for each boy to say a line. So I said, ‘I’ll start it off with ‘We are the boys from old Fitzroy ’ and then I said, ‘Donny Furness, you have the next one.’  There was Neville Broderick and Kevin Wright, Ken Ross, Col Davey, Jack McGregor, about six of us. And they all took it in turns to do a line. So that meant it was a song made up by the Fitzroy players themselves, it wasn’t just me doing it, it was a collection of players doing the song. Well, when we got it all down, and we all knew the tune, we sang it, and we sang it, and we sang it, and we sang it. We must have sung it 4,000 times. By the time we got home we knew it very well.

 

Oh yes, it only took us about ten minutes to get it all down. I suppose if you had the time again, you’d probably set it up a fraction different. But that was how it came out. It was like, ‘It’s your line, what’s your line?’ Whatever someone said, went in the song, went down on my sheet of paper. That song took some beating. It really is a great thing. We did love it.

 

About three years ago, I had a call from Brad Fox and he said that the French Embassy had got onto him about the origins of where the song had come from, who’d invented it, and why were we singing it. Some woman in Brisbane had complained to the French Embassy, and so the Embassy wanted to know more about it. And I said to him, ‘Well, it’s just a great tune.’ That’s why we selected it, it wasn’t meant to be a shot at them or anything like that. It’s just a great tune. Chosen with the greatest of respect.

 

You know, one of my greatest pleasures is knowing what that song meant to people. It kept Fitzroy people going near the end. I remember when Fitzroy were playing at Carlton, there’d be 500 supporters basically with nowhere to gather after the game, so they used to come into the Past Players Room. It’d be absolutely packed and they would sing that song, it would keep them all together. I was very proud of that.

 

The song has that line in it about the Club, the Club we hold so dear. That line, they would belt that line out with real gusto. It really meant a lot to Fitzroy people. It was the Club that meant so much to people and to the players that played with it. It was the Club.

 

We are the boys from old Fitzroy, my lads,

We wear the colours maroon and blue,

We will always fight for victory,

We will always see it through,

Win or lose, we do or die,

And in defeat we always try. Fitzroy, Fitzroy,

The Club we hold so dear,

Premiers we’ll be this year.

*******

 

That song has given me so much pleasure, meaning, connection and joy. Thanks Bill – you’ll be sadly missed.

 

More stories from Adam Muyt Here

 

 

To return to the www.footyalmanac.com.au  home page click HERE

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One-off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE

 

 

About Adam Muyt

Born into rugby league, found aussie rules, fell for soccer, flirts a little with union. Author of 'Maroon & Blue - recollections and tales of the Fitzroy Football Club' (Vulgar Press, 2006). Presently working on a history of postwar Dutch migrants and soccer in Australia.

Comments

  1. Adam, the club may be gone, but the song still gives me goosebumps. I remember Ken Morgan and Laurie Serafini I think leading the rendition at your book launch all those years ago in Brunswick Street.

  2. Vive les roys is so close to “long live the kings” how apt!

    One of my most treasured Almanac memories is belting out the song several times at the big table of the NFA, surrounded by lots of good company and wine, before poor Tex poked his head around the corner of the doorway to let us know we were being heard from the tram stop and it was a bit much for the poor sods finishing up their desserts.in the main room.

    Thanks Bill for everything you did for the Roys and thanks Adam for sharing this from your magnificent book.

  3. david bridie says

    What a wonderful story. Vale Bill.

  4. Such a great story thanks Adam. Vale Bill

  5. Hayden Kelly says

    Great song and for me it’s right up there with Tigerland . Hard to forget the emotion when it was sang as a slow dirge at games after Fitzroy’s fate became clear . Credit should go to the Lions and Swans for not tampering too much with with the battle hymns they inherited .

  6. Thanks all for your comments. Hayden, I can’t stand Tigerland – worst club song in the League (ever) ;)
    Am a Lions man nowadays but find the Lions version of Bill’s song a pale – ersatz – version. Spoilt I guess, by the original. Still, I will sing it when the wins happen.

  7. Frank Taylor says

    Fabulous, FABULOUS true story Adam.
    Yes, THAT scene from Casablanca brings tears to your eyes every time.
    As did your story, the true story.
    I did not know of Bill, but a won’t forget him now,
    Thanks so much
    Frank

Leave a Comment

*