Fitzroy are still going strong


Last week, my sister Dee went to visit my dad in the nursing home. He’s been living there in a special dementia wing (sorry, I should say “memory support wing”) since late last year. He’s got mates now. I’m not sure how they go remembering each other’s names, but every time I go in they reintroduce themselves to me, slightly confused that I already know who they are.


Dee tells us that she sat with Dad and Harry and they chatted football. Dad and Harry were in furious agreement that Fitzroy is going strong. It was a moment I wasn’t expecting: feeling grateful for dementia.


Growing up, we knew how much Dad loved his footy. The only time he got to choose what was on the telly, and we weren’t allowed to disturb him, was for the one-hour weekend wrap on a Saturday evening. (Hey yeah, remember when all games were on Saturday?) He would occasionally take a couple of us kids to games – always Lions games. His whole family was Fitzroy. I had gone rogue and barracked for the Tigers, but I enjoyed going anyway. I remember he took us to a final – imagine, Fitzroy in a final, I can only remember the dying gasps – and we went on the ground and collected all the streamers afterwards. Wouldn’t get away with covering the ground in streamers these days.


Much, much later, Dad and I went to Fitzroy’s final game in Melbourne together. It was against Richmond, but I couldn’t find it in my heart to cheer as the Tiges crushed the eviscerated Lions by 151 points. It was awful. The whole MCG was packed; we were at the back of the top level. We watched and applauded as the Lions walked out through a Tiger guard of honour, with grief all around. I turned to my dad when they were out of sight and saw that he had tears in his eyes. I’d never seen my dad cry. I’ve compared notes with my sisters since, and none of them has ever seen him cry growing up. Never.


He didn’t follow the Lions to Brisbane. His elder brother did and successfully barracked for them in subsequent years but it wasn’t for Dad. He sort of supported the Tigers with Dee and me for a while, but his heart wasn’t in it – he’d call them “Richy”, much to my disgust. He’d still watch the footy with Mum on a Friday or Saturday night but just to enjoy a game. He came out with us to matches on the odd occasion but eventually his memory loss and confusion was too great to go into big crowds like that.


And then, Mum reported he wasn’t enjoying the football anymore. He had become unable to tell the television apart from reality around him, and the violence on screen was disturbing him.


At the nursing home, they only show them non-violent telly. One day I had to wait while he finished the Bratz movie. I think he was enjoying the singing.


So to know that in his head Fitzroy are still running around smashing all in their wake, with all their superstars still safely in the fold, living out their proud history, makes me very happy. I’m going to encourage that. I’m going to study up the stars (the ones not stolen by the Tigers) and see if he remembers them. I’m looking forward to it.


And this weekend, I’ll watch the Tigers take on the Lions at the MCG again. I won’t mind this time if we win by 151, but I don’t think that’s on the cards. I’ll just hope for a win, and think about Dad in the home, and how grateful I am that he gave me the gift of loving football.



  1. Beautiful stuff Mandy. Your father sounds much loved and in a good place if the Royboys win every week. The Avenging Eagle’s wonderful father Juroslav (George) died nearly 6 years ago after a long period of dementia and Parkinsons. The family did an extraordinary job of caring for him at home until the last couple of months. One of the last good memories was the Eagles playing Richmond on a Saturday afternoon. Taking him out of his nursing home room to the TV area in his Eagles jacket and scarf to watch the last half of the game. His eyes lit up and he had a big smile on his face for the whole time. One of the last times we saw a flicker of recognition.
    I don’t remember who won – because it seemed entirely unimportant.

  2. Somewhat poetically the Royboys did have a good win on the weekend, 40 points over Old Mentonians.

    It’s bittersweet reading this, Mandy. So many of us have cherished footy memories with our parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents…as they get older, the memories grow in significance. It’s a lovely gift he gave you.

  3. Lovely piece.

  4. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Lovely piece indeed, Mandy. What a beautiful approach to your Dad, as he is now, that you are going to swat on the Fitzroy stars and enjoy the ride with him. The very many tones of footy’s binding capacity still amaze and delight me. Enjoy the game today.

  5. That’s a lovely article Mandy.

    Your dad knew his footy. I went to the final Fitzroy game in Melbourne: sad. Like South Melbourne, Fitzroy had to be moved out of the way of the AFL’s expansion. The AFL has done very well subsequently. The marketers may call Brisbane the Lions, but Fitzroy Football Club, left the AFL after 1996; the real Lions are no more.

    It ‘s good you can have a chin wag with him re Fitzroy. With that illness those old, long term memories are often still there, and if that gives him some quality of life, it’s great.


  6. mandyjohnson says

    Thanks everyone. It’s always good to see the love still there for Fitzroy (and a bit of the rage). And the connections.

  7. Stephen Costello says

    Thanks Mandy. The truth about footy is not the same as reality. You describe the truth. The Royboys will never die. .. i love the way I grew up with Fitzroy as a second religion…. the losing, week after week after week only made us crazier and more fanatical. Love to your dad and all the Roys.

  8. Absolutely beautiful Mandy. I can picture your Dad and his mates swapping notes on Fitzroy’s form. I’m glad this brings him joy.

  9. Lovely piece Mandy. The Roys live on in all kinds of magical, beautiful ways. Your Dad now illuminates yet another. Go Roys!

  10. Wonderful story, Mandy.
    Maybe there is some levity during these tough times?
    All the best to your dad and your family.

  11. E.regnans says

    Thanks Mandy – that’s wonderful.
    All we ever are to another are memories, I guess. And stories.
    And so we go on.

    Carna Roys.

  12. darryl kernaghan says

    Lovely story Mandy, as a former Roys’ tragic myself, who was fortunate / unfortunate enough to see the final game at Subiaco, it all brings back bittersweet memories. The one sobering thought, is that I, also are getting on a bit now, and I just had a cold shiver at the thought of the Roy’s games from 1963 to 1967 being on an endless loop in my head.

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