General Footy Writing: Last-finishing Roys remind us that it’d be good just to be able to finish last

When your AFL club no longer exists – at least in its original form – there are plenty of ‘lasts’ left to ponder.  The last player left in the comp to wear a Roys jersey, Brisbane’s Chris Johnson, hung up his boots in 2007.   And on Monday, another direct link with Fitzroy’s rich history ended with the death of 1944 premiership player, Laurie Bickerton.  He was 92.  Now there’s just one left ticking from that final Roys flag side, 98-year-old Clen Denning.
At least Bulldog Murray (1969) and Superboot Quinlan (1981) are still around to show off their Brownlows, the final two of Fitzroy’s six Brownlow medallists.   And one of the Roys favourite sons, Roosey, is still there at football’s coalface, a premiership coach.  As is Ross Lyon, possibly another premiership coach.  Royboys like to take pleasure in their success, particularly at such character-rich and historically-bumbling clubs.  Shades of their former footballing Alma Mater.
Little point tanking in this unique comp, featuring just the one club and the wrapping up of its player glories.  Ah, what wouldn’t many of us give for the feeling of finishing last on the field this year?  Any year for that matter.

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.


  1. That’s a moving little piece Adam. Sad to hear of Laurie’s passing. I know Bulldog has been very supportive of the Brisbane Lions’ efforts to incorporate the Royboy culture but I wonder if the merger was a better outcome in your eyes than say Fitzroy continuing on after 1996 in a lower competition (i.e. the VFA). Do you have any thoughts on that?

    Although I’m a Footscray fan, I live near Brunswick St and I love getting down to the oval and visualising the Royboys playing there as they did for 80-odd years until the 1960’s. It’s a nice little shrine.

  2. Damian Watson says

    Do you by any chance know why Laurie hung up the boots at the end of that premiership year?
    I think he only played half of the 1944 season, including the Grand Final and then retired.

  3. Hi Gigs,

    I’m a Brisbane Lions supporter, and have been since 1996. While I didn’t support the merger with the Bears immediately – I’d wanted a merger with North, plus I had some serious grieving to work through – within about six weeks I decided I had no other option if I wanted to keep following top level footy. And I did. I couldn’t bring myself to support another Melbourne club (where I was living at the time) and Brisbane offered us Royboys familiar colours and an emblem, a club song and connections to the Roys playing list, eight players, hardly a fifth of the Lions list at the time but it was better than nothing.

    Other Royboys couldn’t handle the merger and moved their AFL loyalties elsewhere or abandoned following the comp altogether. (I provide an analysis of what happened to Roys supporters after the merger in a chapter in ‘Behind the Play: Football in Australia’. It’s also available at my Roys website but since there are some gremlins living there at present, I’d better not pass on the link!)

    To answer your question, there never was any other option for Fitzroy in 1996 but merger or being wound up. Oblivion. The club was broke – even if playing in the VFA had been mooted at the time, it wasn’t a realistic option: $4 million of debts still needed settling, there wouldn’t have been any funds to start up an administration, develop a playing list, etc.

    Thirteen years on and I’m still very comfortable with my decision to back the Lions; indeed, I’m a passionate supporter of the Brisbane Lions. And will be til I croak. Which is not at odds with saying I still miss my Royboys. Terribly at times. Think of it as having lost a really dear and loved relative or friend, someone you wish you could still catch up with anytime, to share stories, laughter, joy. And a history.

  4. Hi Damian,

    Laurie was in the airforce at the time he joined Fitzroy a few game sinto the 1944 season.

    He’d been playing with Oakleigh in the VFA for a couple of seasons before signing with the airforce. While based at Laverton he joined the airforce league team which featured a couple of Roys players. Laurie liked them, they liked him and so he was invited down to play a game with the team. He quickly proved how good he was, staying in the seniors throughout the latter half of the year. He played in the backline in the side that defeated Richmond in the Grand Final at the Junction Oval.

    Not long after the match Laurie was sent to Borneo with the RAAF and when he returned in 1946, got an invite to return to the Roys. But he was living in Oakleigh and felt he owed his wife and young family some time together after being away for so long with the war. Oakleigh offered to pay him what Fitzroy where offering, plus they got him a job. So there he stayed, eventually playing more than a hundred games and becoming a life member.

    I interviewed Laurie for ‘Maroon & Blue’, my history of the Roys released in 2006. He was a great interview, very warm and generous and extremely amused by all the attention he was getting in his old age when he’d only managed to play 12 games of league footy! An extract of the interview is posted at my website but wait til I sort out the gremlins there before visiting it – I don’t want it to infect your computer!

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