Rising from the cellar: Fitzroy’s outstanding 1979 season



Rising from the cellar: Fitzroy’s outstanding 1979 season


by Philip Mendes


At the start of the 1979 season, I was a 14 year old Year 10 student who had never seen my team play finals football. Fortunately by September 1979, I was able to live the dream.


I started attending Fitzroy games at the old Junction Oval as a five year old in 1970 with my father and paternal grandmother. They were both ex-St Kilda supporters, and it’s a bit of a strange story how they came to adopt Fitzroy that very year.[i] Regardless, Fitzroy were the cellar dwellers of the VFL, and had been for a number of decades. Their supporters including myself had learnt to be very patient and thick-skinned.


To be sure, there were some signs of life in the 1970s. The Lions won 12 games in 1971 including the bizarre fog game over reigning premier Carlton to finish a credible 6th on the ladder. They also won four out of their first five games in 1972 before falling away to finish 8th on the ladder. And they famously beat Collingwood in the final home and away game of 1976 to condemn the Magpies to their first wooden spoon.


The problem for Fitzroy was that all their good players in that era were small to medium running or link players: Gary Wilson, Warwick Irwin, John Murphy (who left to join South Melbourne in 1979), Graeme Allan, David Rhodes, Alan Thompson and David McMahon. Harvey Merrigan was solid at full back, but there was no reliable tall forward until WA recruit Bob Beecroft joined the club in 1976. Another WA recruit, ruckman Ron Alexander, quickly made an impact finishing 7th in the Brownlow Medal with 26 votes (the one year that both umpires voted) in his first year in 1976, and polling a further 13 votes to finish 11th in 1978. He would be appointed Lions captain in 1979.[ii]


The tide began to turn in 1978. The Lions won only eight games, but they lost eight games by less than 12 points, and two of their victories were over the Premier Team Hawthorn. Champion rover Gary Wilson finished third in the Brownlow Medal. They also won the Amco-Herald Night Grand Final in a major upset over reigning day premier North Melbourne.[iii] Most importantly, they recruited two experienced tall forwards mid season in Carlton premiership star Robert Walls and Footscray top liner Bernie Quinlan. Both made a major impact during 1978, but were even more important in 1979 and the following years.[iv] Fitzroy would also add experienced campaigners Max Richardson from Collingwood, and Kevin Higgins from Geelong at the beginning of 1979.[v]


The 1978 Fitzroy Football Club (FFC) Annual Report confidently forecast that ‘we now have the nucleus of the best team our Club has fielded for many years. We feel that we are on the brink of the greatest success the Club has enjoyed for a decade or two’.[vi]


The prediction was rock solid. Fitzroy won 15 games during the 1979 season, and finished 4th on the ladder securing victory in the Elimination Final against Essendon before bowing out in the First Semi Final against Collingwood. The season included numerous highlights such as:


  • Nine wins in a row from Rounds 5 to 13 to sit 2nd on the ladder;
  • A record VFL score against Melbourne in Round 17 of 36 22 (238);
  • A record winning margin of 190 points against Melbourne (still a VFL/AFL record);
  • Bob Beecroft kicked 87 goals to break the record number of goals by a Lions player in a season;[vii]
  • Gary Wilson won most media awards, and finished second in the Brownlow Medal;[viii]
  • Record first quarter of nine goals four in the Elimination Final against Essendon;
  • Record Elimination Final winning margin of 81 points.


What follows is a round by round personal reflection on the 1979 season based on weekly press reports from about half the games of the season, video recordings of segments of some games, and long-term personal memory which may be imperfect. Some others who viewed or indeed participated in these games may remember or interpret them somewhat differently.





Round 1: 7 April 1979


Collingwood 1.5, 2.7, 5.12, 9.15 (69)

Fitzroy        2.4, 9.8, 13.16, 21.23 (149)


Best players: Allan (42 disposals), Alexander (24 disposals, 14 marks and 22 hitouts), McMahon, Merrigan, Richardson.


Multiple Goalkickers: McMahon 6, Richardson 3, Allan 3, Beecroft 2, Irwin 2.


The season began with a huge upset at the unfriendly Victoria Park where we had not won for decades. The Lions dominated from start to finish against the highly rated Collingwood side who would eventually finish runners-up. The large home crowd was unusually quiet for most of the second half, and only really erupted with loud boos when Fitzroy veteran Robert Walls was replaced late in the last quarter. Walls responded by pointing triumphantly to the scoreboard. Fitzroy sat 2nd on the ladder at the end of the round.



Round 2: 14 April 1979


Fitzroy                 4.5, 9.7, 11.13, 12.14 (86)

South Melbourne 5.2, 9.7, 15.9,   21.13 (139)


Best players: Irwin (24 disposals), Wilson (23 disposals), Richardson (20 disposals), McCarthy (25 disposals and 8 marks).


Multiple Goalkickers: Beecroft 4, Wilson 3, Richardson 2.


The Lions started their first home game with a rush, and from memory had four goals on the board before South even scored. But the Swans pegged them back, and took over the game in the second half. Former Fitzroy captain John Murphy dominated with 25 possessions and three goals.



Round 3: 21 April 1979


Richmond 5.1, 12.3, 15.7,  20.12 (132)

Fitzroy     2.2, 4.7,    9.10, 16.16 (112)


Best players: Allan (26 disposals), Wilson (24 disposals), Beecroft (17 disposals and six marks), Irwin.


Multiple Goalkickers: Beecroft 5, Allan 4, Wilson 3, Conlan 2.


Missing both Quinlan and Walls through injury, the Lions struggled to kick goals against an in-form Richmond who led from start to finish.



Round 4: 28 April 1979


Fitzroy 1.5, 4.10, 8.11, 11.16 (82)

Carlton  4.5, 8.9, 14.18, 20.19 (139)


Best players: Allan (31 disposals), Wilson (27 disposals), Brian Brown (father of Jonathan Brown), McMahon, Richardson.


Multiple Goalkickers: Wilson 4, Allan 2.


Another disappointing loss at home to top side Carlton sunk the Lions to 10th spot on the ladder.



Round 5: 5 May 1979


Essendon 1.1, 4.4,     5.8,     10.16 (76)

Fitzroy    7.9, 11.14, 20.17, 25.22 (172)


Best Players: Allan (Best on Ground with 32 disposals),[ix] Quinlan (24 disposals and 8 marks), Wilson (34 disposals), Poynton, Higgins, McMahon, McCarthy.


Mutiple Goalkickers: Beecroft 7, Quinlan 6, Richardson 4, McMahon 3, Irwin 2.


Fitzroy dominated this game from beginning to end to return to the top five. Quinlan returned from injury to double team with Beecroft for a combination of 13 goals. Dashing onballer Graeme Allan jumped to a shared lead in the Herald Player of the Year Award.[x]



Round 6: 12 May 1979


Melbourne 4.6, 11.7, 18.10, 21.14 (140)

Fitzroy       4.4, 12.6, 17.13, 24.19 (163)


Best players: Wilson, Allan, Beecroft (13 disposals and 8 marks), Quinlan (19 disposals and 7 marks), Irwin, Alexander.


Multiple Goalkickers: Beecroft 8, Wilson 4, Quinlan 3, Allan 2, Richardson 2.


The Lions drew away in the last quarter after three close quarters with a competitive Melbourne side to remain fifth on the ladder. The two tall timbers – Beecroft and Quinlan – dominated again. Beecroft had 27 goals after six rounds.



Round 7: 19 May 1979


Fitzroy        2.6, 8.13, 12.14, 14.18 (102)

Hawthorn     0.8, 0.14, 7.17,   11.24 (90)


Best players: Wilson, Higgins, Alexander, Hansen, McCarthy, McMahon, Serafini, Quinlan.


Multiple Goalkickers: Beecroft 3, Quinlan 3, Wilson 2, McMahon 2.


The Lions withstood a second half comeback from reigning Premier Hawthorn to secure 4th spot on the ladder.



Round 8: 26 May 1979


North Melbourne 2.4, 9.7,   10.9,   13.16 (94)

Fitzroy                4.7, 5.10, 13.20, 21.22 (148)


Best players:  Quinlan (Best on Ground: 28 possessions and 4 marks), Harris, Higgins, Richardson, Alexander, Wilson, Serafini, Beecroft.


Multiple Goalkickers: Beecroft 4, Quinlan 3, Richardson 3, Irwin 2, Allan 2, McMahon 2.


The Lions stormed home with 16 goals to four in the second half against ladder leader North Melbourne. Game highlights included a long torpedo goal by Wilson, a sharp handball by Wilson to Conlan who goaled on the run, and two big contested marks by Beecroft in the goal square. Unfortunately defender Brian Brown suffered a season-ending broken leg.[xi]


Herald Chief Football Writer Alf Brown summed up as follows:


‘Fitzroy outclassed unbeaten North Melbourne in the second half at Arden Street this afternoon to win by 54 points. North was overwhelmed by Fitzroy’s pace, superior teamwork and greater desire for the ball. Brilliant Bernie Quinlan lifted Fitzroy in the second half. North had no counter for his pace and strong marking and he brought many players into the game’.[xii]



Round 9: 2 June 1979


Fitzroy 3.2, 8.8, 10.11, 18.15 (123)

St Kilda 5.7, 6.8, 11.10, 11.12 (78)


Best players: Wilson (37 disposals), Conlan, Allan, Higgins, Smith.


Multiple Goalkickers: Conlan 3, Wilson 3, Allan 2, Beecroft 2.


The Lions steadied after a slow start to beat bottom of the table St Kilda, and remain 4th on the ladder.



Round 10: 9 June 1979


Footscray 1.0, 5.4, 8.4,     11.8 (74)

Fitzroy    6.5, 9.8, 16.14, 17.17 (119)


Best Players: Higgins (37 disposals), Beecroft (10 marks), Allan, Irwin, Quinlan, Smith, Fowler.


Multiple Goalkickers: Beecroft 7, O’Keefe 2.


Robert Walls finally returned from injury to help Fitzroy defeat lowly Footscray. Highlights of a big scoring 3rd quarter included two clever goals by O’Keefe, a strong mark and sharp handball by Fowler resulting in a goal by Quinlan, a smart handball by Allan creating a long goal by Irwin, and a fine pass by Richardson resulting in Beecroft’s 6th goal. The Lions were now 3rd on the ladder.



Round 11: 16 June 1979


Fitzroy  4.5, 7.7, 11.16, 19.18 (132)

Geelong 0.3, 3.8, 4.9,     9.11 (65)


Best players: Wilson, Allan, Quinlan (26 disposals and 12 marks), Irwin, McCarthy, McMahon, Richardson, Taylor, Walls.


Multiple Goalkickers: Walls 3, Allan 3, McMahon 2, Merrigan 2, Quinlan 2, Richardson 2, Wilson 2.


An easy win over Geelong at home meant Fitzroy retained 3rd place on the ladder. Highlights included a superb goal on the run by McMahon, a very long goal by McCarthy, and 3 bounces by Allan.



Round 12: 23 June 1979


Fitzroy          5.5, 10.11, 12.15, 17.20 (122)

Collingwood  3.3, 5.8,     9.12,   11.14 (80)


Best players: Quinlan (30 disposals and 15 marks), Wilson, Irwin, Allan, Harris, Alexander.


Multiple Goalkickers: Beecroft 3, Conlan 2, Quinlan 2, Richardson 2, Walls 2, Wilson 2.


The Lions romped home in the Match of the Day before 56,000 people at VFL Park to grab 2nd place on the ladder. Highlights included a great left foot snap for goal by Bernie Quinlan, and an outstanding sequence of team play involving Irwin, Wilson, Allan, McMahon and Allan again.




Round 13: 30 June 1979


South Melbourne 4.8, 8.11, 10.14, 15.20 (110)

Fitzroy                 4.6, 10.9, 16.12, 20.16 (136)


Best players: Wilson (Best on Ground), Richardson, Harris, Quinlan.


Multiple Goalkickers: Richardson 6, Wilson 4, Beecroft 3, Quinlan 3.


The Lions retained 2nd spot with a comfortable away win over lowly South Melbourne. Highlights included a delightful high mark by Beecroft, a big grab up forward by Wilson, a fine goal on the run by Irwin, two bounces by Wilson followed by a tremendous left foot goal on the run, a solid mark under pressure in defence by Smith, good goal by Wilson on the run, brilliant waxing by Richardson and Wilson enabling the latter to goal, a fine goal by Quinlan from 40 metres out on the boundary, and a sharp handball by Wilson for Harris to goal.


The Herald argued that the Lions ‘continued to display premiership potential’, and gave particular credit to rover Gary Wilson:

‘His pace and brilliant ball control was instrumental in keeping the Lions slight advantage in the first half. The gallant little rover gathered nearly 20 kicks in an inspirational first half display – and it was even more meritorious when you consider he was roving to beaten rucks’.[xiii]



Round 14: 7 July 1979


Carlton 4.7, 10.9, 16.13, 17.14 (116)

Fitzroy 1.0, 4.2,   4.5,     9.11 (65)


Best Players: Smith, Wilson, Alexander, Merrigan.


Multiple Goalkickers: Quinlan 3, McMahon 3, Richardson 2.


First versus second in the Match of the Day at VFL Park before 58,000 people. But unfortunately, Carlton held sway all day, and the Roys dropped to 3rd on the ladder. There were few highlights other than a goal off the ground by McMahon early. The Sunday Press praised centre half back Chris Smith, stating that he ‘marked brilliantly and outplayed the vaunted Mark Maclure’.[xiv]



Round 15: 15 July 1979


Fitzroy        5.4, 11.6,   15.10, 20.15 (135)

Richmond    6.7, 10.14, 16.16, 22.20 (152)


Best players: McMahon, Wilson, Smith, Mugavin, Irwin, Harris.


Multiple Goalkickers: Quinlan 3, Walls 3, Wilson 3, Mugavin 3, Conlan, 2, Richardson 2, Beecroft 2.


This was a disappointing loss against the struggling Tigers played for promotional purposes on a Sunday at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Veteran Kevin Bartlett starred, and the Lions dropped back to 4th on the ladder.[xv]



Round 16: 21 July 1979


Fitzroy    4.6, 9.11, 12.14, 16.16 (112)

Essendon 3.2, 5.3,    10.3,  15.9 (99)


Best players: Allan, Harris, Irwin, McMahon, Merrigan, Walls, Higgins, Taylor.


Multiple Goalkickers: Walls 5, McMahon 3, Beecroft 3, Harris 2.


I listened to this crucial game all afternoon hidden in the shower block of our school camp at freezing Ballarat. It was 4th Fitzroy vs 3rd Essendon, and the Lions held sway all day although it got close at the end. Gary Wilson was concussed early, and the Roys relied on their other smalls Harris, Irwin and Allan to get the points. Tall forwards Walls and Beecroft combined for eight goals. Highlights included two classy left foot snaps by Walls, and a sharp pass by Wilson to Beecroft.


Round 17: 28 July 1979


Fitzroy        7.7, 14.14, 26.17, 36.22 (238)

Melbourne   2.1, 2.5,     4.8,     6.12 (48)


Best players: Wilson (42 disposals), Irwin, Higgins, Beecroft (18 disposals and 13 marks), Allan, Smith, Walls, Hansen, Harris, Alexander.


Multiple Goalkickers: Beecroft 10, Irwin 5, Conlan 4, Quinlan 4, Allan 3, Walls 3, Wilson 3, McMahon 2.


What a remarkable victory. The Lions broke the VFL record score set by Footscray in 1978 when long-time defender Harvey Merrigan booted their 33rd goal late in the last quarter. They also created a new record winning margin of 190 points, and consolidated 3rd spot on the ladder. Full forward Bob Beecroft kicked 10 goals three. Other highlights of this goal kicking feast included two brilliant right foot snaps from Mick Conlan. Media reports suggested Fitzroy had become a genuine premiership threat.[xvi]



Round 18: 4 August 1979


Hawthorn 4.6, 8.6, 12.10, 15.14 (104)

Fitzroy     1.3, 4.13, 7.17, 15.25 (115)


Best players: Quinlan, Irwin, Wilson, Walls, McMahon, Merrigan


Multiple Goalkickers: Smith 3, Walls 3, Irwin 2, Beecroft 2.


This game is one of my favourite memories. Although Hawthorn were having a poor season, they were the reigning premiers and still fielded a highly mature and rugged side that was difficult to toss on their home turf. They belted us in the first half with veteran full forward Michael Moncrieff dominating with five goals. Coach Bill Stephen made lots of changes at half time. Centre half back Chris Smith moved forward and Gerard McCarthy went into defence, and veteran Merrigan shifted from the wing to replace Serafini on Moncrieff. It all came together in a colossal last quarter. The Sunday Press described the Roys as ‘the League’s new glamour team’.[xvii]


Overall highlights included a long goal by Smith, a lovely goal by Irwin on the run, and a delightful mark by Bernie Quinlan in the centre after a long kick out by Merrigan. But the last quarter was a delight featuring goals by McMahon, Irwin, Smith, Wilson and Allan, a brilliant handball by Wilson for Smith to run into an open goal, Walls and Wilson. Perhaps the biggest high point was Quinlan’s four bounces which resulted in a long poster halfway through the quarter.




Round 19: 11 August 1979


Fitzroy                 1.2, 3.6,    5.10,  7.12 (54)

North Melbourne   3.3, 9.10, 14.14, 17.19 (121)


Best players: Quinlan, McCarthy, Wilson, Taylor, Conlan.


Multiple Goalkickers: None.


This was our big chance to consolidate 2nd position against 3rd on the ladder North Melbourne. But the Roos were far too good on a wet and cold day at the Junction Oval.[xviii]



Round 20: 18 August 1979


St Kilda 3.2, 3.4, 7.6,    9.6 (60)

Fitzroy   2.2, 7.9, 8.11, 10.16 (76)


Best players: Wilson, Allan, Taylor, McMahon, Walls.

Multiple Goalkickers: Beecroft 4.


This was an important win in the mud and slush at Moorabbin over bottom side St Kilda to retain 3rd spot on the ladder.



Round 21: 25 August 1979


Fitzroy    0.3, 12.7, 14.11, 22.19 (151)

Footscray 5.6, 6.10, 12.15, 14.16 (100)


Best players: Wilson, Irwin, McMahon, Alexander, Conlan, Keays, Beecroft (15 disposals and nine marks).


Multiple Goalkickers: Beecroft 8, Conlan 7, Wilson 3, Quinlan 2.


Propelled by an amazing 12 goal second quarter, the Lions easily held off struggling Footscray at the Junction Oval. The second quarter goal feast included two big pack marks by Beecroft resulting in goals, a lovely snap by Irwin, a great  tackle by Quinlan creating an easy goal for Wilson, and three consecutive goals on the run by Conlan. Other match highlights included a great mark by Walls, a left foot snap by Conlan, and a big grab in the goal square by Wilson.



Round 22: 1 September 1979


Geelong 6.5, 7.8, 10.14, 16.16 (112)

Fitzroy  4.3, 9.7, 12.12, 15.17 (107)


Best players: Wilson, McMahon, Harris, Taylor, Smith.


Multiple Goalkickers: Quinlan 3, Beecroft 3, Walls 2, Wilson 2, McMahon 2.


This was a devastating loss. The simple statistic was that the Roys only had to win to retain 3rd spot and the double chance ahead of Collingwood. They led by 27 points at the 18 minute mark of the last quarter, but somehow 6th placed Geelong inspired by a large home crowd kicked five goals in 10 minutes to steal the game.[xix] I still remember the despairing look of Fitzroy captain Ron Alexander as the winning goal from Malcolm Reed eluded his outstretched arms. So despite winning 15 games for the season, we were relegated to a cut throat Elimination Final with Essendon.




Elimination Final: 8 September 1979


Fitzroy    9.4, 11.9, 14.17, 17.22 (124)

Essendon 1.3, 2.4,   3.8,     5.13 (43)


Best players: Wilson (Best on Ground), Smith, Alexander, Hansen, Harris, McMahon, Irwin, Higgins.


Multiple Goalkickers: Quinlan 4, Walls 3, Conlan 2, McMahon 2, Beecroft 2, Wilson 2.


In a tremendous rebound from the disappointment of the last round, the Roys smashed the Bombers from start to finish in front of 49,000 fans at VFL Park. Highlights included a solid mark and long torpedo goal by McMahon, a superb left foot pass by Wilson that resulted in a goal by Quinlan, a left foot snap on the run by Quinlan under pressure for his 4th, and a brilliant goal on the run by Mick Conlan after he eluded three players.


The Sunday Press opined that ‘Fitzroy graduated from the ranks of football’s also-rans at VFL Park yesterday. Whatever happens next week the Lions, 35 years from their last premiership, showed they are a top side’. They offered particular praise to Gary Wilson:


‘If any extra proof was needed that Fitzroy player Gary Wilson was an extraordinary player, it was provided yesterday. Statisticians in the press box gave Wilson 13 kicks and 25 handballs…it is safe to say that no footballer has ever used the handball to greater advantage than Brownlow Medal prospect Wilson did’. The newspaper also praised the ‘dominant’ ruck work of Ron Alexander, the ‘superlative’ half back line of Higgins, Smith and Keays, and the fine game from running players Irwin, Harris and Conlan.[xx]


Similarly, Bruce Matthews referred to ‘an awesome display of teamwork…which must enhance their premiership claims’[xxi], whilst elsewhere he complimented their ‘breakneck movement of the ball, well-organized defence and superior desperation’. He described Wilson’s game as ‘brilliant. He bobbed up here, there and everywhere gathering an amazing 40 possessions, kicking goals and hitting teammates on the chest with bullet-like handpasses ranging from three feet to 30 yards’.[xxii] Later, footy legend Ron Barassi confidently predicted that the Lions ‘will beat Collingwood and become only the second team to win more than one finals match after finishing either fourth or fifth’.[xxiii]



First Semi Final: 15 September 1979


Fitzroy         3.4, 5.13, 6.17, 12.22 (94)

Collingwood 3.5, 5.7, 12.13, 16.20 (116)


Best players: Wilson, Allan, Conlan, Hansen, Quinlan.


Multiple Goalkickers: Walls 3, Conlan 2, Beecroft 2.


Having missed the Elimination Final, this was my first ever live attendance at a VFL finals match. This game was also utilised as the live action in the film version of David Williamson’s famous play ‘The Club’. Fitzroy started well in front of a huge crowd of 87,000 at the MCG, and but for poor kicking at goal, would have led by more than six points at half time. But the Magpie runners Barham, Anderson and Kink destroyed the Lions with a seven goal 3rd quarter, and the premiership dream was over.[xxiv] Highlights included a lovely left handed handball by Wilson to Irwin for a goal, and a long goal on the run after two bounces by Conlan.



Top Ten Fitzroy Best and Fairest


Gary Wilson 262 votes

Bernie Quinlan 111

Warwick Irwin 109

Ron Alexander 92

Laurie Serafini 92

David McMahon 80

Leon Harris 76

Graeme Allan 71

Bob Beecroft 69

Peter Keays 64


Top Ten Fitzroy Goal kickers


Bob Beecroft 87

Bernie Quinlan 48

Gary Wilson 46

David McMahon 36

Max Richardson 34

Robert Walls 30

Michael Conlan 27

Graeme Allan 26

Warwick Irwin 25

Gerald McCarthy 11


Personal Reflection


President Frank Bibby stated in the 1979 Annual Report that it had been a ‘satisfying’ season given ‘the success we earned after such a long drought’[xxv] (first finals appearance since 1960). This sentiment was shared by all Fitzroy supporters.


The club had been perpetually unfashionable, lacking both the team success and individual high profile star quality players that demanded public and media attention. Suddenly we had both. There was big crowds, often Match of the Day status, and far greater media coverage including regular slots in the Channel Seven Big League and ABC Winners replays.


Most importantly they were a joy to watch. For years, I had attended games hoping we might at least be competitive. Now I buttoned up my duffle coat and club badges prior to games with anticipation of victory. It was a fun ride.



[i] Philip Mendes (1996) ‘The Death of Fitzroy Football Club: A Personal Reflection’, Australian Society for Sports History, No.25, pp.37-38.

[ii] Ibid, pp.38-39. Detailed profiles of Irwin, Allan, Wilson, McMahon, Beecroft and Alexander can be found in Anon (1978) Victorian Australian Rules Superstars. Sydney: Murray Publishers, pp.116-121.

[iii] Fitzroy Football Club 95th Annual Report and Balance Sheet. Melbourne: 1978, pp.12 & 17.

[iv] Russell Holmesby (2020) The Death of Fitzroy Football Club. Melbourne: Hardie Grant Books, pp.28-29.

[v] Ibid, p.31.

[vi] Frank Bibby (1978) ‘President’s Report’ in Fitzroy Football Club 95th Annual Report and Balance Sheet. Melbourne, p.4.

[vii] Jim Main (2007) Fitzroy. Melbourne: Bas Publishing, p.199.

[viii] Holmesby, p.38.

[ix] Frank McGuire (1979) ‘Dasher Allan’, Herald, 7 May.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Bruce Matthews (1979) ‘Out: A lion’s lament’, Herald, August.

[xii] Alf Brown (1979) ‘Lions slaughter Roos’, Herald, 26 May.

[xiii] Bruce Matthews (1979) ‘Fitzroy too classy’, Herald, 30 June.

[xiv] Ken Piesse (1979) ‘Lions pride takes a tumble’, Sunday Press, 8 July.

[xv] Lou Richards and Tom Prior (1979) ‘Lions’ party over’, The Sun, 16 July.

[xvi] Michael Lovett (1979) ‘Lionised…And record goes’, Sunday Press, 29 July; Rod Nicholson’, ‘Fitzroy’s massacre’, Herald, 28 July.

[xvii] Peter MacFarline (1979) ‘It’s the Lion Hearts’, Sunday Press, 5 August.

[xviii] Trevor Grant (1979) ‘Tamed lions won’t panic’, Sunday Press, 12 August.

[xix] Mike Sheahan (1979) ‘Oops go Lions’, Herald, 1 September.

[xx] Peter McFarline (1979) ‘Triumph Lions’, Sunday Press, 9 September.

[xxi] Bruce Matthews (1979a) ‘The day Dons bombed out’, Herald, 8 September.

[xxii] Bruce Matthews (1979b) ‘Fitzroy crash the Bombers’ in Ian McDonald (ed.) Finals Action: VFL 1979 Season Official Souvenir. Melbourne: VFL, pp. 54-59.

[xxiii] Ron Barassi (1979) ‘Bill proves point’, Herald, September.

[xxiv] Trevor Grant (1979a) ‘Pies play in bursts’, Sunday Press, 16 September; Trevor Grant (1979b) ‘The Lions hopes were dashed’ in Ian McDonald (ed.) Finals Action: VFL 1979 Season Official Souvenir. Melbourne: VFL, pp.38-43.

[xxv] Frank Bibby (1979) ‘President’s Report’ in Fitzroy Football Club 96th Annual Report and Balance Sheet. Melbourne, p.3.




If you have enjoyed Philip’s piece, then it’s highly likely you’ll enjoy Peter Carter’s Fitzroy’s Fabulous Century.



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.


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About Philip Mendes

Philip Mendes is an academic who follows AFL, soccer, tennis and cricket. He supported Fitzroy Football Club from 1970-1996, and on their death he adopted the North Melbourne Kangaroos as his new team. In his spare time, he occasionally writes about his current and past football teams.


  1. Flea won the B&F by 150 votes, beating a bloke called Bernie Quinlan, what a player …..

  2. matt watson says

    I loved it Phil.
    I remember Fitzroy giving North a hammering at Arden Street that year – listening to it on the radio. In the return game, I was extremely nervous…
    Amazing about Bob Beecroft. I certainly remember him kicking a lot of goals. Went to SA at 28, when he probably had a few years left.
    Maybe Quinlan forced him out? But Beecroft averaged three goals a game, which is extremely good.
    I interviewed Max Richardson a few years back, and he recalled this season fondly, saying the Roys needed experience and recruited well.
    Shame about what happened to Fitzroy – I can never forgive Ross Oakley and the AFL for it.

  3. Fitzroy got the lemon and sars for allegedly being $4 million in debt, these days clubs rack up losses of that magnitude in one season while it took Fitzroy 111 years, yet there is no indication that, for example St Kilda which is $12 million in debt, is in any danger because of AFL support that was tragically absent in Fitzroy’s case thanks to Oakley and Ian Collins’ obsession with reducing the number of Melbourne clubs.

  4. Stainless says

    Great reminiscences – it must have been an exciting seasons after so many years in the wilderness. I attended two of Fitzroy’s games that year – their disappointing home loss to North on a miserable day at the Junction Oval, and the Semi Final against Collingwood, which as you say, they squandered in the first half. So I didn’t really see them at their best. When you look at their performances in 1979 and the early 80s, there’s no doubt they had a side that was capable of beating anyone on the day, but their inconsistency must have been incredibly frustrating. As I review the 1981 season, Fitzroy will again figure large as a prominent contender. Remarkable then that in between these two excellent seasons, they won the wooden spoon in 1980!

  5. Love the comments guys. I’m hoping to follow the completed 1983 and 1979 seasons with 1981 later this year. It is remarkable on the surface that Fitzroy finished bottom in 1980 – and then lost Beecroft, Irwin, Allan, Richardson, Higgins, Walls and top first year player Marchesani, yet played finals in 1981. They did pick up Matt Rendell, Hinchen, Clayton I think, and also Murnane and Lewis improved out of sight. But strongly suspect it was the coaching of Robert Walls that made all the difference – and obviously his incredibly successful placement of Quinlan so that he won the Brownlow that year.

  6. A great wrap-up of a very enjoyable season for Roys fans, Phil.
    Kicking 2.9 in the second quarter of the first semi-final against Collingwood certainly destroyed any chance the Lions had of winning an unlikely flag.
    As for 1980, it was an aberration.
    Losing nine games by less than three goals didn’t help the Mighty Lions, but I think the damage was done early when Richmond decimated Fitzroy by 118 points on Anzac Day.
    The players simply surrendered that day.

  7. Pete – oddly my strongest memory of that disappointing season is the draw against Collingwood in Round eight when from memory we always looked like the better team, but in the end it was oddly the ageing Len Thompson who kept us right in the game with 5 goals.

  8. We also had a big last-quarter fadeout against the Pies in the return match at Waverley, Phil.
    Up by 25 points at the last change, only to lose by nine.
    By that stage, Len Thompson and John Rantall had finished (or been told to finish) their brief stints in the maroon, blue and gold.

  9. Philip Mendes says

    Pete – yes I remember that one. Was listening on the radio at home, and getting very frustrated. I think the Shaw brothers – Ray and Tony – turned the game for Collingwood. At that stage, everybody thought Ray was a much better player. Funny how things turned out with Tony captaining their long-awaited Premiership side a decade later

  10. Taking my Fitzroy hat off, Phil, but Tony Shaw carved out one of the more remarkable VFL/AFL careers.
    According to AFL Tables, he was only 170cm – I don’t think there’s been a shorter 300-gamer.

  11. Hi Philip. great article

    Do you have the Fitzroy Top 10 B & F for 1981?

    Many thanks.

    Kevin (BigKev35)

  12. Philip Mendes says
  13. Hi Philip, I hope that is the right link. The other link was problematic because of the Facebook element. Cheers, Ed

  14. Philip Mendes says

    Thanks John, that’s perfect.

  15. Good stuff Phil.

    Your 1980 was an intriguing season. To receive the wooden spoon, though Fitzroy scored 100+points in 18 of their 22 matches, is fascinating. Finalists in 1979 & 1981, with a wooden spoon in between.

    Sadly Fitzroy is long gone, though these details are recorded for ever. History is our segue to the past.

    Stay safe Phil.


  16. Hi Philip,

    I am doing some research on Brownlow Medallists and how they fared in their club Best and Fairest that season.

    If you have them, could you please send me the top 5 Fitzroy B & F from the following season:

    1950: Allan Ruthven won the Brownlow, Bill Stephen the B & F

    Kind regards,

    Kevin Pollard

  17. Philip Mendes says

    Kevin – I don’t. Jim Main’s book has two pages on the 1950 season, but doesn’t list the B and F voting. However, either the AFL or the Brisbane Lions should have a full record.

  18. Many thanks Philip. I have emailed the Lions.

    I’m also after the top 5 or top 10 club B & F placings for the following seasons:

    1995 Sydney Swans
    1990 Footscray
    1986 Hawthorn
    1986 Sydney Swans
    1985 Footscray
    1973 North Melbourne
    1965 St Kilda
    1956 Footscray
    1955 South Melbourne
    1950 Fitzroy
    1946 Melbourne
    1930 Footscray
    1925 St Kilda

    I have emailed the clubs and a few club historians and am waiting to hear back.

    Kind regards,


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