Almanac (Fitzroy) Footy: The Five Stages of Grief

 

 

In 1996 the Royboys were finally euthanised.

In 1997 I met my future wife.

We will never know if my heart was big enough to love them both.

 

 

THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF

 

Late in 1996, the Australian Football League delivered by forced caesarean the Brisbane Lions. The merger combined two teams – the recently created expansion team the Brisbane Bears and the one hundred and thirteen-year-old Fitzroy, a foundation club. I was only nineteen, but the truth is I had seen the fatal blow thirteen years earlier and spent my childhood watching them slowly bleed.

 

Let us sleep, perchance to dream,

Ay there’s the rub,

For in this sleep of death, what dreams may come…

What dreams may come?

What dreams may come?

 

Aaah William Shakespeare, if only you had lived long enough to know the comedy and the tragedies that sprung from the Brunswick Street Oval.

 

DENIAL

 

In the 1983 Qualifying Final a contentious free kick was awarded to Hawthorn’s Richard Loveridge. His resulting goal gave the Hawks a famous victory and direct passage into the Grand Final, their first in what would be eight Grand Finals in the subsequent nine years, yielding five premierships. Fitzroy champion, Bernie “Superboot” Quinlan, had a game for the ages in the Qualifying Final kicking eight goals in the losing team.  The following week, in a must-win game for the Lions, Quinlan’s troublesome achilles was targeted by Billy Duckworth, an Essendon hard man. Fitzroy lost the game. Despite giving his career another three years, Quinlan was never the same player.

 

If the Loveridge free kick had not been paid, Fitzroy would have played in the Grand Final and likely won the 1983 premiership. The Hawthorn dynasty would not have started.

 

Readers are reminded that in 1996 the Fitzroy Football Club ceased to exist.

 

What if the free kick hadn’t been paid? Oh, allow me this indulgence, to see what dreams may come…

 

A revisionist timeline:

 

1983                Fitzroy celebrates a premiership in their centenary year defeating Essendon. Their captain, Garry Wilson, is awarded the Norm Smith medal as the best player on the ground.

 

1984/85           The Lions are defeated in consecutive grand finals by Essendon. Garry Wilson retires, the 1985 Grand Final his final game, he is carried from the ground on the shoulders of his teammates, universally acclaimed as the greatest player in the history of the game. It is Garry Wilson, not Leigh Matthews, who is voted the ‘Herald-Sun player of the century.’

 

1986                A gallant Hawthorn, returning to the finals, defeats Essendon by one point in the Elimination Final. They follow up with a stirring five-point victory in the semi final the following week. However, it is Fitzroy, with their hardened final’s experience, who win the next week and advance to another grand final (the Lions fourth in a row) and ultimately the premiership – atoning somewhat for the disappointment of the previous years. In a meteoric rise, Garry Wilson becomes the Collingwood senior coach mid-season. Media discussion swirls about the long-term viability of weaker clubs like Hawthorn. The Hawthorn team is mooted to move to Brisbane in 1987 but this comes to naught.

 

1987                Fitzroy are lucky to make the Grand Final after Irish import Jim Stynes unknowingly delivers a fifteen-metre penalty to Richard Osborne at the very end of the Preliminary Final. Stynes is devastated, Osborne goals, Fitzroy are beaten the following week by a Carlton side brimming with highly paid South Australian talent. The Brisbane Bears and West Coast Eagles join an expanded VFL competition.

 

1989                Fitzroy complete back to back premierships for the third time in their decorated history. Gary Ablett stars for the vanquished Geelong team with nine goals in a losing side.

 

1991                Aaaah Fitzroy, the Mighty Lions. One last roar. Another premiership, this time against the power of the West Coast Eagles.

 

Oh the surety that comes to the Australian adolescent male whose football team is a powerhouse.

 

Not for he the ravages of self-doubt, self-loathing and self-recriminations. He saunters into adulthood with his eyes on the horizon. He doesn’t need to look back; he knows he will be followed. He doesn’t stare woefully into a mirror; he knows what’s there. As this timeline unfolds, I saunter through life.

 

But this is not right, I wouldn’t wish what happened to Fitzroy to a mangy dog let alone Hawthorn. I’m no Gatsby. For in this revisionary trickery, I’m the member of an army not a tribe; the triumph is hard to savour when you are in an empire – it’s just not Fitzroy.

 

ANGER

 

I’m in grade five. That makes it 1987.

 

A huddle of us boys sit in a circle on the cracked cement cricket pitch in the middle of our school oval; we deal and trade our Scanlen’s footy cards while chewing on the tasteless pink strips of powdery gum that comes in every pack. Gino is an eye-talian, our parents keep reminding us, and he knows bugger all about the footy. But he’s learning and he can kick from both sides of the body better than any of us. He has chosen Collingwood as his team because he’s risk-averse, he’s an accountant now. Our alpha is Lukas, with a “K”. We all shut the fuck up mostly and nod and agree with whatever Lukas says. There’s another Lucas in grade five, his name is spelt the normal way but we don’t really hang out with him much. He plays tennis. David Glascott’s card is the first one in my packet. Glascott is a good but not great Carlton wingman. “Glascott – He is a champ-eee-on…” Lukas says slowly and we all just nod agree, no one will disagree with Lukas. Lukas barracks for Carlton; even though he wet the bed on our Grade Three camp, Lukas is a confident and entitled prick. Nothing will ever happen to Carlton; nothing will ever happen to Lukas either.

 

Paul Roos is the first card in Lukas’s pack. Paul Roos should have won the Brownlow Medal in 1986. Paul Roos is one of the all-time greats, not just of Fitzroy, but of Australian Football. That’s not to piss on David Glascott; it’s just true. Lukas tosses the card my way, “You can have it, this bloke’s farkin useless.”

 

“Yeah, useless,” the others chime in like a compliant Greek chorus.

 

“He’s a faggot I reckon,” Lukas chirrups.

 

“Yeah, a farkin faggot,” they all concur.

 

I take the card but I don’t say anything. Jeez I’m annoyed at myself now, over thirty years later, that I didn’t say anything. I don’t think Paul Roos would care though. He’s normally referred to as ‘Sydney premiership coach’ now, not “former Fitzroy champion.”

 

 

BARGAINING

 

I’ll just wallow here for a bit. There is no pain when I think about Bernie Quinlan.

 

This is what we had to cling to, we Fitzroy supporters. We had Bernie Quinlan. A name that would silence the most one-eyed feral supporter from any other team into begrudging respect.

 

Bernie Quinlan, the Latrobe Valley’s greatest export since the briquette.

 

Bernie Quinlan, Brownlow medallist as a midfielder and then two Coleman medals as a full forward. Why didn’t I remind Lukas of all of this back in grade five? Can anyone name a better career than that? I’ll wait.

 

My dad went to school with Bernie Quinlan in Traralgon in the `60s. Somehow, at a game we went to in Moorabbin, he used this information to bullshit us into the Fitzroy clubrooms after we beat St. Kilda by thirteen points. Back then I used to write these fabulous stories where the Earth was being invaded by aliens and Bernie Quinlan stopped them, or Bernie Quinlan would join the Justice League and Superman would get pissed off and jealous. Bernie Quinlan. Standing before me, he’s enormous. Some St. Kilda prick has raked his back with his boots, and you can see blood tracks but he still looks as a sportsman should. In years to come, footballers will run day-spas, pose in Myer catalogues and wear man buns. Not this day. Nothing I see before me has me doubting that if Earth needs a warrior, we could find no-one better than Superboot. He looks like a champion should. A little bit like Dennis Lillee and John Newcombe. This story really happened, but I can’t remember a thing he said.

 

I still live in Traralgon, but Bernie Quinlan lives in a bayside suburb now. That’s fair enough. It’s hard in Traralgon sometimes. Lots of people find it hard to get work, the Hazelwood power station has shut down and there are nearby bushfires most summers.

 

Koo-koo-ka-choo, Bernie Quinlan

We all love you more than you will know

Where have you gone, Bernie Quinlan,

Traralgon turns its tired eyes to you,

Ooh, ooh, ooh,

What’s that you say, Bernie Quinlan,

Superboot has left and gone away.

Well hey, hey, hey.

 

 

DEPRESSION

 

The year after Fitzroy was finally impaled my family goes to watch the Brisbane Lions lose a final to St. Kilda out at Waverley. The same place Fitzroy beat Essendon by a point in the 1986 Elimination Final. I try to care. Michael Voss, our co-captain is sitting nearby with a broken leg. I’ve got a cousin who is fifteen. He’s stoked to be following Brisbane. He was a Royboy but he likes to win as well. ‘Let’s get Vossy’s autograph,’ my cousin says. I’m a grown man but I tag along anyway. “Will you sign our scarves Vossy?” my cousin says. In the same way that Darth Vader IS Anakin Skywalker, Michael Voss IS the captain of MY team. I hold out my Fitzroy scarf and a black texta. Michael Voss looks down at the scarf, his eyes zero in on the faded Fitzroy logo. “Are you sure?,” he asks, graciously. Fuck no I’m not sure Michael Voss, you never played for the Roys, you’re just a fortunate bequest from this obligatory nuptial. But I let him sign it anyway.

 

 

ACCEPTANCE

 

Stuff acceptance. I still miss Fitzroy.

 

 

CRITICAL APPENDIX

 

“The Five Stages of Grief” is a revisionary history of the Fitzroy Football Club. It is part short fiction, part actual history, part embellished memoir and even part eulogy in terms of tone. It is most recognisable as revisionary fiction in the decisions made around structure and its intertextual references.

 

The piece is written using Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ well known “Five stages of Grief[i]” as structural sub headings to organise a series of interconnected revisionist memories. The reason for referring to a grieving process more commonly associated with the death of an actual person[ii], in addition to the organisational anchor it provides, was to convey the depth of feeling the narrator had for his football team.

 

Intertextual references included either verbatim or flagrantly “rewritten[iii].” Part of the famous soliloquy where Shakespeare’s Hamlet ponders the nature of existence[iv] gives a sense that this is an existential tragedy akin to something Shakespearian. Less expansive is the reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Gatsby” character. It is here that the self-aware narrator realises that changing the impoverished nature of Fitzroy removes something quite precious. Unlike Gatsby, who deliberately attempted a complete revisionary reinvention of his life in the belief that he could “of course [repeat the past][v]”, my first-person narrator abandons his revisionary timeline and moves to the remaining stages of grief.

 

Jennifer Egan’s stories show that great pathos can be interspersed with comedic lightness whilst altering structural conventions. Ryan O’Neill’s liberation of textual features like timelines[vi] also influenced my inclusion of my own timeline and other textual forms. The unusual form of ‘Great Rock and Roll Pauses’ by Egan[vii] masks the clever characterisation of ‘Sasha’ which takes place as part underneath the progression of slides. The musical references in Egan’s short story are almost diversionary red herrings. In the same way, I hope that the readers of this story will see it as a coming of age story about the narrator much more so than it is about the revisionary character exaggerations of Garry Wilson or Bernie ‘Superboot’ Quinlan.

 

My narrator comes to the realisation that clubs like Fitzroy and the accessibility of heroes like Quinlan were products of their time and that not just the game, but the world has changed. This theme is underscored with the reworking of lyrics, from Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson.’[viii] This multimodality, “testing the limits [of the] physical and tactile [nature of the written word].[ix]” The rhythmic agogic of this familiar song will invite readers to hear my revised text melodically and also brings a sense of momentum to the melancholic writing. In referencing Quinlan et al, I ape a technique used by Tom Cho[x] in who utilises reader’s familiarity with Mr Miyagi[xi], Captain Von Trapp[xii] or Dr. Phil[xiii] to convey an extra layer of narrative meaning for those familiar with the football.

 

“The Five Stages of Grief” is a revisionary fiction that muses on the impact of death and loss through the lens of the former Australian Football team Fitzroy. Five vignettes are laced together under sub headings associated with stages of grief to tell a story of sorrow.

 

 

REFERENCE LIST

Bray, Joel., (ed.) et al, The Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature, Routledge, 2012.

 

Cho, Tom., Look Who’s Morphing, Giramond, 2009.

 

Egan, Jennifer., A Visit from the Goon Squad, Hachette, 2010.

 

Fitzgerald, F. Scott., The Great Gatsby, Penguin, 2008.

 

Kessler, David., The five stages of grief, retrieved February 3rd, 2019 from https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/

 

O’Neill, Ryan., The Weight of a Human Heart, Black Inc, 2012.

 

Pope, Rob 2011, “Rewriting the Critical-Creative Continuum: ’10x…'”,  Creativity in Language and Literature: The State of the Art, eds Joan Swann, Rob Pope and Ronald Carter, 250-264, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

 

Shakespeare, William., Hamlet, Penguin, 2008.

 

Simon, Paul and Garfunkel, Art., Mrs Robinson, Columbia Records, 1968.

 

 

[i] David Kessler. “The five stages of grief.” https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/ (accessed February 3, 2019)

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Rob Pope, Creativity in Language and Literature: The State of the Art, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 251. p. 250

[iv] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, (Penguin Press, 2008), Act 3 line 57-61.

[v] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, (Penguin Press, 2008), p. 116.

[vi] Ryan O’Neill, The Weight of a Human Heart, (Black Inc, 2012), 126.

[vii] Jennifer Egan, A visit from the Goon Squad, (Hachette, 2010), 242-316.

[viii] Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, “Mrs Robinson” (Columbia records, 1968)

[ix] Joel Bray (ed.), et al, The Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature, (London: Routledge, 2012), 420.

[x] Tom Cho, Look Who’s Morphing, (Giramond, 2009).

[xi] Ibid. p. 14.

[xii] Ibid. p. 45.

[xiii] Ibid. p.59

Comments

  1. E.regnans says

    Shane Reid of Traralgon – that is magnificent writing.
    Sliding doors.
    The what-ifs of a life. The moment-meeting-Superboot of a life. The sitting on the cricket pitch of life.

    Long live Fitzroy.
    Outstanding.

  2. Fabulous read Reidsha. Pity you couldn’t get to the NFA last year when Gary (The Flea) Wilson was there.

    My old man barracked for Fitzroy. When the AFL undertook their own assisted dying procedure on them my Dad didn’t “follow” them to Brisbane. In his view they were dead. If that happened to my team I reckon I might do the same. But the Lions still live on in many hearts. I still have a soft spot for them.

  3. Dave Brown says

    Welcome to the Almanac, Shane. A very good read! That we have a national competition that formed as a result of the VFL very nearly sending itself broke left so many victims. The Fitzroy Football Club was one of them. “Products of their time” is spot on but still bitterly mourn the passing.

  4. Great read! Who doesn’t have a soft spot for Fitzroy? Always make sure to pay a visit to Brunswick St Oval whenever I come over from Perth.

    Not to rub salt in to the revisionist timeline but here’s one to consider:

    1993: Fitzroy are involved in six games decided by a kick or less. They win three, they lose three. Add to that a seven point loss to my Cats.

    They win all six and they’re in the six. They beat Geelong as well and they’re on top. Given that the only teams in the six they didn’t beat that year were Hawthorn and Essendon (4 points), they would’ve been a fair chance. They stay at Princes Park in ’94 and keep the players plundered by Sydney, Richmond and Brisbane, who knows?

  5. Rabid Dog says

    Fantastic article. RIP Royboys. Having been a Fitzroy follower (until the Crows – YOU try being a South Australian football fan living in Melbourne), I saw them play a lot at Princes Park, or wherever else the VFL decided to locate them. I later had to have them as a true ‘second team.’ The BB flags in 01-03 weren’t the same (although I was pleased). Never mind the lack of acceptance – the Kubler-Ross pathway doesn’t have to be followed to the end – it provides signposts that may help identify the steps along the grieving pathway. RIP FFC.

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Wonderful Shane. Welcome to the Almanac.
    Love some revisionist history. As a Collingwood fan there’s been so many moments to reinvision. Some as recent as last September.
    As a reasonably frequent visitor to Fitzroy over the past few years, Brunswick St Oval and it’s magnificence always gets me thinking. Why wasn’t this superbly located venue with ample parkland and public transport going right past developed better, why didn’t this place become something more akin to Princes Park or Victoria Park? So many what ifs with Fitzroy.
    Bernie Quinlan joining the Justice League. Brilliant. Wonder what Batman would have made of Superboot?

  7. Adam Fox says

    Luke, on the subject of Brunswick St Oval upgrades, former coach Robert Shaw mentioned on episode 3 of The Greatest Season that Was: 1993 that there were something like 20-odd plans at least put to paper on making the ground AFL-standard. All of which got the thumbs down from the locals who, by this time due to changing demographics, gentrification, etc, probably wouldn’t have given a damn for Fitzroy.

    That said, good to know they’re still playing there in the amateur leagues.

  8. Jenifer Whitwam says

    That is fantastic, Shane. Being married to an avid Fitzroy man (me being Carlton and not giving up), I completely understand where you are coming from. The weekend after weekend trip to Melbourne for him and Andrew to watch Fitzroy after we left Melbourne to come here, was always on. He did finally get moved over to Brisbane – took a while though!

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    G’day Adam,
    Yes, I did listen with interest to Robert Shaw’s comments about Brunswick St Oval on the (absolutely superb) 1993 podcast.
    Think I’ve read about plans to upgrade the venue in the 1960’s before and after Fitzroy stopped playing there too, though not sure where. What could have been is a story for so many venues in Melbourne.
    It’s a beautiful, mystical venue to visit in 2019.

  10. george smith says

    What a load of crap. As Australia’s number one Fitzroy hater, yeah yeah Ol’ Yella, Bambi’s mum, I was grimly pleased to see the end of that arrogant mob. But what horrors lay around the corner when the Lions finally got their hands on some money, and a fairy godfather like Wayne Jackson – 3 consecutive premierships at our expense. I remember 1981 when all we had to do was beat the bike helmets at home to get top spot- no such luck, they turned it on at the last, and our premiership chance went down the drain. Of course they never played like this against Hawthorn or Carlton…

    As for 1983, they didn’t have a snowball’s chance. Hawthorn would have easily disposed of Essendon, as they did in the grand final, and then dispose of Fitzy in either the PF or the GF just as they did in 1986.

  11. Rulebook says

    Great stuff reidsha love your passion the what if’s re that free kick paid to Loveridge are enormous who knows where football would be

  12. A wonderful read, reidsha, absolutely love your passion for our great club.
    Even worse than the charity free kick awarded to Richard Loveridge was the absolute joke given to Michael Tuck, against Michael Nettlefold for deliberately running the ball out of bounds in the dying minutes of the game.
    Yes, it would certainly be a free kick in the modern era, but it was a very harsh decision in a final way back in 1983.

  13. DBalassone says

    Wonderful evocative piece Shane. Thanks for this. Coincidentally, I’ve just watched the The Electrifying 80s and several That Was the Season That Was from 1980-84 on youtube over the past few weeks (while the missus is watching MAFS) and what resonated with me most, was how great the following three players were (one Melbourne and two Fitzroy):

    Robbie Flower – so incredibly skilful and graceful
    Gary Wilson – highly skilled and just ran all day, got the ball everywhere
    Bernie Quinlan – after watching some of that old footage, I wondered if this bloke was actually one of greats of all time, particularly in the seasons 81 (as a mid/half-forward), then 83 and 84 (as a FF). He could do anything.

    Very stiff in ’83. That was their big chance (beat the top side by 25 goals that year).

  14. Jamie Simmons says

    Still too raw for me Shane. Moving to Brisbane helped me transition but a little part of me died forever. Can’t talk about the 83 Qualifying Final, I suspect the mob were involved in that somehow. Roosy won every media award that year (86). He’d have won Safeway New Faces that year if he’d entered. Happy to have him share it with Diesel if need be but…Dipper? I seem to recall him finishing well down the Hawks B&F that year. Now I’m just pissed off all over again Shane. I need to step outside and shout at passing traffic. It helps. Welcome by the way.

  15. An enjoyable read, thanks Shane.

    A note on Superboot: after many years of cajoling he has finally agreed to join the Bulldogs Past Players group.

  16. I really appreciate the feedback everyone, thank you. I’ve been a Royboy for a long time but writing is pretty new for me. I can’t believe I’ve taken this long to discover the almanac. I really look forward to doing some reading and hopefully finding something else to write about. Adam Fox, 93 is a huge what if, I remember that year well. From memory that was the year Roos broke his jaw in the State of Origin (or maybe it was Osborne that year, Roos the year after?) I remember a pang of baseless hope when Quinlan became coach, but thee wasn’t much to smile about after that. Thanks for the welcome to this great site, thanks to those who read the piece and I look forward to staying involved with Footy Almanac.

  17. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Striking debut Shane. I was lucky enough to see a fair bit of the Roys between 1981-1996 as my best mate followed them and we went to many games together.
    1992 at Princes’ Park when Roos saved the day after Pert almost stole it for the Pies. That Fitzroy crowd was loud and passionate that day.
    What the AFL and the other clubs did to Fitzroy was a footy hate crime. Cherish the memories and thanks for sharing this fantastic piece. Welcome to FA !

  18. Barry Nicholls says

    Original.
    I love it.
    Well done.
    Keep writing.

  19. Thank God you didn’t trade wisdom, compassion and wit for mere premierships, Reidsha. More please.

  20. Shane, that was indeed the year Roos broke his jaw costing him 4 weeks or so. Osborne did his knee agsinst the Pies in ’89, that loss ultimately costing them a spot in the five. He was gone by the end of ’92 though apparently not being too pleased with Roos’ reappointment as captain.

    Speaking of the Pies, Philip, that match at Princes Park in ’92 was a ripper. Almost equalled by the corresponding one in ’93 played in atrocious conditions. Roys by 18. Lynch did alright up forward. Probably the last time you’d have an All Australian full back who’d kick 68 goals for the season.

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