Merger: The Fitzroy Lions and the Tragedy of 1996

William Westerman

Merger: The Fitzroy Lions and the Tragedy of 1996
Melbourne Books
1 June 2021

Merger: The Fitzroy Lions and the Tragedy of 1996

William Westerman

‘The demise of Fitzroy is a deep wound rather than a scar. A tear in the fabric of the game that will never truly repair’ - Foreword by Gerard Whateley

Merger tells the story of the Fitzroy Football Club’s 1996 season in the Australian Football League, a season made infamous by the club’s merger with the Brisbane Bears. It was nothing short of the worst year ever experienced by a VFL/AFL club. This book recounts that devastating year, providing a deep understanding of the experience of the players, supporters, club officials and volunteers. Each of these perspectives are vital in understanding Fitzroy’s story; it is insufficient merely to understand how and why Fitzroy’s merger occurred - one must understand why it mattered.

Writing about Fitzroy’s demise as an AFL club also allows space for musings on the nature and character of the modern AFL. The Fitzroy/Brisbane merger asked profound questions about the AFL’s relationship with the people who love and support Australian rules football - questions that were never satisfactorily answered. Who are the actual custodians of the game? What obligations do the League’s governing body owe to the supporters, who make the game what it is? What place do history and tradition have in the modern AFL? At what point do commercial decisions and imperatives detract from the essence of the sport and harm supporters’ engagement with the League? In short, how does the AFL Commission fulfil its role as being the ‘keeper of the code’, not just the entity responsible for ensuring the competition remains financially viable? These questions seemed to fall by the wayside very quickly after the merger, but they remain unanswered and are just as pertinent now as they were in 1996.

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