Proposed VFL/AFL clubs
Proposed VFL/AFL clubs are clubs that at various points in the history of the Australian Football League have been or were distinct possibilities but either did not or have not yet eventuated. Due to their association with the national Australian competition, they have drawn a large amount of controversy and media attention.
The VFL was formed in 1896 when Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, South Melbourne and St Kilda left the Victorian Football Association. A number of other VFA clubs were touted as becoming members of the League at this time, the most notable being North Melbourne and Port Melbourne. North was denied entry due to Essendon believing that it would take its recruiting areas. Port was denied entry in favour of South due to its reputation of having unruly fans. North Melbourne eventually gained admission in 1925, and Port Melbourne continued to play in the VFA.
North Melbourne (1907, 1921)
After the split between the VFL and VFA, North Melbourne become somewhat of a powerhouse club in the VFA, and felt that it had a right to compete at the higher level. In an attempt to gain admission to the VFL, it merged with West Melbourne in 1907, to begin playing in 1908. The merged club's jumper was dark blue with a white yolk (representing North), and a red sash (representing West). The proposal was rejected and Richmond and University were admitted into the VFL instead, and the merged club continued as North Melbourne in the VFA.
In another attempt to gain admission, North Melbourne proposed a merger with Essendon in 1921. The proposal was rejected and both clubs continued in their previous states, with North Melbourne finally gaining admission to the VFL in 1925.
Footscray (1919, 1922, 1923)
Like North Melbourne, Footscray became a powerhouse of the VFA after the leagues split, winning nine premierships between 1897-1925. Also, like North Melbourne, Footscray believed that it should be competing at the higher level of the VFL. It first applied for membership of the VFL in 1919, but was rejected due to Essendon and South Melbourne believing that they would lose recruiting areas. Footscray applied to the VFL again in 1922 and 1923, and was again rejected due to the club's recruiting grounds. After winning a 'Championship of Victoria' against VFL premier Essendon in 1924, Footscray was admitted to the VFL for the 1925 season.
Between 1919 and 1925 the VFL sought expressions of interest from clubs wishing to gain admittance to the League. While Footscray, Hawthorn and North Melbourne were accepted in 1925, a number of existing VFA clubs were considered. The VFA clubs were Brighton, Brunswick, Port Melbourne and Prahran.
1980s and 1990s
While between 1925 to 1986 the same twelve clubs competed in the VFL, with the only exceptions being in 1942 and 1943 when Geelong went into recess due to travel restrictions, petrol rationing and loss of players to service in World War II, and in 1982 when the financially troubled South Melbourne relocated to Sydney, there were a number of developments in the 1980s when new clubs were proposed as the League became the pre-eminent competition in the country.
East Perth (1980)
Port Adelaide (1990)
Seven years before its debut season in the AFL as Port Power, the then SANFL club Port Adelaide applied became the AFL's first South Australian club. This move resulted in the SANFL creating the Adelaide Crows in response to what was viewed as a desertion to the league.
The Fitzroy Football Club, while being a league powerhouse in the early 1900s, found itself in financial difficulties by the 1980s. A number of mergers and relocations were proposed by both the league and the club throughout the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in the club merging it's playing operations with the Brisbane Bears in 1996.
- Sydney Lions (1980)
A plan for Fitzroy to relocate to Sydney had its beginnings in Easter 1979, when Fitzroy president Frank Bibby and Graeme Plum (Fitzroy committeeman 1979-1983) were invited by Kevin Humphries, president of the NSW Rugby League, to the Sydney Cricket Ground, for the 'Rugby League Marathon'. During the game Bibby and Plum concluded that there was a great opportunity for Australian football in Sydney and that Fitzroy should be a part of that. The club carried out a series of fact finding work, including lining up a deal with a licenced Australian rules club in North Sydney to act as a social club, finding sponsors and even lining up a bank to assist with finances, if they were given significant representation on the board. The promising initial findings encouraged some of those on the Fitzroy committee to consider a move was worthy of more investigation. In July 1980, President Frank Bibby stated publicly that Fitzroy was effectively bankrupt. The Club was $300,000 in debt and the deficit was expected to be $400,000 by the end of the VFL season in September. On 15 July, the Club defaulted on a cheque for $17,500 to the Australian Taxation Office, wages cheques were expected to be dishonoured that week; creditor could not be paid; an annual repayment of a major loan was six months overdue; a taxi company threatened the previous week to stop servicing the Club unless there was a significant payment on an outstanding account, and overdue maintenance work continued to force staff to work in sub-standard accommodation. Bibby proposed that Fitzroy relocate to Sydney. Fitzroy's solicitor David Cotter registered the name "Sydney Lions." The guernsey of the new Sydney Lions would have been the existing Fitzroy guernsey with the 'FFC' monogram replaced by a 'SFC' monogram.
At the time Fitzroy Football Club was not incorporated (this would occur in 1981) and any significant move such as relocation needed the approval of members at an extraordinary meeting. Fitzroy held a series of these at the Fitzroy Town Hall. Finally at the end of the season, a fund raising campaign was attended by 1200 supporters at the Camberwell Civic Centre, the relocation was finally put to rest, with an announcement that Fitzroy would not be relocating to Sydney made on the 19th August 1980. Three weeks later Frank Bibby announced his resignation from the Fitzroy presidency, after five years in office.
In the end it was South Melbourne who was to relocate to Sydney and become the Sydney Swans. This was somewhat ironic, because it had originally been South Melbourne and Fitzroy who had played the first ever VFL match in Sydney on June 24, 1905 which attracted a crowd of 8,000.
Fitzroy enjoyed modest success following Frank Bibby's resignation, finishing fourth in 1981 and 1983 and fifth in 1984. However the Lions were unable to develop their existing home ground - the Junction Oval - because of financial constraints. On field success did not translate into increased membership and revenue with Fitzroy eventually moving to play home games at Victoria Park in 1985, five years after the shift to Sydney was first mooted.
- Brisbane Lions (1986)
While the Fitzroy Lions eventually merged with the Brisbane Bears in 1996, ten years earlier the VFL proposed to relocate Fitzroy to Brisbane. Fitzroy launched the "Fitzroy Forever" campaign to keep the club in Melbourne. The VFL was keen to expand into Brisbane and Fitzroy was in favour of a possible relocation. Fitzroy's players, after training at Wesley College one Sunday morning late in the 1986 season were told of the proposal to relocate to Brisbane. Knowing that Fitzroy were in desperate financial trouble, they voted almost unanimously in favour of the shift. However a saviour was found for Fitzroy when a company called Hecron announced a deal to keep the Lions in Melbourne and combined with a ladder finish of third in the 1986 season, further encouraged the club to remain in Melbourne. However the VFL rejected the Hecron deal which required that Hecron become a part owner of Fitzroy and while the company still became a sponsor of Fitzroy, their sponsorship was reduced.
- Melbourne Lions (1986, 1994)
The Melbourne Lions was to have been a new club made up from the merger of the Melbourne Football Club and the Fitzroy Football Club. The merger would have taken place at the end of 1986 and the club would have debuted in 1987. The jumper of the new team was essentially the traditional red and blue Melbourne jumper with a gold band separating the two colours, the gold Fitzroy lion logo featured on the front and a gold number on the back. Ironically the proposed jumper was not all that different to the current AFL Brisbane Lions jumper. Most of the merger details had been worked out in negotiations by both boards. It was established that Fitzroy chairman Leon Weigard and Melbourne president Stuart Spencer would share presidential duties, while the committee would be an even split of the current Fitzroy and Melbourne boards. The proposed merger was within a couple of days of being put to the members of Melbourne and Fitzroy for voting. However Fitzroy president Leon Weigard asked for more time in the hope that he could raise a substantial amount of money in the hope of keeping the Fitzroy Football Club as an independent entity in the then VFL (now AFL). Melbourne president Stuart Spencer then discontinued talks and the proposed merger was off.
Melbourne and Fitzroy again discussed a merger in 1994. This time Melbourne president Ian Ridley and Fitzroy chairman Dyson Hore-Lacy conducted talks. These talks began in late July 1994 at the city offices of Noel McMahon (Melbourne's vice president). While many of the merger details were the same as in 1986, a major sticking point was Dyson Hore-Lacy's insistence that "Fitzroy" remain part of any merged club's name; for example the "Melbourne - Fitzroy Football Club". However an in-principle' tentative agreement was reached that a company called the "Melbourne Football Club - Fitzroy Football Club Pty Ltd", operating as the "Melbourne Lions" would operate in the AFL for the 1995 season.
On Thursday August 4, 1994, Dyson Hore-Lacy met with Geoff Lord the President of the Hawthorn Football Club and John Lauritz, Hawthorn's Chief Executive Officer to discuss the possibility of a merger between Fitzroy and Hawthorn where a new club would be formed known as the "Hawthorn Lions." However as Fitzroy had a tentative in principle agreement with the Melbourne Football Club to merge, the proposed merger with Hawthorn was rejected.
On Friday August 5, 1994, representatives of Melbourne and Fitzroy met the AFL commission who were supportive of the idea for Fitzroy and Melbourne to merge. Later that day Dyson Hore-Lacy met with Ron Casey, Peter de Rauch and Ken Montogomery of North Melbourne and informed them they were committed to merging with Melbourne. North Melbourne was informed that Fitzroy would be interested in talking to North Melbourne if the proposed merge with Melbourne did not work out.
The Melbourne board decided that not only was the name a problem, but the benefits of a merger with Fitzroy were limited. Like Melbourne, Fitzroy lacked a permanent training venue and had limited resources to make any new club, a strong powerful entity.
- Fitzroy Bulldogs (1989)
The Fitzroy Bulldogs was to have been a team made up from the merger of the Footscray Football Club and the Fitzroy Football Club. The merger would have taken place in 1989 and the club would have debuted in 1990, but Footscray supporters went against the merger held a number of Fundraisers to save the club from extinction.
- North Fitzroy Kangaroos Football Club (1996)
The North Fitzroy Kangaroos Football Club was to have been a team made up from the merger of the North Melbourne Football Club and the Fitzroy Football Club. The merger would have taken place in 1996 and the club would have debuted in 1997, but the merger didn't eventuate as Fitzroy was placed in administration during the 1996 season and the administrator accepted a merger offer from the Brisbane Bears, forming the Brisbane Lions. North Melbourne continues to play in the AFL in its original state.
Timeline of the merger negotiations between Fitzroy and North Melbourne
- 6 March 1996 – Fitzroy board authorises board members Dyson Hore-Lacy, Elaine Findlay and Robert Johnstone to enter non-binding merger agreements with other AFL clubs.
- 6 May 1996 – Fitzroy and North Melbourne hold first merger talks.
- 11 May 1996 – A non-binding agreement to merge and the basic terms of name is struck between Fitzroy and North Melbourne. A Heads of Agreement document detailing the conditions of the merge in writing is signed.
- 13 May 1996 – A Brisbane merger offer is formally rejected by the Fitzroy board.
- 20 May 1996 – First Fitzroy shareholders' meeting to explain the conditions of a North Melbourne – Fitzroy merge.
- 28 May 1996 – Second Fitzroy shareholders' meeting.
- 14 June 1996 – First draft document of the merger was completed.
- 18 June 1996 – A meeting between North and Fitzroy to execute the merger document canceled. Greg Miller, North Melbourne's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) tells Dyson Hore-Lacy that North Melbourne wanted to change the name of the merged club from the already agreed 'Fitzroy-North Melbourne Kangaroos' to 'North Melbourne-Fitzroy Kangaroos'.
- 20 June 1996 – The Fitzroy board rejects North Melbourne's revised conditions.
- 24 June 1996 – The Brisbane Bears are contacted by Fitzroy and advised to submit their best merger offer to Fitzroy for consideration.
- 25 June 1996 – A compromise between North Melbourne and Fitzroy is reached.
- 26 June 1996 – Fitzroy Football Club offers $550,000 plus $100,000 to be paid over the next two years to their only secured creditor the Nauru Insurance Company to settle their debt. This offer is rejected. Nauru wanted $750,000 by the end of August and $100,000 for the next three years to consider their debt settled.
- 27 June 1996 – Nauru Insurance Company agrees to $750,000 by the end of August and $100,000 for the next two years and $50,000 for the third. North Melbourne board member and one of the chief merger negotiator Peter de Rauch says North Melbourne will not allow any more than $550,000 to be paid.
- 28 June 1996 – Nauru Insurance Company appoints an administrator (Michael Brennan) to recover their debt.
- 29 June 1996 – Fitzroy negotiates with Nauru to pay $550,000 by August 1996, $150,000 in 1997 and $100,000 in 1998. Peter de Rauch agrees to put that proposal to the North Melbourne board on Monday 1 July.
- 1 July 1996 – The Fitzroy board agrees to underwrite all monies owed to Nauru over the sum of $550,000. The AFL commission gives Fitzroy and North Melbourne until Friday 5 July to complete their merger.
- 2 July 1996 – North Melbourne's Greg Miller informs Dyson Hore-Lacy that North Melbourne now wants only four Fitzroy board members on the board of the merged club. Fitzroy refuses to accept that condition.
- 3 July 1996 – North Melbourne backs down on their demand of 2 July, but still wanted none of the current Fitzroy directors on the board. North Melbourne was asked by Dyson Hore-Lacy to give an undertaking to Fitzroy that there would be no more changes to the agreement of 25 June. No such undertaking was given.
- 3 July 1996 – Nauru Insurance Company accepts $550,000 paid before August 31, $350,000 paid before October 31, 1997 and the rest of the balance payable in $50,000 payments annually from 1998 onwards.
- 3 July 1996 – The Fitzroy board re-opens merger discussions with the Brisbane Bears. The Bears are told that the merger door with Fitzroy is "open half an inch"
- 3 July 1996 – Greg Miller the CEO of North Melbourne informs the media that without 54 players on their 1997 list there would be no merger with Fitzroy.
- 4 July 1996 – Fitzroy is informed by the AFL that the merger would be rejected by the other AFL clubs if North Melbourne continued to demand 54 players. Dyson Hore-Lacy informs North Melbourne's Ken Montgomery and Greg Miller of this fact.
- 4 July 1996 – Fitzroy settles last niggling disputes in their proposed merger agreement with North Melbourne and signs a formal document setting out the merger in fine detail, which includes the new agreed name of the club to be the 'North Fitzroy Kangaroos Football Club'. The merger agreement is set to be signed by the AFL on Friday morning (5 July) subject to the AFL clubs' endorsement.
- 4 July 1996 – AFL Presidents' Meeting rejects the Fitzroy-North Melbourne merger. After a meeting between the administrator of Fitzroy and the AFL commission, the AFL commission recommends a Bears-Fitzroy merger. North Melbourne withdraws from the merger race. A reconvened AFL presidents' meeting endorses the AFL commission's recommendation of a Brisbane Bears-Fitzroy merger.
Melbourne Hawks (1996)
The Melbourne Hawks would have consisted of the merger between the Melbourne and Hawthorn Football Clubs at the end of the 1996 season. Out of all the proposed merger combinations in the 1990s, it was seemed as ideal as it was known that Hawthorn had a football team which ranked as one of the best of all time but were in a dire financial situation, as opposed to Melbourne which had a sound financial base but were a club which historically did not perform on-field.
Despite the controversial approval of the Melbourne Football Club board and members, the merger was voted out by Hawthorn members after a passionate campaign led by Don Scott.
Tasmania (mid-1990s, 2008)
Tasmania is traditionally a strong Australian Football state, and as such has been touted as being a location for an AFL club. The first serious proposal was made in the mid-1990s, as the League expanded further. The licences were eventually granted to Fremantle and Port Adelaide.
The second Tasmania bid occurred in 2008 as the League announced that it wanted to expand further into Queensland and New South Wales. These licenses were granted to the Gold Coast and GWS. For more information see Tasmanian AFL Bid.
- History of North Melbourne FC
- Jim Main, Shake Down The Thunder, Geoff Slattery Publishing, 2006, ISBN 0-9757964-6-1
- Mike Sutherland, Rod Nicholson, Stewart Murrihy, The First Hundred Seasons: Fitzroy Football Club 1883-1983, Fitzroy Football Club, 1983, ISBN 0-9591797-1-2
- Paul Roos: Paul Roos Beyond 300, An Autobiography, Random House, 1997, ISBN 0 9 183627 1
- Ian Ridley and John Ridley: Urge to Merge, 2002, ISBN 978-1-74095-002-2
- Dyson Hore-Lacy: Fitzroy, Lion Productions 2000, ISBN 1-876557-33-8