Brisbane Lions: Australian Rules
team, in the Australian Football League
1997 Created through merger between Brisbane and Fitzroy. Fitzroy Lions joined 1897, Brisbane Bears joined 1987)
Blue, Maroon and yellow.
History:Pre-merger, the Brisbane Bears had a fairly inglorious stint in the AFL, suffering from the same problems as Sydney did- the struggle to gain and keep support in a West Coast. In the early years, the Bears played in Carrara, on the Gold Coast. They struggled to find consistancy and dwwelled near the bottom of the ladder. The recruitment of Robert Walls as coach in 1991 bought consistancy to the club, but no real success. In 1993, they moved to the more central 'Gabba, which is actually in Brisbane. Brisbane had no great success pre-merger, though they did make a couple of finals series.
Fitzroy, meanwhile, were an established league club, one of the founding teams of the VFL. The Maroons, as they were originally known, were one of the powers of the competition in the early years. They won seven premierships and made the finals 12 other times in the 1st 27 years of the competition. (1898-99, 1904-05, 1913, 1916 and 1922) They won their eighth (and last) grand final in 1944. In 1957, Fitzroy changed their name from the Maroons to the Lions. (At one stage in the '30s, they were known as the Gorillas)
Success since the 40s was rare and fleeting, with Fitzroy collecting a host of wooden spoons and almost invariably finishing near the bottom of the ladder. There were a few highlights though. In 1979 Fitzroy kicked a league record 36.22 (238) against the Demons. In the eighties and nineties, Fitzroy were cash-strapped and faced extinction. Mergers were suggested. In 1986, they almost relocated to Brisbane in much the same way as South Melbourne had been moved to Sydney. In 1989 they almost merged with the Bulldogs. Each time a merger or relocation seemed likely, Fitzroy managed to somehow save themselves, either by raising some cash or by the other team's supporters protesting and raising cash. Fitzroy fought a long battle with financial trouble, and could never seem to get it together. They tried playing home games in Tasmania to gain support and money, and were even sponsored by the government of Nauru for a while.
The end finally came for Fitzroy in 1996. They were in serious debt, bleeding cash, and had seemingly no way out. The AFL told them to merge by July 4, or they'd perish. The AFL offered a 6 million dollar 'carrot'. Negotiations with North Melbourne began, but fell through just a day or two before the deadline. In came Brisbane, and a deal was struck at the eleventh hour. Brisbane pretty much took over the Lions. Seemingly, all that was left of the Fitzroy Football Blub was eight Fitzroy players, the (slightly altered) club song, and the Lions name. In reality, it was the best Fitzroy could have hoped for. Their name, theme song (the tune of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem) and tradition were somewhat preserved, while Brisbane gained a much needed Melbourne supporter base.
The Brisbane Lions played their first game in 1997. They finished 8th. In 1998, the talented Brisbane suprised everyone by finishing dead last. At the start of each year since the merger, Brisbane seemingly looked very strong on paper, and were one of the favourites for the premiership. For various reasons, things just didn't work out until 2001. Injuries to key players took their toll.
In 2001, it all fell together. Under coach Leigh Matthews, Brisbane had a magnificent year, winning 16 games in a row to win the grand final, taking the premiership cup to Queensland for the first time. The run started with a victory in Melbourne against the previous year's premiers, Essendon. Essendon were also the team they ultimately defeated in the Grand Final. The Grand Final itself was a classic, a welcome change from the one-sided poundings that characterised grand finals of the nineties.
The near future looks bright on and off the field for the Lions. They've got a strong list, especially in the midfield, and a strong supporter base in 2 cities, and now draw larger crowds in Brisbane than the Brisbane Broncos, the usually dominating Rugby League club.