Hall of Fame trip down memory Lion

AT the end of the 1986 season Fitzroy players gathered on a tennis court at Wesley College and were told that the club was effectively finished.

We were given three options: Fold completely, merge with a Melbourne-based club or relocate to Brisbane as a group.

Almost unanimously we voted to go to Brisbane. We had a special bond and we wanted to continue as a team even if it meant going to a different state.

Who knows what would have followed had Fitzroy headed north for the 1987 season?

Last Saturday night was the first induction of the Brisbane Lions Hall of Fame. It was truly a mix of the old Lions, the Bears and the entity that exists today.

Perhaps the greatest symbol of the night was a painting of Kevin Murray, Alastair Lynch and Michael Voss by former Fitzroy player Jamie Cooper.

Muzza, the old Fitzroy warhorse, Lynchy, the Fitzroy boy recruited to the Bears mid-career and Vossy, the young Bear who captained the Brisbane Lions to three premierships.
It truly showed how the Brisbane Lions have evolved and was a powerful reminder to all who attended.

The night took me back to when I was 17 and first met club greats Garry Wilson and Bernie Quinlan. It reminded me of how lucky I was to meet two such impressive men.

Today we talk about leadership groups, leadership meetings, values, culture and player behaviour.

At Fitzroy in the early ’80s you simply watched Quinlan, Wilson, Laurie Serafini, Mick Conlan and others, and do as they did.

Their actions were simple: Train hard, treat people with respect and don’t ever get a big head.

Much of my adult life was shaped by my early experience at Fitzroy. That is the essence of leadership groups. They provide a roadmap to follow.

Football clubs are often defined by winning and premierships. No doubt the success of the 2001, 2002 and 2003 teams galvanised two clubs into one.

I was on the boundary working at the 2001 Grand Final when the siren went. Watching the Lions and particularly my great mate Alastair Lynch get the cup and the medals was a great moment. It inspired me to take on the Swans coaching job and ultimately fulfil my dream in 2005.

I remember walking back to my hotel and seeing the joy on the faces of Fitzroy supporters who had suffered many tough years from 1986 on.

I received more congratulations that day than on any other during my time at the Lions and I was three years retired.

One constant theme of speakers on Saturday night was how lucky footballers are to be playing AFL football and to be playing for the Lions.

Some players take it for granted. They come straight out of school in most cases, straight into an elite playing environment. They don’t fully appreciate that playing football for a living can create a great lifestyle.

Incredible as it sounds, there would have been players in the room Saturday night that aren’t giving 100 per cent.

That is not a shot at the Lions. It would be happening at every club in the competition.

THE list of former players who would love to have their time over again would be long. But, as the old saying goes, you can’t put an old head on young shoulders.

Saturday was a strong reminder of Victoria’s unique football culture. Having lived in Sydney since 1995 and trying to drive a football culture in the Swans and now in our junior academy, I realise how far we have to go.

The Fitzroy fans are passionate, resilient, and unconditional. Of the 950-plus people in the room, many would have been there when I first played senior football in 1982.

It is much more than a sport — it is a lifestyle. I would hate to think how much money the Fitzroy faithful have contributed over the past 30 years.

Particularly in the mid-80s and for the next 10 years, tin-rattling and fund-raising were as common as pre-season training was for the players.

In the current expansion climate, that is the AFL’s greatest challenge. Can the game convert Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney people to make those franchises successful businesses?

Much has changed since I started in 1982 and much no doubt will change over the next 30 years.

Some things will never change. Leaders will always drive clubs’ cultures, success will always bring clubs together, players will always be lucky to play football for a living and fans will always be the game’s lifeblood.

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