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The Last of the True Mighty Roars

Round 8 - May 16th 1996

14 years ago today, Fitzroy supporters heard their team roar for the last time [in the AFL] when the Lions beat Fremantle by 31 points at the Whitten Oval.

Frank 'Bottles' Bizzotto

Bizzotto, 37 played 38 matches with Fitzroy from 1991-96 after being recruited from West Preston. He works for a packaging company in West Melbourne

“[It was] a coldish day with a westerly wind which probably suited us more than Freo. It was a game we thought we could win and you couldn’t say that very often during those days. The crowd was tiny but looked big when they came onto the ground after we eon. I’ve still got my No. 14 jumper. Mick Nunan was an interesting coach. He wanted us to deliver four to five hand balls before taking a kick. With the right group it might have worked. He was right into leg speed and wasn’t interested in taggers, which was a role I played on players like Nathan Buckley, Gavin Brown, John Platten and Darren Jarman.  That might be my highlight during my AFL career, being able to play on such great players.  As for the club folding, the writing was on the wall after the proposed merger with Footscray in 1989.  When it didn’t happen, then the signs were not good.  We had a lot of meetings with Ian Collins during the 1996 season. And the other clubs were starting to hover around looking to the draft.  I got injured and missed 12 weeks which pretty much decided my future.  I went back to West Preston, then Kilcunda Bass, Caulfield and St Kilda City, finishing in 2002.  The Fitzroy supporters I speak to now either don’t follow the game or don’t have the same passion.  These days I don’t follow football at all. I’ve lost interest in it because of all the rule changes over the past 15 years.”

Mick Nunan

Nunan, 60, played one match for Richmond in 1971 and 189 with Sturt in South Australia for five premierships. He coached North Adelaide to flags in 1987 and 1991. He lives in Adelaide and distributes polar heart monitors.

“To win a game was a relief and reward for those players who had worked very hard to improve their skill levels.  Unfortunately, the skill levels had deteriorated over a five-year period when the club had been financially neglected.  We had some good players-Matthew Primus, Brad Boyd, Jarrod Molloy, Chris Johnson, Martin Pike-but we didn’t know where we were training the next day.  And I needed more time to rectify things.  We couldn’t lease an oval because they weren’t sure we could pay them.  So should I have taken the coaching job?  Look, you take the opportunity and I thought the club was being supported by the AFL.  During pre-season I started to realise that wasn’t the case.  In the end the AFL had a model of what they wanted and a club with 100 years of history wasn’t part of it.  That was very sad.  The club was being tossed around without any explanation.  I thought the situation was handled very unprofessionally and the AFL just let it happen.  I was guaranteeing players would be paid the night before a game, hardly what a coach needs.  And what about considering the feeling of players and supporters?  So I got out after round 13.  Looking back we had a game plan based on leg speed, handballing in triangles, which was good for breaking zones.”

Anthony Mellington

From Shepparton, Mellington, 34, played 24 games with Fitzroy in 1995-96 and 20 at North Melbourne from 1997-98. He runs a curtain and blinds business in Shepparton.

“That was my only winning game with Fitzroy. Wasn’t it also one of the lowest crowds?  But after the game I can remember the Fitzroy supporters singing on the ground.  And I can remember our coach Mick Nunan trying to keep a lid on it.  That was never going to happen.  The fans wanted something to celebrate.  It was a good game for me because they gave me the ball after the match, which I still have, plus I got my only Brownlow vote.  Nick Carter got the three.  Looking back there was no doubt the AFL wanted clubs to merge.  They could have propped Fitzroy up.  Once they got one club to fold they were happy.  There should have been more done to save Fitzroy.  Maybe Brunswick St could have been done up as a training base.  We were training everywhere- Coburg, Waverley, Western Oval, so we were fighting an uphill battle.  David Hookes was our runner in 1996 and I remember seeing him about five years later in the casino.  He was walking through with a group but he saw me and came straight over.  Just a good bloke.  These days I feel sorry for those genuine Fitzroy supporters. They should have merged with North Melbourne. OK, some got some joy from Brisbane but it’s not the same.  I don’t follow any club today but have a leaning towards the Kangaroos.  As for playing I’m still having a run with a club called Tocumwal.”

Fitzroy 5.3, 8.3, 13.7, 16.11.107 defeated Fremantle 2.1, 3.5, 4.10, 10.16.76

Fitzroy: Carter, Mellington, Rombotis, Primus
Fremantle: O’Reilly, Wills, Watters, Mann

Fitzroy: 6 Mellington, 3 Johnson, 2 Cassidy, Rombotis; 1 Barker, Dwyer, Morton
Fremantle: 3 Hunter; 2 Godden, Wills; 1 Rowe, Mann, O’Reilly

Crowd: 5,083

Writing in the Herald Sun, Ron Reed said:
“If pride could be sold for a penny a pound and glee was made of goals, if tears of euphoria were legal tender, Fitzroy would have surely raised a million dollars as the sweetest sound their long suffering supporters have heard for a long time, the final siren. Wafted across the windswept Whitten Oval.”

Jon Anderson - A Day in the Sun Herald-Sun Saturday May 16th 2009

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