Mark Withers is something of a forgotten hero in the Brisbane Football Club ‘family’, yet he holds not one but two significant places in club history.

Most significantly, he won the 1988 Brisbane Bears club championship, when he polled 22 votes to beat Geoff Raines (21), Scott McIvor (20) and inaugural winner Phillip Walsh (19) despite missing four of the last five games.

He is one of just 24 players among 347 Brisbane players all-time to claim the club’s highest individual honour, known as the Merrett/Murray Medal.

More obscure is the fact that statistically Withers owns the best individual performance by a Brisbane player in Perth, where the Lions will travel this week to meet Fremantle on Sunday.

It was Round 16 1988 when the Brisbane Bears played West Coast on a Friday night at the old WACA ground. The blonde left-footed rover had 39 possessions and kicked four goals to pick up three Brownlow Medal votes in a nine-point loss.

In what is now 43 games in Perth for the Brisbane Bears/Lions, split between the WACA, Subiaco and the new Perth Stadium, nobody has come close to this sort of double.

And in 847 games overall only nine times has a player even had 30 possessions and kicked four goals. In chronological order, they have been:-

Mark Williams – 30 poss 6 goals, 0 votes – R2 1987 v Geelong (Kardinia Park) – won 19pts
Mark Withers – 39 poss 4 goals 3 votes – R16 1988 v West Coast (WACA) – lost 9pts
Michael Voss – 32 poss 4 goals 0 votes – R17 1996 v West Coast (Gabba) – won 47pts
Tim Notting – 31 poss 4 goals 3 votes – R5 2001 v Fremantle (Gabba) – won 49pts
Jason Akermanis – 35 poss 5 goals 3 votes – R13 2005 v Geelong (Gabba) – won 69pts
Dayne Zorko – 36 poss 4 goals 1 vote – R16 2017 v Geelong (Kardinia Pk) – lost 85pts
Dayne Beams – 32 poss 4 goals 3 votes – R21 2017 v Gold Coast (Gabba) – won 58pts
Dayne Zorko – 34 poss 4 goals 2 votes – R7 2018 v Collingwood (Gabba) – lost 7pts
Dayne Beams – 32 poss 5 goals 0 votes – R11 2018 v North (Docklands) – lost 54pts

Interestingly, Mark Williams’ club record of 30 possessions and six goals, which also went unrewarded with the umpires, has stood since the Bears’ second game in 1987, when they beat Geelong at Kardinia Park.

And Voss shared the Brownlow Medal in 1996 with Essendon’s James Hird  despite not getting a vote for what statistically was the game of the season, when he had 32 possessions and kicked four goals against West Coast at the Gabba.

Withers is a proud Tasmanian who still has his State Shell Cup (Under 15s) and Teal Cup (Under 17s) jumpers hanging in his ‘shed’ at home in Whellers Hill in Melbourne’s south-east.

An All-Australian Teal Cup selection in 1981, he was recruited from Launceston to the then VFL by Melbourne. He played 32 senior games with the Demons from 1984-86, and won a Reserves premiership in 1984 and a Reserves Best & Fairest in 1986 before heading north as a member of the inaugural Bears squad in 1987.

He played only four senior games in the club’s first year due to a broken wrist but in ’88 he not only won the best & fairest but, a little curiously, he represented Victoria at State of Origin level.

He missed the entire 1989 season with a bad calf injury, played 14 games in 1990 and retired at the end of the 1991 season, returning to Melbourne soon after.

Having recently celebrated his 35th of wedding anniversary with wife Leanne and his 60th birthday on 3 March, he is father to daughters Sarah (32) and Meg (31) and son Sam (24).

Involved in the wine industry for 20 years post-football, Withers admits he “maybe let things go a little bit” but these days is back to his playing weight between 70-72kg and is a cycling fanatic. Having tried road bikes, racing bikes and mountain bikes, he now rides a gravel bike 150-200km a week and works casually for a bike shop.

And he still goes by the same nickname he carried throughout his football days – Bobby – although contrary to popular belief this is not a throwback to his uncle Bob Withers, a Tasmanian Football Hall of Famer.

“Everyone says that but it’s not right,” he said. “In actual fact when I was 14 or 15 a bunch of us went to the Teal Cup in Hobart in the late 70s and ran into a bloke called Bob Roberts at the Black Buffalo Hotel.

“He was a bit of a legend and so after that we called each other Bob Roberts. With me it just stuck, and I’ve been Bobby ever since.”

Withers enjoyed a Bears reunion a couple of years ago at the Melbourne home of inaugural Bears signing Mark Williams, and keeps in regular touch with 1990 Bears B&F winner David Bain.

He recently re-connected with ex-Bears Mark Roberts and Peter Banfield, who is his son’s football coach. He still has the silver tray he received for winning the B&F but says jokingly he is “still waiting for the leather couch they promised me”.

“I don’t really have much to do with the AFL these days. I don’t hold any grudges or anything but to me it’s not the same club I played for. I still love the blokes I played with and if there was something on I’d be there but that’s just me,” he said.

Withers was the first player to wear jumper #37 for Brisbane, and until Brandon Starcevich came along his 36 games was the club record in that number as Rudi Frigo (8), Nick Carter (5), Darren Bradshaw (1), Daniel Pratt (3), Matt Austin (8), Bryce Retzlaff (11) and Jacob Allison (5) had short stints in the number worn most often in the AFL by Sydney’s Adam Goodes (372 games).

Voss holds the Brisbane record for most Bears/Lions games in Perth at 20, followed by Nigel Lappin (19), Simon Black (18) and Marcus Ashcroft (17), while Ryan Lester, set his 11th visit to the WA capital this week, has played most often for Brisbane in Perth among the current players.

Brisbane, with an aggregate 12-31 record in Perth after going 2-13 from 1987-99, have a 3-3 record in Perth under Chris Fagan. They lost by 68 points to West Coast at Subiaco on their first trip west in 2017 and since have gone win-loss-win-loss-win against Fremantle at Perth Stadium.

Tom Rockliff holds the club record for most possessions in a game in Perth, having had 45 in a big loss against Fremantle at Subiaco in 2014 in Justin Leppitsch’s first season as coach. Dayne Beams had 41 in the club’s first game in Perth under Fagan.

The club record for most goals in a game in Perth goes back even further than Withers’ 39/4 double and is held by Warwick Capper. He kicked six in his third games in Bears colors in a 118-point loss to West Coast at the WACA, when the Eagles kicked a still-record 29-18 (192).

Three Brisbane players kicked five goals in a game in Perth - Rod Owen, Jarrod Molloy and Jonathan Brown.

Black, recruited by the Lions from East Fremantle after he desperately wanted to play for West Coast as a junior, has polled most Brownlow votes for Brisbane in Perth – easily. He polled six times for 13 votes to lead Voss and Brown (6).

The club’s first win in Perth was Round 2 1996, when the Bears beat the Eagles 16-17 (103) to 11-11 (77). Matthew Clarke dominated in the ruck to pick up three Brownlow votes while Alastair Lynch and Darryl White kicked four goals apiece, and Voss (25 possessions) and Adrian Fletcher (26 possessions), picked up the minor votes.

The biggest win came in Fagan’s fourth trip to the WA capital in Round 21 2021, when they led all the way in a 64-point win over Fremantle at Perth Stadium, when Zorko was best afield with 34 possessions, 10 tackles and a goal.