Thursday 4 July 1996. It was a moment never to be forgotten in AFL history. When Fitzroy and the Brisbane Bears merged to form the Brisbane Lions. The old and the new of the competition combining to remember the past and thrive on the future.

Under merger guidelines set by the AFL and the other competing clubs only eight Fitzroy players from the club’s last season in 1996 were allowed to be part of the rebranded Brisbane side in 1997.

Chris Johnson was the pin-up boy of the merger, playing a key role in the 2001-02-03 premiership hat-trick alongside one-time Fitzroy teammate and 1996 Fitzroy club champion Martin Pike, who did likewise after being overlooked by Brisbane officials at the time of the merger and playing in the 1999 premiership with North Melbourne before a belated move north.

Brad Boyd was the merger’s saddest individual story. Having carried an enormous load as a young captain through Fitzroy’s last two years, he played only 15 games post-merger before his body gave up on him. Forced into retirement by injury at 27.

Jarrod Molloy, who with Johnson were members of the first Brisbane side post-merger, later played in a grand final loss for Collingwood against Brisban. Shane Clayton, after 13 games at Fitzroy and five games at Brisbane, enjoyed a 1999 premiership triumph with Pike in a 99-game career at North Melbourne.

John Barker, after 37 games at Fitzroy and eight games at Brisbane, played 113 games for Hawthorn before 14 years in coaching at St.Kilda, Hawthorn and Carlton, including a 14-game stint as caretaker coach at the Blues in 2015.

John Barker of the Lions looks on during the 1997 round 6 AFL match between the Essendon Bombers and the Brisbane Lions.

The other members of the ‘Chosen Eight’ were Scott Bamford, Nick Carter and Simon Hawking.

Bamford played at Geelong after Brisbane and Carter, the last Fitzroy nomination for the AFL Rising Star Award, played at Melbourne after Brisbane.

Hawking became a ‘gift’ for the trivia experts. After 60 games at Fitzroy he was listed at Brisbane, Sydney and Collingwood but didn’t play at AFL level for any of them.

It was a challenging time for all 42 players listed with Fitzroy in the AFL’s Centenary Year of 1996, which proved to be Fitzroy’s last as a standalone entity. Will I get a chance in Brisbane? What next? The emotions were mixed. Good and bad, but always strong.

Twenty-five years on the memories are likewise, but regardless of which side of the contentious debate people sit it is a walk down memory lane that will always be relived and enjoyed.

Interestingly, only two members of Fitzroy’s 1996 football unit are still involved in the AFL.

81:21 Mins
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The Merge

July 4 1996, a special day in our clubs history, when the Brisbane Bears and Fitzroy Football Club's officially merged. Airing 5pm this Saturday on Fox Footy, 'The Merge' details the lead-up to that day, featuring key figures such as Kevin Murray, Jonathan Brown, Alastair Lynch, Ross Oakley and Alan McConnell.

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Alan McConnell, now 64 and the women’s coach at the GWS Giants, will forever sit in the record books as the 40th and last Fitzroy coach after two stints as caretaker coach. He was in charge for the last two games of 1995 after Bernie Quinlan split from club, and the last eight games of 1996 when Mick Nunan stood aside.

Leon Harris, now is 62 and a 186-game Fitzroy player from 1979-89, was Fitzroy reserves coach in 1996 and is now part of the Brisbane recruiting and academy team.

The third-last Fitzroy ‘survivor’ was Matthew Primus, who rejected a move to Brisbane with the merger and instead played 137 games at Port Adelaide. He was club captain from 2001-05 but missed the Power’s 2004 premiership with injury. He later coached Port in 2010-12 and was assistant-coach at Gold Coast for six years from 2013 until he was sacked in July 2018.

Primus, runner-up to Pike in the 1996 Fitzroy club champion award in his first AFL season, was one of two Fitzroy players from 1996 who were not part of the merger who played 100+ games post-merger. The other was Stephen Paxman, who followed 102 games at Fitzroy with 138 at Port.

The aforementioned 11 players and their coach were part of the last Fitzroy side which was so cruelly sent to Perth to play their last game together against Fremantle at Subiaco Oval in Perth on Sunday, 1 September 1996.

Of the other 10, John McCarthy, Jeff Hogg, Simon Atkins and youngsters Marty Warry and Peter Doyle never played in the AFL again. Matthew Dent and John Rombotis (two clubs) and Brett Chandler, Rowan Warfe and Danny Morton (one club) got another chance.

So did six others who had played during 1996 but missed the final game – Jason Baldwin, Brad Cassidy, Brett Cook, Trent Cummings, Matthew Manfield and Anthony Mellington.

Every other club in the AFL at the time, plus 1997 newcomers Port, shared in the ‘spoils’, fielding at least one Fitzroy player post-merger.

The last Fitzroy side was:-

B: Brett Chandler, Jarrod Molloy, Stephen Paxman
HB: Martin Pike, Rowan Warfe, Shane Clayton
C: John Barker, Simon Atkins, Nick Carter
HF: Brad Boyd (capt), John McCarthy, Chris Johnson
F: Marty Warry, Simon Hawking, John Rombotis
R: Matthew Primus, Matthew Dent, Scott Bamford
INT: Peter Doyle, Jeff Hogg, Danny Morton.
Coach: Alan McConnell

FITZROY PLAYERS 1996 … WHAT HAPPENED NEXT ??

Clubs
Pre-Fitz

Games
Pre-Fitz

Players

Fitz
Games

Bris
Games

Club/s
Post-Merger

Games
Post-Merger

Career
Games

WB

127

Atkins, Simon

41

 

 

 

168

 

 

Baldwin, Jason

125

 

Rich

2

127

 

 

Bamford, Scott

22

24

Geel

13

59

 

 

Barker, John

47

8

Haw

113

168

 

 

Bird, Peter

15

 

 

 

15

 

 

Bizzotto, Frank

38

 

 

 

38

 

 

Boyd, Brad

70

15

 

 

85

 

 

Carter, Nick

17

5

Melb

3

25

 

 

Cassidy, Brad

14

 

Coll

2

16

Carl

23

Cavedon, Andrew *

5

 

 

 

28

 

 

Chandler, Brett

28

 

NM

44

72

 

 

Clayton, Shane

13

5

NM

99

117

 

 

Cook, Brett

25

 

StK

18

43

 

 

Credlin, Nigel *

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cummings, Trent

27

 

WC

2

29

 

 

Dent, Matthew #

47

 

WB/Haw

71

118

 

 

Doyle, Peter

12

 

 

 

12

StK

80

Dwyer, Mick

8

 

 

 

88

 

 

Frewen, Brent

2

 

 

 

2

 

 

Hawking, Simon #

60

0

Syd/Coll

0

60

Rich

144

Hogg, Jeff

40

 

 

 

184

Syd

42

Holmes, Darren

21

 

 

 

63

 

59

Johnson, Chris

205

 

 

 

264

Melb

2

Lamb, Wayne

19

 

 

 

21

 

 

Manfield, Matthew

5

 

Rich

6

11

NM

15

McCarthy, Adam

15

 

 

 

30

NM

92

McCarthy, John

71

 

 

 

163

 

 

McGregor, Anthony

41

 

 

 

41

 

 

Brian McInnes *

0

 

 

 

0

 

 

McMahon, Robert

2

 

 

 

2

 

 

Mellington, Anthony

24

 

NM

20

44

 

 

Nick Mitchell *

9

 

 

 

9

 

 

Molloy, Jarrod

59

61

Coll

49

169

 

 

Morton, Danny

30

 

Port

20

50

 

 

Paxman, Stephen

102

 

Port

138

240

Melb

24

Pike, Martin ^

36

106

NM

81

247

 

 

Primus, Matthew

20

 

Port

137

157

 

 

Ramsey, Jason

2

 

 

 

2

 

 

Rombotis, John #

26

 

Port/Rich

22

48

 

 

Warfe, Rowan

26

 

Syd

84

110

 

 

Warry, Marty

8

 

 

 

8

WC/Bris

100

Mark Zanotti *

57

 

 

 

157

# Matthew Dent played 63 games with the Western Bulldogs and 8 games with Hawthorn. John Rombotis played 9 games with Port Adelaide and 13 games with Richmond. Simon Hawking was listed with Sydney and Collingwood post-Brisbane but did not play.

* Andrew Cavedon, Nigel Credlin, Brian McInnes, Nick Mitchell and Mark Zanotti were on the Fitzroy list in 1996 but did not play.

^ Martin Pike was overlooked by Brisbane at the time of the merger and played 81 games with North Melbourne from 1997-2000, including the 1999 premiership, before joining Brisbane in 2001.