In 1996, North Melbourne agreed to a merger with the competition’s cellar dwellers, Fitzroy only to be trumped by the Brisbane Bears at the eleventh hour. Rival clubs feared “football suicide” with the creation of a ‘super team’ and the AFL preferred the Bears merger over North for strategic reasons.
The Kangaroos dominated the latter part of the 1990’s, going on to win the premiership two months after the merger was rejected. The all-conquering North Melbourne made another two grand finals by the end of the decade, winning a minor premiership in 1998 and second flag in four years in 1999. Half of the club’s VFL/AFL premierships were won during this period under the Wayne Carey-led all-star team with the 90s seeing North Melbourne establish themselves as a genuine football powerhouse on the field.
North enjoyed possibly their greatest period of success during this time, rivalled only by the Ron Barassi-coached side of the 1970s that played off in six successive grand finals (including the drawn '77 final) for a two-flag return.
In the 11 years after the Lions merger went pear-shaped for the Kangaroos, only the Brisbane Lions enjoyed more success, however, North’s actual existence was in question with the AFL and three-quarters of its board wanting the club to head north to the Gold Coast. Things may have gone pear-shaped in terms of the merger, but where were the fruits of those dominant years?
In 2007, having already fought off speculation of a move to Canberra, the Kangaroos appeared to be off to the Gold Coast on an AFL $100 million offer. If not for a member and supporter driven campaign and a James Brayshaw led to charge to keep north south, there’d be no Gold Coast Suns, or North Melbourne Kangaroos.
Eleven years have past since the Kangaroos became North Melbourne again, and while success on the field has dried up, off-field North Melbourne have never been stronger. Their membership base has more than doubled since 2007, nine years of profit has seen their previously $8.5 million debt almost completely annihilated, and a highly successful and profitable deal with Tasmania has been signed. Former club president James Brayshaw described the deal as “by far the best thing we’ve done in my time as Chairman of North Melbourne”. Surprisingly, this includes saving the club from a Gold Coast relocation. Despite all of that, the cycle continues. Rinse and repeat. North Melbourne have to fight again.
Another football generation has passed since 2007. It’s now 2018 and the North Melbourne Football Club will not support the AFL’s revamped proposal detailed on The Mongrel Punt last week, to relocate the football club to Tasmania and relinquish the name “North Melbourne” in favour of the “Tassie Kangaroos” or simply the “Kangaroos”. Over 12 months ago, North Melbourne rejected a similar proposal from the AFL to relocate to Tasmania. However, the extraordinary proposal reportedly on the table at the moment includes several new additional benefits for North Melbourne, including adopting the whole state of Tasmania as its recruiting zone.
The largest concession is the fact that despite the proposal requiring the Kangaroos to play seven of their eleven home games in Tasmania (four in Hobart and three in Launceston), the Tassie Kangaroos would still play the majority of their games in Melbourne if the proposal becomes a reality. The Tassie Kangaroos will play the remainder of their four home games in Melbourne as well as playing another eight games in their current home city. This breaks down to twelve games in Melbourne, seven in Tasmania and only a measly three genuine away games. It is an ominous proposition for rival clubs.
This supposed ‘relocation’ would mean the Kangaroos will only play one less game in Melbourne than they do this season, the same amount of games in Launceston as they do currently and play four games in Hobart that would ordinarily be away games. The adoption of the entire state of Tasmania as the club’s recruiting zone (ala the Northern states academy systems) is also a huge advantage as the miracle implementation of a Tasmanian AFL side could see a reinvigoration of talent wanting to play Australia’s game on the Apple Isle.
The proposal is the greatest ever relocation offer in the league’s history. In fact, it is probably even unfair to categorise it as a relocation due to the amount of Melbourne games the club would retain. Not only does this opportunity provide ample benefits for the Kangaroos but also the game itself, as it will finally deliver a true national competition and could begin the process of saving the football crisis in Tasmania.
That’s all well and good, however North Melbourne do not support the proposal for reasons that are beyond home game logistics and recruiting sweeteners. The club believes a relocation will damage its identity and there is nothing more important a football club has than that. This is especially true for a football club surviving in the context of a supporter base that fought so hard against a relocation they believed would have killed their club.
While, on the surface, the club only loses one game in Melbourne, it forces the name “North Melbourne” to be subbed off for the “Tassie Kangaroos”. Issues such as a club colours, emblems, mascots and names may seem trivial in matters such as these but they should never, ever, be underestimated because these trivial things like a name are the things that separate a football club from YOUR football club.
The flip side to passion is realism. North Melbourne must become the Tassie Kangaroos in 2022. It will not kill their football club, but save it. The cycle must be broken. Ten Victorian-based teams will not exist forever in the AFL. They simply cannot. Relocation is inevitable. Clubs will either voluntarily move, or be moved. The other option is to fold completely.
It is for that reason, that the Victorian club with the weakest crowd and membership figures has been, and will continue to be consistently targeted for relocation and merger discussions. North Melbourne, regardless of the fight they show on-field and the premierships they win, regardless of the debt they wipe off or the facilities they build, are the most vulnerable football club in the AFL. Their long-term future in Melbourne is shaky.
The relocation offer – currently not supported by the club – could be the best relocation proposal they will ever receive. If accepted, it will see their long-term future secured and looking prosperous. The generational fight for their future will be over. They will play the majority of the games in Melbourne, wear blue and white, be the Kangaroos, retain their history, heritage and Shinboner spirit - everything barring the name ‘North Melbourne’.
It pays to remember that its name that they chose to abandon between 1999 and 2007, to be known as simply the “Kangaroos”. They can’t act as though it’s a precious commodity when they, themselves chose to discard it for eight years. Moreover, the club wanted to dump the name “North Melbourne” even earlier in 1998 – barring AFL intervention – the club would be known today as the “Northern Kangaroos”.
So, when the club moved away from being called the “Shinboners” and changed to the “Kangaroos” in the 1950s was their identity destroyed? Hardly. The Kangaroos name is now synonymous with the club and the “Shinboner” spirit is alive, well and embraced amongst the players, coaches, officials and supporters.
Does anyone out there believe the club ceased to be their true selves in 1926 when the club’s nickname was no longer the “Blue Birds”?
Did the club’s spirit and culture grind to a halt the minute their name was changed from the Hotham Football Club, or when North Melbourne became Albert Park?
Your history may define you but you should never be anchored by it. Roos fans, ask yourselves this; would you rather be deciding whether you support North Melbourne or the Kangaroos, or whether you support North Melbourne or nothing?
North Melbourne has decided to push back against the AFL’s latest Tasmanian proposal. It’s a fight they’ve fought before, and they may well win again. They’re used to winning these battles, but one day down the track they may lose one. And when they do, they may look back, regretting they didn’t throw the in towel in 2018.
See you in 11 years.