In 1990 the Tasmanian State Team defeated the mighty Big V in a famous 33-point State of Origin victory. That year, the Victorian Football League expanded to a national competition and the AFL was born. Sadly, one football state was blatantly omitted.
Twenty-eight years later, Tasmania, a true football state boasting over 150 years of football history, and the first state outside of South Australia and Victoria to establish a state-wide competition, appear as though they are on the brink of realising their destiny; a team in the AFL.
There has been a great deal of noise and speculation about the future of North Melbourne. Dwayne Russell has claimed that ‘multiple AFL sources’ have stated that the preferred plan is to relocate the Roos to Tasmania from 2022. It would be an extraordinary shakeup of the competition, but one that would put an arm around Tasmania and bring it into the AFL family-proper, giving Tasmania their own side without forcing an unmanageable 19-team competition.
The proposal would consolidate the future of the AFL’s 17th club, the Gold Coast Suns, easing any fears that Suns club officials might have regarding their AFL licence. It would also provide a solution to the league’s Melbourne-based team surplus that the AFL forcibly tried to reduce via club mergers throughout the 1990s.
Such action claimed the life of the VFL/AFL foundation club, the Fitzroy Lions who ironically attempted to merge with North Melbourne, but failed due to fears it would have created a super team. Instead they merged with Brisbane, and went on to win three flags in a row – apparently a super team in Queensland was fine.
Twenty-five years later Fitzroy is gone and North Melbourne is unlikely to feature on AFL scoreboards. 2022 could potentially be the Tassie Kangaroos’ launch date into the AFL. Both Hawthorn and North Melbourne’s current deals to play home games in Tasmania expire at the end of 2021, signalling the end of the AFL’s tenuous arrangement of having multiple sides playing home games in Tassie.
In theory, the North Melbourne name would be removed from the AFL ladder, with the club shifting its headquarters from Arden Street to Hobart. However, under this drastic proposition, North could not abandon Melbourne entirely. Surely the club is contracted to play home games in Melbourne? How would fans react to a departure from the mainland? How would the club continue to market Melbourne-based memberships for those left behind?
Moving ahead with this plan would mean seven of the club’s eleven home games would be played in Tasmania, as opposed to the originally proposed nine, with Russell suggesting that they could be spilt between Hobart and Launceston. The Kangaroos would call two cities home, but represent the entire state.
The club’s name would have to be rebranded from “North Melbourne” to either the “Tassie Kangaroos” in line with its women’s team or simply as the “Kangaroos” as it was between 1999 and 2007 when the club was in talks to relocate to the Gold Coast. An added benefit of the proposal for the North Melbourne-cum-Tassie Kangaroos Football Club is that the club is set to receive the entire state of Tasmania as its development and recruiting zone, via an expansion of their Next-Generation academy system. As Russell states, this would be a vital component of any team migration, as it would tie all Tasmanian draftees to the club in the exact same manner as the bidding system utilised by the Swans, Lions, Gold Coast and GWS academies.
This deal could be offered by the AFL, not only to provide another incentive for the Roos to jump on the Spirit of Tasmania, but to also aid the current recruiting crisis that has seen only one Tasmanian drafted to an AFL club in the past two seasons. It is not a statistic that Tasmanians could be proud of, after producing footballing royalty such as AFL Hall of Fame Legends, Peter Hudson, Ian Stewart, Royce Hart and Darrel Baldock, as well as modern day greats, Nick Riewoldt and Matthew Richardson.
In hindsight, a North Melbourne relocation to Tasmania appears obvious with the not-so subtle unveiling of the Kangaroos’ AFLW team that will join the competition next season. North Melbourne applied for the hotly contested AFLW license in a joint bid with Tasmania – based on the strong recommendation of the AFL - and will play half of its home games in Tasmania. Sure, they will be wearing blue and white like the Shinboners of old, but standing out in the middle of that blue and white jumper – like a Velcro Hawk on a Melbourne guernsey – is what could be the new club’s new logo.
North Melbourne’s AFLW logo, introduced last year, somewhat suspiciously in retrospect, has had its triangular background seamlessly changed to shape of Tasmania, while the words “North Melbourne” have been changed to “Tassie Kangaroos”.
It appears to be a sign of what is to come in the men’s competition.
Hawthorn President, Jeff Kennett who may be at odds with the AFL due to his club’s desire to extend their relationship with Tasmania beyond 2021, proposed that the Kangaroos and Hawthorn merge AFLW teams in an effort to conquer Tasmania. Hawthorn’s offer was denied emphatically by the club with a North Melbourne spokesmen’s saying, via AFL Media, that the club “would no more consider merging our AFLW team with another club than we would our men's team”. If they consider the men’s and women’s teams to be under the one banner, then a relocation is certainly not out of the question.
The first clear indication of a move dates back further than the AFLW announcement. It was last year when Footy Classified’s Craig Hutchison introduced a proposal that would have seen North rebrand to the Kangaroos, play the majority of their home games in Tasmania and relocate their headquarters to Hobart. Sound familiar?
At the time, the former North Melbourne President who saved the club from a Gold Coast relocation, James Brayshaw, hit back saying Hutchison’s proposal had come “straight from the AFL”. However, what is telling is the fact that Brayshaw finished by saying, “if [the AFL] had put this [proposal] to us in 2007, back when they were trying to relocate to the club to the Gold Coast, they might have got a favourable hearing”.
The years of campaigning, negotiating, government lobbying and hoping could soon be over for Tasmania. Their dream of an AFL team representing their state looks to have a path and the AFL’s blueprint for a true national competition may be nearing completion.
Meanwhile, the name North Melbourne may be set to join Fitzroy, South Melbourne and the Bears in football oblivion.
Be prepared to fight, North fans. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Tasmania, and the AFL appear to be eyeing off your team... again.