Brisbane Bears

The Brisbane Football Club, nicknamed the Bears, was the first professional Australian rules football club established in Queensland. The club, along with the West Coast Eagles, joined the Victorian Football League (VFL) in 1987 and played its first ever VFL game against North Melbourne at the MCG on Friday 27 March 1987 which it won 19.23.137 to 15.14.104.

Brisbane Bears
Names
Full nameBrisbane Football Club
Club details
Founded1986
Colours              
CompetitionAustralian Football League
Former ground(s)Carrara Park (1987–1992)
 The Gabba (1991–1996)
Uniforms
Home
Original

Unlike the AFL’s more recent expansion clubs, the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants (GWS), Brisbane received absolutely no assistance from the VFL/AFL when it was first established and given only 5 months to recruit an entire team. Despite this however, the club went on to secure 6 wins in its first season and remains the only expansion club from the northern states to avoid finishing in last place on the ladder at the end of their first season. In contrast, the Gold Coast Suns only won 3 games in their first season and GWS only won 4. Both the Gold Coast Suns and GWS Giants, unlike Brisbane, also finished on the bottom of the ladder at the end of their first season.

Brisbane made the finals for the first time in 1995 and only narrowly missed out on a position in the grand final the following year when they were defeated by North Melbourne in the preliminary finals. Many of the Brisbane players who played in this match would go to be stars of Brisbane’s 2001, 2002 and 2003 triple premiership winning teams.

The club merged with the Fitzroy Football Club at the completion of the 1996 season to form the Brisbane Lions without giving their members a vote on the matter. Many Brisbane supporters are still unhappy with the way the club handled the merger and this is exasperated by the clubs reluctance to acknowledge the Bears history despite its clear willingness to regularly acknowledge that of Fitzroy’s. This has created significant unrest, particularly in Melbourne, between former Brisbane supporters and former Fitzroy supporters.

History

Establishment

In 1986, the VFL Commission announced plans to set up privately owned clubs based in Perth and Brisbane, motivated by the need to sell multimillion-dollar licences to save a number of Victorian clubs which were struggling financially. A consortium headed by former actor Paul Cronin and bankrolled by entrepreneur Christopher Skase was awarded the Brisbane licence. Not long afterwards, the club was officially announced as the Brisbane Bears, signing recently retired Hawthorn player Peter Knights as coach, and unveiling a playing strip consisting of a gold with a maroon yoke and a triangular "BB" logo intended to represent a stylised map of the club's home state, Queensland, with the outline of a koala head appearing inside of the larger B. The bear appeared roaring on many of the marketing and promotional materials for the club, including the club's official VFL logo .

The new club was given very little time in which to set itself up, with few players and no suitable home ground. Brisbane's main outdoor venue, Brisbane Cricket Ground, was encircled by a dog racing track at the time. The only other stadiums that were reasonably large enough to accommodate the Bears were rectangular fields better suited to rugby league, rugby union and soccer than for an Australian rules team. Rugby League and Rugby Union and Soccer had long been established as the main football codes in Brisbane. Without an acceptable facility in Brisbane itself, the Bears-based themselves at Carrara Oval on the Gold Coast where temporary stands, club rooms and facilities were erected around the ground. It is now known as Metricon Stadium and is the permanent home of the AFL’s second Queensland based club the Gold Coast Suns.

Upon its admission, the Bears did not have a large reserve of local players from which to compile a VFL-standard playing list. To assist with its inaugural playing list, the VFL arranged for every other club to provide at least two players; understandably, other clubs were averse to providing top-line players and few of the players provided were of a high quality. The Bears pursued a number of stars aggressively and did manage a few key signings, including Collingwood's captain Mark Williams, and 1985 Brownlow Medallist Brad Hardie. A significant proportion of the player list was recruited from the South Australian National Football League and West Australian Football League. Mark Mickan, a 6'5" (196 cm) ruckman recruited from West Adelaide, was appointed captain of the Bears in its inaugural season.

Early years

The Bears won their first game in the VFL against North Melbourne at the Melbourne Cricket Ground 19.23 (137) to 15.14 (104) in front of 14,096 fans, and also won its second game, but ultimately fell towards the bottom of the ladder. The club avoided the wooden spoon by beating Richmond in the final round, and finished with six wins. The club attracted 98,616 fans to the eleven matches at Carrara Oval, an average of 8,965 per game, which was the lowest in the competition behind Fitzroy's 11,498. By contrast, the other new 1987 team the West Coast Eagles, with Australian rules football long established as the major football code in Perth, attracted 291,317 to their home games at Subiaco Oval and the WACA at an average of 26,483 per game.[1]

The club again recruited aggressively, landing Sydney Swans glamour spearhead Warwick Capper. In 1988 and 1989 the club suffered some severe defeats, finishing 13th and 10th respectively. Knights was sacked with eight rounds to play in the 1989 season. The club psychologist, Paul Feltham, took charge of the team for the remainder of the year.

By this stage, the club was also under severe financial pressure. Attendances had been very poor due to poor performances and the long distance between Gold Coast and Brisbane. The collapse of Skase's business empire and his sudden departure for Spain in late 1989 almost resulted in the death of the Bears. Over the ensuing preseason the players threatened strike action, but Cronin resigned, the club was taken over by the AFL, re-sold to Gold Coast businessman Reuben Pelerman, and the crisis was averted. The AFL spent significant amounts of money to help the Bears survive over the coming years, and the club was provided with priority draft picks and special recruiting zones to give it access to some of the nation's best talent, which over the next few years allowed the club to recruit future stars such as Michael Voss, Jason Akermanis, Clark Keating, Steven Lawrence and Darryl White.

Four-time QAFL premiership coach Norm Dare took over as coach in 1990, but the club won the wooden spoon. He was replaced in 1991 by former Carlton premiership coach Robert Walls, who immediately set about rebuilding the playing list; having inherited the oldest list in the league, by the end of the season he had the youngest. He insisted that the Bears not bend to the will of powerful Victorian clubs in recruitment matters, which was seen most notably in the case of the young Nathan Buckley – Buckley, who in 1992 won the SANFL's Magarey Medal and was a premiership winner with Port Adelaide, winning the Jack Oatey Medal for being Best on Ground in the SANFL Grand Final, was a zone recruit signed to the club on a one-year contract in 1993, which stipulated that he would be released to the club of his choice if he so desired at the completion of the contract; he was cleared to Collingwood as he had requested, in exchange for premiership centre-half forward Craig Starcevich, goalsneak Troy Lehmann and an early draft pick which the Bears used to recruit future star Chris Scott.

Later years

Off-field, Pelerman was losing millions of dollars annually on the club, and he agreed to release the Bears from private ownership and revert to a traditional club structure in which the club's members were able to elect the board. In 1992, the club changed its guernsey to a predominantly maroon strip with a gold V and white trim. More significantly, in 1993 the club moved permanently to the Gabba; with the club now playing in its home city, membership and attendances instantly tripled. The dog racing track around the ground was removed, the surface was upgraded and the stands gradually replaced over the next few years with a view to converting the tired old ground to a state-of-the-art sporting facility.

In 1994, the Bears changed the club logo and the club song, and also began to show signs of a competitive side and were contenders for a finals berth before falling away in the last five games of the season. Then, in 1995, the club reached the finals after an extraordinary late-season recovery. After Round 15, the Bears were third-last on the ladder with four wins, and Robert Walls had announced his resignation as coach halfway through the season, but committed himself to seeing out the year. In Round 16, the Bears trailed Hawthorn by 45 points at three-quarter time, but mounted an astounding final-quarter comeback to win the match by 7 points; it was the largest final quarter comeback in league history. Brisbane then won five of its six remaining matches in the home-and-away season, including against Richmond and Essendon who were both in the top four, to just reach the finals for the first time, albeit with a win-loss record of only 10–12. The team was eliminated, but not disgraced, after losing its first ever final to eventual premiers Carlton by 13 points.

Under the coaching of former Richmond premiership player John Northey, Brisbane had an excellent 1996 season, finishing third behind Sydney and North Melbourne. They made a good account of themselves in the finals, with two wins at the Gabba and a loss in the Preliminary Final to eventual premiers North Melbourne. Michael Voss also became the only Brisbane Bears player to win the Brownlow Medal, sharing the honour with Essendon's James Hird.

However, the club was still struggling off-field. One of the Bears' biggest problems was its lack of support (both on and off the field) in Melbourne, the location of most of its away matches. In mid-1996, the struggling Fitzroy Football Club collapsed due to financial pressures and was seeking to merge its assets with another club. When a merger with North Melbourne to form the North Fitzroy Kangaroos failed to win the support of the other AFL clubs, a deal for a merger was reached between Fitzroy and the Bears. The new team was to be known as the Brisbane Lions, based at the Gabba, with a new song, emblem and jumper all based on Fitzroy's. As such, the history of the Brisbane Bears as an individual entity ended after the 1996 season, with ten seasons of competition and the third-place finish in 1996 as its best performance.

The Bears' last match as a separate entity was a preliminary final on Saturday 21 September 1996 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground against North Melbourne, coincidentally the same location and opponent as their first match in 1987. Brisbane lost by 38 points to North who went on to win the 1996 premiership. With that loss, the Bears era ended after a short and mostly troubled existence, and the Brisbane Lions began.

Club facts

Mascot

The Bears' mascot was the koala, which is not a Bear. Their uniform originally featured a koala.

Colours

  • Maroon      and Gold      (1987–1988)
  • Cerise      and Gold      (1989–1991)
  • Maroon     , Gold      and White      (1992–1996)

Club Songs

The Brisbane Football Club had 2 Club Songs in its existence.

Dare to beat the Bear

This song was an original tune.
The song was played in full over the Speakers and the team would sing the 1st Verse in the change room after each win.
1st Verse

What do we sing when we run out to play?
Dare to beat the Bear.
What do we sing when we're on our way?
Dare to beat the Bear.
We're Hot! (We're Hot!)
We're Mean! (We're Mean!)
We're Strong! (We're Strong!)
We're a Team! (We're a Team!)
We're the very best team you've ever seen,
We're the Brisbane Bears.

2nd Verse

What do we know before every game?
We're going out to win!
How do we know that we'll read the play?
We won't let 'em in!
We're Hot! (We're Hot!)
We're Mean! (We're Mean!)
We're Strong! (We're Strong!)
We're a Team! (We're a Team!)
We're the very best team you've ever seen,
We're the Brisbane Bears.

1st Bridge

Our home is mighty Brisbane and we're playing for our State.
The Bear will growl across the land,
Our victories will be great (great)

3rd Verse

What do we shout when we sense their fear?
Beware the mighty Bear!
What are the words that we love to hear?
Beware the mighty Bear!
We're Tough! (We're Tough!)
We're Keen! (We're Keen!)
We're Good! (We're Good!)
We're a Team! (We're a Team!)
We're the very best team you've ever seen,
We're the Brisbane Bears.

2nd Bridge

Our home is here in Queensland and there is not a shade of doubt,
Right around Australia, we're gonna knock 'em out!

3rd Verse – Repeated

What do we shout when we sense their fear?
Dare to beat the Bear!
What are the words that we love to hear?
Dare to beat the Bear!
We're Tough! (We're Tough!)
We're Keen! (We're Keen!)
We're Good! (We're Good!)
We're a Team! (We're a Team)
We're the very best team you've ever seen,
We're the Brisbane Bears.

Home Run

We're Tough! (We're Tough!)
We're Keen! (We're Keen!)
We're Good! (We're Good!)
We're a Team! (We're a Team!)
We're the very best team you've ever seen,
We're the Brisbane Bears.
We're the very best team you've ever seen,
We're the Brisbane Bears.

Beware the mighty Bears!

Brisbane Bears will live forever

This song was to the music of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The song was played in full over the Speakers and the team would sing the 1st Verse and the Chorus in the change room after each win.
This version of the song has been lost, with neither the AFL nor the Brisbane Lions having a copy.

1st Verse

If you are a Queenslander then sing along with me
We are the Bears on the Road to victory
All for one and one for all
We'll answer to the call
We're the greatest team of all

2nd Verse

We're the fearless Brisbane Bears
From the mighty Northern State
Our Pride and Guts and Character are gonna make us great
Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth will know their fate
When the Bears run out and roar

Chorus

Brisbane Bears will live forever
We will always stick together
The 'Gabba is the place where people always come to see
The greatest team of all

3rd Verse

The Whistle blows, the Ball is bounced
The Crowd all give a yell
And we will do our very best until the final Bell
And when the Game is over we'll be closer to the Flag
We're the greatest team of all

Chorus

Brisbane Bears will live forever
We will always stick together
The 'Gabba is the place where people always come to see
The greatest team of all

Home Run

The 'Gabba is the place where people always come to see
The greatest team of all

Supporter base

YearMembersFinishing PositionAverage Home Crowd
1987
3,449
13th/14
8,965
1988
7,607
13th/14
12,781
1989
7,176
10th/14
10,944
1990
5,630
14th/14
8,887
1991
5,696
15th/15
8,011
1992
5,401
14th/15
6,499
1993
5,750
13th/15
11,148
1994
6,158
12th/15
12,433
1995
6,893
Qualifying Final (8th/16)
10,305
1996
10,267
Preliminary Final (3rd/16)
18,088

Premierships

  • Under 19's – None
  • Reserves – 1991
  • Seniors – None
  • Night Series/Pre-Season – None
  • Lightning Series – 1996 Runners up

Wooden spoons

Individual awards

Honour roll

Season Position Coach Captain Best & Fairest¹ Leading goalkicker Goals
198713Peter KnightsMark MickanPhil WalshJim Edmond34
198813Peter KnightsMark MickanMark WithersWarwick Capper45
198910Peter Knights, Paul FelthamMark MickanJohn GastevBrad Hardie54
199014Norm DareRoger MerrettDavid Bain and Martin LeslieBrad Hardie37
199115Robert WallsRoger MerrettMichael McLeanLaurence Schache47
199214Robert WallsRoger MerrettJohn GastevJohn Hutton43
199313Robert WallsRoger MerrettMartin LeslieRoger Merrett60
199412Robert WallsRoger MerrettCraig LambertRoger Merrett41
19958Robert WallsRoger MerrettMichael VossRoger Merrett44
19963John NortheyRoger MerrettMichael VossAlastair Lynch52
¹The Brisbane Bears' best and fairest award was known as the Club Championship.

Club Records

See also

  • Notable players
  • Wikipedia listing of Brisbane Bears players

References

Fitzgerald, R. (1996). The Footy Club: Inside the Brisbane Bears. Brisbane, Australia: UQP. ISBN 0-7022-2904-0.

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