In the late 1980s to mid-1990s, the AFL for Canberra bid was all the rage with a tidal wave of momentum behind the campaign.
It had many believing that it might just happen. Remember, this was before the establishment of the Brumbies. Australian Rules had plenty of support alongside the Raiders and the Cannons.
Momentum was certainly with Australian Rules.
Led by the then ACT Chief Magistrate Ron Cahill, the AFL for Canberra bid had the backing of the ACT Government, with the then Chief Minister Rosemary Follett offering full and continuing support.
The main target appeared to be the financially troubled Fitzroy Football Club.
Fitzroy’s chief executive John Birt came to town amidst speculation that they were interested in playing some home games in Canberra.
I remember interviewing Birt and Cahill at the time and coming away feeling both parties were testing each other out without committing.
Fitzroy then played a home game at Bruce Stadium in round 9 in 1995 against the West Coast Eagles in front of a crowd of 12,000.
The following year it was announced that Fitzroy would be merging with the Brisbane Bears to become the Brisbane Lions.
Fitzroy played their final game in 1996 and the air had well and truly gone out of the Canberra bid.
Twenty-six years down the track, I am not sure we are any wiser in finding out how close Fitzroy came to relocating to Canberra.
Part of the problem expressed by some in the Canberra bid team was the level of debt carried by Fitzroy at the time.
In their place, North Melbourne played a number of home games in Canberra. This arrangement was followed by the current one with Greater Western Sydney on a long-term deal to play at least three games a season at Manuka Oval.
Now with Tasmania well and truly in the box seat if the AFL is to expand, Canberra’s aspirations, if there were any remaining, have virtually disappeared.
Adding to Canberra’s plight, apart from a perceived lack of desire at the moment, is the emergence of a campaign from the Northern Territory to be ready if the AFL is looking to expand in the future.
It appears that Canberra’s arrangement with GWS is the best we can hope for, but who knows what the future will bring.