21 September 2021

Has Canberra completely missed the boat when it comes to having its own AFL team?

| Tim Gavel
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GWS Giants v Port Adelaide game at Manuka Oval in April

Canberra tried in the past to base an AFL team in Canberra. GWS seems to be the best option at the moment. Photo: Supplied.

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.

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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.

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Shan Weereratne6:06 pm 03 May 22

Andrew Barr is of the view Greater Western Sydney Giants are our local Canberra team. The 23 million ACT taxpayer money should have at swayed them to call themselves GWS- Canberra.

CanberraAFLTeam9:19 pm 26 Sep 21

It doesn’t have to be either or with Tasmania.

The AFL always expands to even numbers. Tassie as a 19th team means a 20th team will follow shortly, which Canberrq makes the most sense for.

Capital Retro4:57 pm 24 Sep 21

“It’s good tourism revenue”

Do you have proof of that?

So the VFL grew up and became AFL. True to its beginnings it has remained mainly a southern league (75% of the teams are from southern states). It will truly become an Australian League when the number of teams reflect the population spread. An ACT team would help this. The question is whether the AFL board would want this or even accept it. Or are they still in the VFL mindset.

Capital Retro3:45 pm 24 Sep 21

It’s all about where you grew up. I was raised in central west NSW and “Australian Rules” and soccer were unknown. Rugby League ruled with Rugby Union being there for the graziers and GPS lads. I only participated in one game of Aussie Rules when I was in National Service with a lot of lads from Wagga and Albury and it left me very confused.

Canberra has a lot of people who were raised interstate where it was played solely and that’s why it has some popularity here but like Rugby League, the local team isn’t always the one that is supported.

I don’t think it will happen. In Melbourne, Canberra is now regarded as “a rugby town” and the feeling is that there will be not enough people to sustain a standalone Canberra team.

Quite happy as a GWS member. In normal times it’s an ideal arrangement. Four games a year at Manuka (1 pre-season), plus AFLW games, plus a couple of trips up to Sydney each season. Although at this point the 10 year deal for games in Canberra has expired. And thanks to COVID there’s been 3 games in 2 years, when there should’ve been at least 7.

Capital Retro7:35 am 22 Sep 21

The current ACT government has spent a fortune on Manuka Oval especially to promote AFL in Canberra and continues to pay GWS $700K every time they play there. This is not sustainable.

If AFL enthusiasts want a local team they should lobby the AFL, not the majority of ACT ratepayers who have no interest in AFL.

I wish them better luck than the promoters of a Canberra national soccer A League team have had for the past 15 years.

AFL support in Canberra is much stronger than you think. Pretty much everyone I know has a team they follow and at work we have both AFL and NRL tipping competitions.
Does a high level of support justify a local
team? Probably not.

Tasmania is a more natural choice.

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