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Tigers, Kangaroos and Lions could have merged: Ross Oakley

Former AFL chief executive and chairman Ross Oakley.

Former AFL chief executive and chairman Ross Oakley. Photo: Getty Images

Amid the turbulence and mergers debate of football in the 1980s, former AFL chief executive and chairman Ross Oakley has spoken of the death threats he received and has revealed there were discussions about the possible birth of a "United" Melbourne club and the Crocodiles of Los Angeles.

Oakley, the league's most powerful figure for a decade from October 1986, said former AFL commissioner Peter Scanlon had secretly worked on a merger between North Melbourne, Fitzroy and Richmond in the early 1990s.

"Peter Scanlon was working quietly and secretly on a super merger, a deal that would create 'Melbourne United'," Oakley said.

"That was his dream; a meld of North Melbourne, Fitzroy and Richmond into the Manchester United of Australian football. But in true form the deal could not be made because the respective parties could not decide on colours, a jumper design and who would be president."

At the time, Ron Casey was the Kangaroos' chairman, Dyson Hore-Lacy led the Lions and Neville Crowe presided over the Tigers.

In his autobiography - The Phoenix Rises - to be launched on Tuesday, Oakley recalled the plan with Scanlon in an interview this year.

"Because they were all inner-city clubs, they were all to be equal partners, and no one was taking anyone over. I nearly got it there," Scanlon recalled. "They were all here in my office talking about jumpers and other very important matters."

Oakley presided over a 12-team competition that, in his early years, had six that were "little more than bankruptcies in waiting" with some already under investigation by state authorities.

There was plenty of merger debate, and in 1987 he introduced the Eagles in Western Australia and the Bears in Brisbane. Or, in Carrara, to be exact under then flamboyant - but soon to be broke - businessman, Christopher Skase.

He also awarded the Swans' licence to another colourful businessman, Dr Geoffrey Edelsten, a move that then VFL lawyer Jeff Browne maintains was the right call despite what appeared to be a more steady plan delivered by a group led by businessman Basil Sellers.

During a time when the league was open to private ownership, there was also a radical proposal mentioned in the VFL's October 1987 board minutes.

"Chairman made reference to a proposal forwarded by the League by a Western Australian entrepreneur, which called for the re-location of an existing VFL team to Los Angeles and that such a team be known as the Los Angeles Crocodiles. It was resolved that no further action be taken," Oakley said.

In researching his book, Oakley was unable to discover who made the proposal.

In setting the scene for the uncertain times, Oakley also details the "clandestine" meeting former Carlton president John Elliott held in Mt Macedon in September, 1984 in a bid to establish a breakaway Super League.

It was the emergence of an era of what former commissioner Dick Seddon said were presidents with "business backgrounds and who resented what they perceived to be the 'Big Brother' approach by the VFL to the conduct of the league". And Elliott, then a bustling business and political figure, was at the height of his powers.

"He was planning a breakaway league of 10 clubs that would include the five most powerful Victorian clubs - Collingwood, Essendon, Richmond, Geelong and, of course, his beloved Carlton - and would introduce non-Victorian teams (two from NSW, two from SA) with the potential of abandoning a parade of underperforming Victorian clubs," Oakley said.

"The Elliott plan was grand: a mix of purging and restructuring, all leading towards a new national competition. It was economic rationalism at its finest.

"He also saw the need for an administration that was at arm's length from the clubs: his vision favoured a completely independent commission responsible, as in business, for governance.

"He had a completed constitution for the new league and, with co-antagonist Ian Wilson, president of Richmond, had garnered support for the concept from the Melbourne Cricket Club, through secretary Ian Johnson, to use the MCG along with Kardinia Park and, of course, his beloved Princes Park. This new league was ready to go."

To that point, the VFL had maintained a "she'll-be-right" view when it came to most matters. With crowds dropping in 1985, Jack Hamilton, then the league chief, blamed it simply on the Tigers' on-field woes leading to a dip in attendances.

Elliott would soon allow all 12 clubs to remain but insisted they break away from a system where clubs put their own interests at the forefront of all decisions. This helped lead to the formation of the AFL Commission in late 1985, although it initially was still answerable to the VFL board.

Elliott's grand plan, as Oakley points out, for an independent four-man board and a national competition, with matches played on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and even a Monday night, would "all but describe the current AFL". 

As some clubs fought for preservation and others looked to add to their wealth, the struggling Tigers proposed they play 11 matches in Brisbane in 1987, while Carlton, in 1992, suggested it play its away games in Sydney. That deal, which would have secured the Blues $2 million a year, was scuttled by Collingwood president Allan McAlister.

Ahead of the salary cap being introduced in 1987, clubs were offered a moratorium to reveal their individual total player payments. It was expected most clubs would fit under $750,000. While the Blues and Essendon - expected to crash through that - came in at $1.1 million and $1 million respectfully, Hawthorn, dubbed the "family club", provided the shock, revealing payments totalling $1.3 million.

Oakley details the birth of the AFL's rich television rights deals and also the stress he and his family were under which heightened during the proposed merger between Fitzroy and Footscray (to be called the Fitzroy Lions) in 1989, memorably sparking the "Up Yours Oakley" stickers.

"I had guards on my home at Wheelers Hill for nigh on three months, and there were death threats," Oakley said. "One night the guards removed a guy who was trying to climb over the fence. My children were escorted to and from school. It was a highly charged environment, a really big concern. I tried to keep things calm for the family, but it had an impact."

A then young lawyer Peter Gordon worked feverishly to ultimately save the Bulldogs, commencing, as Oakley says, "a wonderful stewardship of his club that continues today".

The Bulldogs needed to raise $2 million to initially remain in the league. In the book, Gordon reveals that McAlister offered him a secret deal. If the Bulldogs fell about $200,000 short in raising the necessary funds, the Magpies would provide the money, but only if the Bulldogs handed over their star player, Tony McGuinness. The deal was not needed.

"The one thing we did learn, the big and positive message from the whole affair, was that we should never underestimate the passion and loyalty of ordinary fans," Oakley said.

* The Phoenix Rises Ross Oakley with Jonathan Green and Geoff Slattery. RRP $34.95. The Slattery Media Group. Launches Tuesday.

HuffPost Australia

AFL 2016

Round 1
Thu, 24 MarTimes shown AEDT
RIC vs CAR 19:20MCG
Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
MEL vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
NTH vs ADE 19:25ES
SYD vs COL 19:25ANZ
Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
PTA vs STK 15:20Adelaide Oval
WCE vs BRI 19:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
GEE vs HAW 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
COL vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
ADE vs PTA 13:45Adelaide Oval
ESS vs MEL 14:10MCG
BRI vs NTH 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:25ES
FRE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:10SO
HAW vs WCE 15:20MCG
CAR vs SYD 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
PTA vs ESS 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs COL 13:45MCG
RIC vs ADE 14:10ES
SYD vs GWS 16:35SCG
GCF vs CAR 19:25MS
WCE vs FRE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs MEL 13:10BA
WBU vs HAW 15:20ES
GEE vs BRI 16:40SS
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GEE 13:45MCG
HAW vs STK 14:10AS
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
CAR vs WBU 19:25ES
ADE vs SYD 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs PTA 13:10SO
COL vs MEL 15:20MCG
NTH vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ADE 19:50MCG
Sat, 23 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD vs WCE 13:40SCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs BRI 19:25ES
PTA vs GEE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs GWS 13:10ES
FRE vs CAR 16:10Domain Stadium
MEL vs RIC 19:10MCG
Mon, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 29 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs WBU 19:50ES
Sat, 30 AprTimes shown AEST
MEL vs STK 13:45ES
ADE vs FRE 14:10Adelaide Oval
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
RIC vs PTA 19:25MCG
GEE vs GCF 19:25SS
Sun, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs SYD 13:10G
CAR vs ESS 15:20MCG
WCE vs COL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 06 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 07 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
GEE vs WCE 14:10SS
SYD vs ESS 16:35ANZ
GCF vs MEL 17:10MS
WBU vs ADE 19:40ES
FRE vs GWS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs NTH 15:20ES
PTA vs BRI 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 13:45ES
HAW vs FRE 14:10AS
GWS vs GCF 16:35Spotless Stadium
BRI vs COL 19:25G
RIC vs SYD 19:25MCG
Sun, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs STK 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs SYD 19:50MCG
Sat, 21 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 13:45MCG
GCF vs ADE 14:10MS
PTA vs WCE 16:35Adelaide Oval
NTH vs CAR 19:25ES
FRE vs RIC 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
GWS vs WBU 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs ESS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs NTH 19:50SCG
Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs HAW 13:45G
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
STK vs FRE 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:25MCG
ADE vs GWS 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GEE 13:10ES
COL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs GCF 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 03 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 19:50BA
Sat, 04 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs MEL 13:45MCG
CAR vs BRI 14:10ES
GEE vs GWS 16:35SS
GCF vs SYD 19:25MS
FRE vs ESS 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs PTA 13:10MCG
WBU vs WCE 15:20ES
ADE vs STK 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 10 JunTimes shown AEST
ESS vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 11 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs WBU 13:40Adelaide Oval
BRI vs FRE 16:35G
GEE vs NTH 19:25ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
STK vs CAR 13:10ES
RIC vs GCF 15:20MCG
GWS vs SYD 16:40Spotless Stadium
Mon, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 17 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs WCE 13:40G
FRE vs PTA 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs MEL 13:10SCG
ESS vs GWS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 23 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs NTH 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 24 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs FRE 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs BRI 13:40MCG
GWS vs CAR 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 15:20AS
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 30 JunTimes shown AEST
WCE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 01 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
GCF vs STK 13:40MS
SYD vs WBU 16:35SCG
CAR vs COL 19:25MCG
Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs ADE 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Thu, 07 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 08 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs SYD 19:50SS
Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs COL 13:40Spotless Stadium
GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
WBU vs RIC 19:25ES
MEL vs FRE 19:40TIO
Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:10MCG
WCE vs NTH 15:20Domain Stadium
ESS vs STK 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Thu, 14 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs HAW 19:20SCG
Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
FRE vs GEE 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs ESS 13:40MCG
NTH vs PTA 16:35ES
WBU vs GCF 19:25CAZ
ADE vs COL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs WCE 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 15:20ES
BRI vs GWS 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 13:45ANZ
GCF vs FRE 14:10MS
WCE vs MEL 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs STK 19:25ES
GEE vs ADE 19:25SS
Sun, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
HAW vs RIC 15:20MCG
PTA vs GWS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 29 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 19:50SS
Sat, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs RIC 13:45SO
HAW vs CAR 14:10AS
COL vs WCE 16:35MCG
BRI vs PTA 19:25G
NTH vs STK 19:25ES
Sun, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs GCF 13:10MCG
FRE vs SYD 15:20Domain Stadium
ADE vs ESS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 05 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 13:45SCG
MEL vs HAW 14:10MCG
GCF vs GWS 16:35MS
WBU vs NTH 19:25ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs STK 13:10MCG
GEE vs ESS 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 12 AugTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 19:50ES
Sat, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs CAR 13:45G
HAW vs NTH 14:10MCG
GWS vs WCE 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs SYD 19:25ES
PTA vs MEL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GCF 13:10ES
RIC vs GEE 15:20MCG
FRE vs ADE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 19 AugTimes shown AEST
WCE vs HAW 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs SYD 13:45BA
RIC vs STK 14:10MCG
GWS vs FRE 16:35Spotless Stadium
COL vs GCF 19:25ES
PTA vs ADE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs MEL 13:10MCG
BRI vs GEE 15:20G
ESS vs WBU 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Sat, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs COL 12:00MCG
STK vs BRI 12:00ES
ESS vs CAR 12:00MCG
GCF vs PTA 12:00MS
SYD vs RIC 12:00SCG
NTH vs GWS 12:00ES
GEE vs MEL 12:00SS
ADE vs WCE 12:30Adelaide Oval
FRE vs WBU 14:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Adelaide Crows 0 0 0 0 - 0
Brisbane Lions 0 0 0 0 - 0
Carlton 0 0 0 0 - 0
Collingwood 0 0 0 0 - 0
Essendon 0 0 0 0 - 0
Fremantle 0 0 0 0 - 0
Geelong Cats 0 0 0 0 - 0
Gold Coast Suns 0 0 0 0 - 0
View all

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