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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.

AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78vs RIC 105 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115vs GCF 89 Stats
SYD 72vs ESS 60 Stats
BRI 74vs COL 86 Stats
WBU 97vs WCE 87 Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78vs GWS 87 Stats
ADE 140vs NTH 63 Stats
FRE 75vs PTA 68 Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123vs GEE 61 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131vs CAR 62 Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66vs WBU 85 Report Stats
GWS 101vs MEL 56 Stats
COL 63vs ADE 90 Report Stats
GCF 76vs STK 104 Stats
PTA 44vs SYD 92 Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60vs FRE 104 Stats
ESS 78vs HAW 76 Stats
NTH 133vs BRI 51 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140vs STK 66 Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84vs ESS 105 Stats
ADE 80vs MEL 55 Stats
SYD 111vs GWS 90 Report Stats
NTH 105vs PTA 113 Stats
BRI 58vs RIC 137 Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127vs WBU 57 Stats
GEE 105vs GCF 96 Stats
WCE 81vs FRE 111 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51vs MEL 83 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81vs CAR 121 Report Report Stats
ESS 49vs COL 69 Report Stats
GWS 119vs GCF 53 Stats
PTA 99vs HAW 91 Stats
FRE 74vs SYD 60 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65vs WCE 118 Stats
GEE 67vs NTH 83 Stats
WBU 125vs ADE 68 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45vs COL 120 Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76vs GEE 85 Stats
SYD 73vs WBU 77 Stats
GCF 118vs BRI 54 Stats
NTH 70vs HAW 130 Stats
WCE 120vs GWS 33 Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50vs FRE 118 Stats
STK 80vs ESS 82 Stats
ADE 91vs PTA 115 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL 59vs GEE 100 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 109vs RIC 74 Stats
WBU 87vs STK 94 Stats
GWS 108vs HAW 98 Stats
GCF 78vs ADE 119 Stats
MEL 50vs SYD 88 Stats
FRE 80vs ESS 52 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 75vs BRI 84 Report Stats
PTA 68vs WCE 78 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 82vs NTH 93 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 119vs STK 73 Stats
HAW 155vs MEL 50 Stats
CAR 57vs GWS 135 Stats
SYD 120vs GEE 77 Stats
WCE 135vs GCF 43 Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU 88vs FRE 101 Stats
RIC 105vs COL 100 Report Stats
BRI 102vs PTA 65 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 140vs CAR 63 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 78vs WCE 131 Report Stats
GWS 108vs ADE 84 Report Stats
GCF 63vs COL 132 Report Stats
HAW 69vs SYD 73 Report Stats
FRE 115vs NTH 42 Report Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 136vs BRI 78 Report Stats
MEL 103vs WBU 64 Report Stats
PTA 43vs RIC 76 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 122vs CAR 62 Report Stats
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW 93vs GCF 40 Report Stats
MEL 54vs PTA 115 Report Stats
WBU 113vs GWS 68 Report Stats
RIC 72vs ESS 59 Report Stats
ADE 57vs FRE 68 Report Stats
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI 86vs STK 108 Report Stats
COL 112vs NTH 95 Report Stats
WCE 120vs GEE 64 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE 70vs RIC 97 Report Stats
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 90vs ADE 99 Report Stats
GCF 41vs SYD 93 Report Stats
ESS 53vs GEE 122 Report Stats
PTA 100vs WBU 62 Report Stats
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS 97vs BRI 67 Report Stats
NTH 85vs WCE 75 Report Stats
STK 69vs HAW 132 Report Stats
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL 85vs COL 110 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA 69vs GEE 92 Report Stats
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF 46vs FRE 53 Report Stats
WCE 96vs ESS 46 Report Stats
NTH 75vs SYD 91 Report Report Stats
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL 119vs GWS 77 Report Stats
STK 85vs MEL 83 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE 85vs HAW 114 Report Stats
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC 70vs WCE 90 Report Stats
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 110vs PTA 106 Report Stats
GWS 61vs NTH 117 Report Stats
WBU 146vs BRI 74 Report Stats
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 89vs MEL 113 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE 80vs COL 73 Report Stats
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD 77vs RIC 95 Report Stats
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW 114vs ESS 76 Report Stats
BRI 69vs ADE 82 Report Stats
STK 56vs WBU 62 Report Stats
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 103vs GCF 69 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD 94vs PTA 84 Report Stats
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL 91vs HAW 101 Report Stats
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 78vs GWS 69 Report Stats
GCF 125vs NTH 70 Report Stats
WBU 64vs CAR 53 Report Stats
MEL 60vs WCE 114 Report Stats
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS 52vs STK 162 Stats
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE 84vs BRI 48 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA 66vs COL 63 Report Stats
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 71vs CAR 41 Report Stats
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS 69vs MEL 60 Report Stats
WBU 95vs GCF 73 Report Stats
NTH 120vs GEE 79 Report Stats
WCE 147vs ADE 91 Report Stats
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS 84vs STK 49 Report Stats
HAW 115vs FRE 43 Report Stats
BRI 49vs SYD 70 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH 93vs ESS 68 Report Stats
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE 72vs WBU 64 Report Stats
GCF 79vs GWS 94 Report Stats
COL 56vs WCE 87 Report Stats
SYD 57vs HAW 146 Report Stats
FRE 95vs CAR 53 Report Stats
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL 60vs BRI 36 Report Stats
PTA 113vs ADE 116 Report Stats
STK 73vs RIC 89 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR 35vs HAW 173 Report Stats
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS 42vs GEE 69 Stats
ADE 125vs GCF 80 Stats
RIC 78vs FRE 82 Stats
ESS 116vs PTA 129 Stats
BRI 38vs NTH 110 Report Stats
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU 104vs COL 86 Report Stats
MEL 46vs STK 83 Report Stats
WCE 103vs SYD 51 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW 53vs RIC 71 Report Stats
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE 113vs BRI 57 Stats
COL 54vs MEL 91 Report Stats
SYD 117vs ADE 65 Report Stats
CAR 54vs NTH 118 Report Stats
GCF 83vs WCE 83 Report Stats
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA 112vs STK 49 Report Stats
ESS 40vs WBU 127 Report Stats
FRE 84vs GWS 63 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE 88vs RIC 52 Report Stats
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 105vs CAR 87 Report Stats
WBU 128vs PTA 64 Report Stats
BRI 100vs GCF 114 Report Stats
GEE 95vs SYD 63 Report Stats
WCE 74vs HAW 88 Report Stats
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL 92vs NTH 127 Report Stats
GWS 93vs ESS 61 Report Stats
STK 59vs FRE 96 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD 87vs COL 76 Report Stats
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS 59vs ADE 171 Report Stats
NTH 120vs STK 83 Report Stats
PTA 111vs GWS 90 Report Stats
GEE 85vs HAW 121 Report Stats
BRI 131vs CAR 67 Report Stats
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC 138vs GCF 55 Report Stats
WBU 153vs MEL 55 Report Stats
FRE 80vs WCE 104 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW 86vs PTA 108 Report Stats
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 56vs RIC 147 Report Stats
GWS 44vs SYD 133 Report Stats
GCF 97vs ESS 95 Report Stats
STK 97vs GEE 97 Report Stats
ADE 131vs BRI 44 Report Stats
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH 94vs FRE 83 Report Stats
CAR 78vs MEL 55 Report Stats
WCE 162vs WBU 85 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE 62vs COL 110 Report Stats
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS 132vs CAR 51 Report Stats
HAW 134vs BRI 62 Report Stats
NTH 73vs WBU 96 Report Stats
ESS 47vs RIC 74 Report Stats
GCF 51vs PTA 88 Report Stats
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE 126vs WCE 69 Report Stats
STK 38vs SYD 135 Report Stats
FRE 108vs MEL 54 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
RIC ($1.29)vs NTH ($3.60) 19:50ES
Sat, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
GEE ($2.50)vs ADE ($1.53) 13:05SS
BRI ($4.50)vs WBU ($1.20) 13:45G
PTA vs FRE 15:50Adelaide Oval
HAW ($1.01)vs CAR ($17.00) 16:40MCG
SYD ($1.04)vs GCF ($11.00) 19:20SCG
WCE ($1.04)vs STK ($11.00) 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
MEL ($3.20)vs GWS ($1.36) 13:10ES
COL ($1.28)vs ESS ($3.70) 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 21 17 4 0 125.10 68
West Coast Eagles 21 15 5 1 143.00 62
Hawthorn 21 15 6 0 156.77 60
Sydney Swans 21 15 6 0 124.11 60
Richmond 21 14 7 0 121.39 56
Western Bulldogs 21 14 7 0 116.76 56
Adelaide Crows 20 13 7 0 119.10 54
North Melbourne 21 13 8 0 109.08 52
View all
 

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