Branding 101

The year was 1999 and I had embarked upon my Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design, at Melbourne’s RMIT University. My lecturer at the time was a man named Max Robinson, who had been at the forefront of design and branding in this country for many years. We all know his design — it has lived in all of our wallets and it takes the form of the Australian $10 note. So Max is no slouch when it comes to all things design. One thing stuck with me that Max taught us and it has come to my mind again in recent years. We were undertaking a branding project — in this instance it was packaging. The point of the project, Max stressed, is that people become attached to products and brands. They are a reflection of who they are, where they come from and what makes them tick. If you rip their beloved brand from the shelf and replace it with a foreign look and feel to which the audience is not accustomed, they become alienated and go elsewhere. Therefore, if you even THINK about changing that brand, you’d better do it slowly and you’d better do it thoughtfully or you’ll lose your target demographic.

Case in question — the 2010 redevelopment of the Brisbane Lions logo and branding.

I’ve been a Fitzroy supporter since the day I was born. My Dad, Jack had grown up in Camperdown in Western Victoria when Fitzroy was zoned to the Hampton league, meaning that it was a breeding ground for Fitzroy players (we can thank the Hampton League for giving us Brian Brown and in turn, our Champion captain, who haled from nearby Warrnambool). When Dad was a young boy watching the footy, he had a fascination with a bloke with sailor tatts long before the sleeves of Beams, Buddy and Swan were saturating our television sets. His name was Kevin and since my Grandpa’s name was Kevin, it seemed like a pretty good omen. Of course, the player was Kevin “”Bulldog”” Murray and he became Dad’s idol with his passion and toughness – after all, who else could play VFL footy with a back brace?

So, as luck would have it, Dad had 3 daughters so he had to push his love of the Royboys onto someone. We grew up in Geelong so the outer at Kardinia Park was a more likely Saturday afternoon excursion than the trek up to Victoria Park, Princes Park or whichever venue the Nomadic Lions were playing. My eldest sister Abbey succumbed to peer pressure and switched to Geelong. My youngest sister Adrienne took a fleeting interest in North, but I carried on taking my scarf and transistor to Sleepy Hollow and listening to my Roys whilst watching the great Gary Ablett Senior at work.

Our wins were so few and far between that we remember them all like we’d won the premiership. “”Roosy”” kicking the winning goal after “”Perty”” went to Collingwood, the last win at the Western Oval against Freo, and my earliest football memory — Dad screaming as Micky Conlan kicked the winning goal against Essendon in 1986. We were one win away from a Grand Final birth that year.

In the years approaching the merger, when our beloved Roys were on their death bed at the hands of Ross Oakleigh and the AFL, I remember secretly hoping that, like watching a sick dog die, we could be put out of our misery. No less than 4 years of opening up the paper of a morning and seeing who was the next club to want a piece of our carcass had seen many a tear shed. The “”noble”” offer from Collingwood to honour us in the form of a lion in the crutch of their reserves side’s shorts was the last straw. We were a foundation club, a winner of 8 VFL Premierships, and we’d been stripped of our dignity by an organisation hungry for a national 16 team competition. Someone had to go. It appeared that it was to be us. We weren’t strong enough to fight anymore.

One of the biggest regrets I have in life is that I never went to Fitzroy’s last game in Melbourne against Richmond. Commitments with completing Year 12 CATS and Dad running a Hotel meant that we didn’t go. In recent years I’ve thought that it may have been because it was too hard for Dad to see. I feel like I missed the funeral of a family member. I’m always embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t there. I didn’t cry after the last game against Fremantle. The years at the AFL choking Fitzroy probably left us numb.

Dad and I were hoping for a North and Fitzroy merger. They were our second team and they were embracing us. When Brisbane swooped down in at the eleventh hour and gobbled up our team we were stunned and disenchanted. The league and all the clubs (bar North Melbourne and Footscray) had voted us to Queensland for their own selfish needs. The North-Fitzroy Kangaroos would be a SUPERCLUB to be feared! This was not fair! The poor Collingwoods and Carltons of the world stood no chance in the wake of the almighty Juggernaut from Arden Street! But of course we all know that the rest is history. The AFL did in fact see a super club, but it took a different form than they had predicted. As Bruce would say “”the irony was delicious””.

When we did merge with the Brisbane Bears in 1996, there were three things that we had taken with us that we could hold dear and identify with — our maroon, blue and gold, our song, and that almighty lion.

Today, with thanks to social networking via Twitter, I have many dear friends from Queensland who are as loyal and passionate about the club as the Fitzroy people. I don’t want to offend them, but the poor old Bears really did draw the short straw. A “”home”” at Cararra, a Koala “”Bear”” and a song that left a lot to be desired. Overnight that image had changed. The colours were adjusted, the Fitzroy anthem tweaked to embrace the two teams, and now they had THAT lion. They cound, and would, be a force, and Carrara would soon become the Gabbatoir.

The first 18 months were tough. The turning point was one day I went to Optus Oval to see the Lions play Carlton. The familiar names were there – Lynch, Chrissy J, Jarred Malloy, Martin Pike. The Fitzroy people were there. But then there was someone else. Someone who we supporters had been craving after our years following Fitzroy — he was our great captain Michael Voss. We had not seen a true star since the club was unable to keep Paul Roos and he was sold to Sydney for the scraps of change we so desperately needed to survive. In the opening minutes of the game, the opposition decided to employ some underhanded tactics. Their intentions were clear. Voss was to play no further part in the match. But as we all know, the Terminator refuses to die, and he returned to the field, strapped up like a Mummy, he made the men from Optus Oval look like boys.

I remember that night calling my Dad and saying “”we’re back””. If this football club from the Pineapple state is good enough for “”Bulldog”” Murray, it’s good enough for us.

Since that day we have wholeheartedly returned to the club in a membership capacity and rarely miss a game. We travel to Brisbane when money allows and feel like it is a true home away from home. Dad and I enjoyed three winning Grand Finals, seated behind the goals at the MCG. We knew then that our Royboys were the sacrificial lamb to achieve the ultimate success. On those three days in September, our precious lion worn over our hearts filled us with the most immense pride a supporter could feel as we sang “”we are the pride”” late into the night.


This is a brief history of my relationship with the Fitzroy/Brisbane Lions Football Club. I have many more stories of my beloved team but the underlying sentiment is always the same. What is central to my memories, and unites our supporters, is our Lion. Replacing it does a disservice to our Fitzroy heritage and our triple premiership side. It makes a mockery of those inducted into our Hall of Fame, which I was fortunate to attend last year. The “”Paddlepop”” as he is comically known, IS an inferior product — from a design and branding perspective. As a designer and a paid up Lions member, it embarrasses me to see the club portrayed in a bad light.

The “”Paddlepop”” Lion is not good enough for Hayden Bunton.

The “”Paddlepop”” Lion is not good enough for Kevin Murray.

The “”Paddlepop”” Lion is not good enough for Michael Voss.

The “”Paddlepop”” Lion is not good enough for Tom Rockcliff.

The “”Paddlepop”” Lion is not good enough for my Dad.

The “”Paddlepop”” Lion is not good enough for my 3 year old nephew.

The “”Paddlepop”” Lion is not good enough for me.

So, I ask of the current Brisbane Lions board — come to your senses, listen to the people that love this club and always will. #BRINGITBACK

I refuse to have my REAL lion removed from my back. He’s for life.

B O’Neil

Victorian member since 1999

Bachelor of Graphic Design (Honours)

1 Comment

  • jayson argall

    30.06.2013 at 03:49

    I too was a dyed in the wool royboy, and whilst it took a couple of years to fully embrace the ‘merger’, (ironically not winning initially helped in recalling Fitzroy), I feel that I follow the team with the same passion. However the guernsey change to the paddlepop lion really felt like a kick in the guts, and l, along with 2 other former Vic members I personally know have not renewed their membership since. Please listen to your supporters and bring back the old jumper. I honestly don’t understand the reasons for retaining the present one. It seems the Qld members haven’t embraced it according to the ones I’ve spoken to.

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