The Brisbane Lions were formed on 4 July, 1996, when the AFL approved a merger between the Brisbane Bears and the Fitzroy Lions. The club was officially launched on 1 November 1996 and joined the national competition in 1997.
It was the first union of two clubs in VFL/AFL history - the perfect combination of an emerging force, full of youthful enthusiasm and energy, with a proud foundation club, overloaded with history and tradition.
There was the Brisbane Bears, a vibrant newcomer to the national scene. Young and ambitious, they were just starting to find their feet in the 'big time' after a troubled 10-year infancy split between the Gold Coast and Brisbane but without the long-term backing to mount a serious challenge.
And there was Fitzroy, a traditional club of more than 100 years' standing. They had fought the odds more often than most and won yet now, as financial pressures threatened to engulf them once and for all, they accepted a merger in preference to the extinction offered by a takeover elsewhere.
Individually the Bears and the Lions might both have struggled. But together they would grow to become a formidable force within the toughest sporting competition in Australia; a legitimate two-city team, with vibrant supporter bases in Brisbane and Melbourne that would rejoice in unison when the king of the jungle roared longest and loudest at the MCG on that one day in September.
So, the Brisbane Lions officially joined the AFL competition in 1997. They played in the finals in their first year as a new identity, struggled on and off the field in '98, finishing with the wooden spoon, and since 1999 have been very much to the forefront of the competition, finishing 4th in '99 and 5th in 2000 before claiming an historic premiership in 2001.
It represented the first time the AFL premiership cup had travelled north of the Murray, and was a major breakthrough for the code in Queensland. The code and the club had squeezed perhaps 20 years' promotion and development into one afternoon on 29 September, 2001, as the Lions beat defending premiers Essendon 15-18-108 to 12-10-82.
Suddenly, Leigh Matthews, coach of the Lions, and Michael Voss, the premiership captain, were household names. So, too, Voss' 21 teammates who were overnight celebrities after a campaign which drew record focus onto AFL football in Queensland. It was the making of the code in Queensland, and a wonderful launching pad for the future – one that sees the game continue to develop in this state through the Lions’ work with the AFL, AFLQ and the Club’s own academy.
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