A suburban pub, a royal lineage, and the French national anthem — five quick conversation starters for the uninitiated footy fan today

There are plenty of things that footy fans take for granted that the vaguely interested find a little bit odd.

Is it weird that we all gather around and sing natty little ditties together whenever our team wins? Probably.

Is it odd that we fans feel a deep loyalty to suburbs and towns that many of us have never spent that much time in, let alone lived in, particularly when those clubs are no longer physically attached to the places anymore? Maybe.

But that is the beauty of sport — it’s a tribal coming together of people who share the same interests, the same passions, and the same towering highs that mask the cavernous lows.

Today, as the Brisbane Lions take on Collingwood in the final match of the season, we true believers welcome everyone into the fold to experience that feeling.

While you might infuriatingly refer to it as ‘sportsball’, you’re more than welcome to join in the conversations. Here’s a few easy talking points to get you rolling.

Why is the Brisbane Lions theme song based on the French national anthem?

Sacre bleu!

As it’s so poetically put on Wikipedia, La Marseillaise is “a revolutionary song, an anthem to freedom, a patriotic call to mobilise all the citizens and an exhortation to fight against tyranny and foreign invasion.”

It’s also a footy song belted out by burly athletes after a match, completely out of tune due to said athletes being well and truly knackered by the time the game is over.

Written by Fitzroy Hall of Fame inductee Bill Stephen on a 1952 end of season trip to Perth, the Lions version of the French national anthem is one of the few things that remains of the old club after the 1997 merger between Fitzroy and the Brisbane Bears.

A French revolutionary illustration and words for ‘La Marseillaise’ from 1795.

Stephen and his teammates, who had just watched Casablanca, were inspired by the scene where the French drown out the Nazis in a show of croissantational patriotism.

“I had gone (to Perth) with Victorian sides the two previous years. I was impressed with the Collingwood song, everyone belted it out, and everyone belted out the North Melbourne song which was later adopted by the Victorian side,” Stephen would later say.

“We really didn’t have a song that united us at Fitzroy, and I had just been to the pictures to see Casablanca and was impressed by the scene in the restaurant.

“The Germans were belting out their Nazi song, and some bloke started singing this French song. Gradually all the French joined in and overwhelmed the Germans with their voice. I was very impressed with the song, La Marseillaise.

“As we were in a carriage on our way to the West having a booze-up, I told the boys that we needed a good song and gave them the tune to La Marseillaise.

“Anyway, I wanted all the boys to help make up the song. I started them off with the first line, which was ‘we are the boys from Fitzroy my lads’, then I went to all the others and each gave me a different line.

“We must have sung it 30,000 times by the time we got home a fortnight later. That song kept Fitzroy people alive during our bad days. People used to sing it, and sing it, and sing it.”

The French government initially complained about its use, before they were assured the tune was a special tribute — or something.

“I later received a phone call from the French Embassy about the song, but told them not to be upset that we adopted their song. It was a tribute,” Stephen said.

“After we explained that we selected it out of all the other songs, they accepted it.”

Where did the Collingwood theme song come from?

Don’t tell Collingwood fans, but there’s something spine-tingling about hearing the Magpies theme song bellowed around the MCG.

Written by three-game Collingwood veteran Tom Nelson in 1906 on a club tour of Tasmania, the song is based on “Goodbye Dolly Gray”, a tune from the Spanish-American War that became popular as a Boer War anthem.


The 2010 Collingwood team belts out the song. It was the last season the Magpies won the flag.(Getty Images: Paul Kane)

A journalist from the Collingwood Observer, who was travelling with the team, described the song by saying “the sentiments are very pretty and the Tasmanians were delighted with them, but the ideas are too confident for the writer’s liking.”

After about 80 years the hierarchy at the Pies agreed, and changed the self-assured lyrics of “oh, the premiership’s a cakewalk” to “there is just one team we favour”, before realising that was even worse, and they changed it back.

Was Collingwood named after a pub?

It would be a noble and virtuous story if the suburb of Collingwood was named directly after Cuthbert Collingwood, the naval hero who partnered Lord Nelson on several great victories in the Napoleonic Wars.

But that’s not the Collingwood way. The suburb was named after a pub — maybe.


A bust of Baron Cuthbert Collingwood, of whom the suburb was named after either directly or indirectly via the Collingwood Hotel.

There is some conjecture around this, but the original pub in the area then known simply as Newtown was absolutely named after Baron Cuthbert Collingwood.

So, in order to put two and two together and come up with a sum total that equals an interesting yarn, it could be fair to assume that since the pub was there first, and the pub was called The Collingwood, that the surveyors — possibly over a pint or three — decided to name suburb after the pub.

Whether that’s true or not is up for debate, but it makes for a nice talking point.

What was Fitzroy named after? And Brisbane, for that matter?

For those who don’t know, the roots of the Brisbane Lions will always be linked to the suburb of Fitzroy, a founding member of the VFL that merged with the Brisbane Bears in 1997.

Melbourne’s first suburb (along with Collingwood) was named after Sir Charles Augustus FitzRoy, Governor of New South Wales from 1846 to 1855.

Now, if you want a bit of geek fun in your life, go to Sir Charles’s Wikipedia page and click through to his father’s page, then to his father’s father’s page and so on. The changing portraits of a long lineage of FitzRoy’s are actually pretty cool.

King Charles II

A portrait of Charles II of England, who was part of the FitzRoy line.(Getty Images)

Sir Charles, whose half-brother was the captain of the HMS Beagle of Charles Darwin fame, was the son General Lord Charles FitzRoy, an army officer and politician.

He was the son of Augustus FitzRoy, the British prime minister from 1768 to 1770.

He was the son of Lord Augustus FitzRoy, a crucial player in the naval theatre of the War of Austrian Succession.

He was the son of Charles FitzRoy, 2nd Duke of Grafton, a distant relative of Princess Diana and a prominent Lord.

He was the son of Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Grafton, and a key player in the Revolution of 1688.

And he was the illegitimate son of King Charles II, who was notable for being King Charles II.

FitzRoy as a name, for what it’s worth, was first heard around 1519 when King Henry VIII gave it to his son Henry. “Fitz” is a Norman-French term like “Mac” to mean “son of” (like Fitzpatrick or Fitzgerald), while Roy is an anglicised form of “roi” meaning King.

So Henry VIII’s first son was literally “Henry, son of King”, just in case the teachers got him mixed up with other Henrys in the kindergarten.

The settlement of Brisbane was named after the Brisbane River that flows through it, which in turn was named after Sir Thomas Brisbane, the governor of New South Wales from 1821 to 1825.

And the word ‘Brisbane’ is thought to have come from the Scottish language, meaning ‘to break bone’, which doesn’t bare thinking about when it comes to playing footy.

When did Brisbane become known as the Lions?

Unlike the Hawthorn Mayblooms and the Geelong Pivotonians, where their old nicknames were kind of rubbish, Fitzroy’s original nickname of the ‘Gorillas’ is one that should have stuck.

Using the gorilla as a mascot from the late-30s until 1957, the club then decided they needed an animal that was more fear-inducing. It is unclear if they had ever seen a picture of a gorilla at that point.

Re-nicknamed the Lions, Fitzroy went on to record four decades of mediocrity, never again making the grand final before being forced into a merger with Brisbane at the end of 1996.


The original Brisbane Bears logo, from the when the team joined the league in 1987.

Brisbane before that point had been known as the infinitely uninspiring Bears.

And it was uninspiring for several reasons.

For one, their mascot was quite clearly a koala, not a bear. For two, koalas are lazy little buggers that mostly eat, sleep, and get high on eucalyptus leaves. And for three, the logo looked like an annoyed, cross-eyed koala that had just been stung in the face by a bee.

Thankfully, the Bears nickname died a quick death by that merger in 1997 and they inherited Fitzroy’s mistake instead.

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Author: Russell White