The VFL’s 8 Greatest Rivalries

It’s not uncommon within sports-writing circles to compile lists and rank things in orders that could be argued as completely subjective and ultimately frivolous. Fistball is not immune to this. Hence, we have decided to delve deep into the rivalries that fuel the fire of Australian fistball, and then rank them based on the author’s own biased opinion. Please note that the author of this piece is the captain of the Fistroy Lions – Chris ‘Super Mario’ Milne – and therefore this list should be taken completely with a grain of only the finest organic salt.

8. Westside Wombats vs FistStorm

Ok, we’ll openly admit that this first rivalry is a bit of a stretch. Some may suggest that two Fistivus tournaments is not enough time to build a solid rivalry, and quite frankly that would be a completely justified argument. However, if the results of Fistivus XVII are any indication, perhaps we are on the verge of the fiercest rivalry in the VFL? Wishful thinking? Perhaps, but give it time to grow. Regardless, the first seeds have been planted – after going winless in their inaugural hit out at Fistivus XVI, Fist Connection UK rebranded as FistStorm and upped their game at Fistivus XVII to claim their first-ever win in Fistivus history – against the Westside Wombats.

Now, tied in last place on points at the bottom of the 2016 VFL Ladder, both teams will be trying to play hot potato with the Lanterne Rouge, keen to offload the ‘red outdoor lamp of shame’ to a team more worthy – the best way to avoid the gift of the over-sized wooden spoon at season’s end.

Both teams also happen to be pioneers in the world of Australian women’s fistball, with the two teams having fielded a total of 10 female players between them so far this year. Perhaps some inter-team competitiveness in the inaugural Australian Women’s Fistball Team will help fuel this Fistivus rivalry? We’ll see.

7. Fistroy Lions vs Das Fist

One of the oldest, and most traditional rivalries in the history of the Victorian Fistball League, yet probably one of the most lopsided. Two foundation teams of Australian fistball that were initially built on family ties, they have displayed a respectable level of good-natured animosity towards each other since the first volleyball was punched over a rope in an attempt to replicate the sport of ‘fistball’, and this has continued as one team has flourished while the other has battled for respectability.

Cousins and inaugural captains, Das Fist’s Rolf ‘Godfister’ Petersen and Fistroy Lions’ James ‘The Coburg Sledgehammer’ Atkinson campaigned to their respective friends in order to build their own teams, with the full intent of inflicting soul-crushing defeats upon each other. It was only then that one could claim the title of ‘Superior Cousin’ within the extended family, we assume. After the Lions’ victory at the inaugural Fistivus, Das Fist responded by releasing a North Korea-esque propaganda video, damning the Lions and unsuccessfully imploring the fistball masses to shun the “wanker hipsters of the Inner North”. Fistroy retaliated by trading Lions fill-in player (and close friend of the Lions captain) Richard ‘Dwrn’ Morgan to Das Fist prior to Fistivus III, reportedly in exchange for a coconut and a warm can of Victoria Bitter, knowing fully that he was the sole weakness in the Lions outfit at that point.

After the Das Fist-organised Covo uniform disaster of September 2013 (where the Lions were left with playing uniforms that earned the moniker of “The Satin Candy Clowns” due to their colourful hideousness), the Lions wore the ill-fated uniforms only one more time in their fistball history – at the subsequent Fistivus, and only in one ‘heritage round’ matchup… against Das Fist. It is rumoured that after the Lions won that matchup, the uniforms were ceremonially covered in gasoline and incinerated atop a blazing bonfire at Debneys Park.

While both teams have changed significantly since that initial 2013 campaign, the rivalry continues, albeit in a slightly less antagonistic form. More recently however, both teams were forced to put aside their past and work together as a hybrid unit – dubbed Das Fistroy – at Fistivus XVII, due to both teams being under-manned on the day. The fact that this hybrid team won the Peter Norman Trophy could be interpreted two ways – by overcoming their rivalry and working together, they were able to achieve the ultimate goal (teamwork! mutual respect!)… or alternatively, Das Fist can never truly enjoy this PNT victory (their only one so far), knowing they needed the help of the Fistroy Lions to achieve it.

6. Bay City Fisters vs The Fist & The Furious

This rivalry is proving to be one of the fastest growing rivalries in Australian fistball, with simmering tension and escalating mind games pushing these matchups to the edge of explosion. A touch dramatic perhaps, but let’s see if we can start the rumour mill going.

Featuring two power hitters of the Australian National Fistball Team – Carl ‘Carlossus’ Creasey and Lee ‘The Power Station’ Morony – facing off against one another, these matchups always promise pounding serves and frenetic defensive activity to return said serves. While historically The Fist & The Furious have held a considerable competitive edge over the Bay City Fisters in the qualifying stages of competitions (winning all 8 meetings between the two teams), the Bay City Fisters have come away victorious the 2 times they have met in the playoff stages.

Perhaps Bay City get in the respective heads of the Furious boys?

“Lee, why don’t you let someone else serve?” is a common taunt from the Bay City defensive line, drawing attention to the Bay City strategy of frequently rotating their servers, in stark contrast of the F&F’s tendency to prefer a consistent serving force.

“Oh, is Lee going to serve again? What a surprise!”

While it’s simply some good-natured ribbing designed to put the Furious off their game, it has certainly added some spice to this rivalry. In fact, the recent increase of on-field sledging, thanks largely to new recruits from Fist Club and FistStorm, appears to have returned Australian fistball to the faux-arrogance posturing of 2013; a development that can surely only be considered a welcome one.

While The Fist & The Furious have won 2 of their 3 matchups so far in 2016, only one aggregated point separates them from those matches, and Bay City have already claimed one PNT, with the Furious have not. With the Bay City Fisters and The Fist & The Furious holding first and second place on the 2016 VFL Ladder after 2 tournaments, hopefully we’ll see more electrifying battles between these two in the tournaments to come.

5. Westside Wombats vs Bay City Fisters

When Westside captain Malcolm ‘Mr Fister’ Donnellon invited hometown mate Brent ‘Jellyfist’ Lehmann to fill in for the Wombats at Fistivus XVI, he may not have realised that he was not only playing an important role in establishing the first Geelong-based fistball side, but that he was also helping to create one of his own team’s most important future rivalries.

The Geelong-based Lehmann, after getting a taste for the fist and deciding he wanted more, immediately went about establishing his own team down the Princes Highway so that he could show those metropolitan soft-knucklers just how big fists grew when given some sea breeze and a bit of peace and quiet. Within weeks of this decision, photos were posted online of the new Bay City Fisters squad, seemingly 20 players deep. It appears the Geelong folk were just waiting for this sport to materialise.

Making their debut at the subsequent tournament – Fistivus VII – they immediately showed they would be a force to be reckoned with, displaying impressive fitness and intimidating firepower to force their way into the final on their first attempt. However, the team standing in the way of instant success was all too familiar with this new outfit; or at the very least, their captain was – it was the Westside Wombats. Bouncing back from a disappointing start to the year, the Wombats were firing on all cylinders, and after going a set down they fought back and dispatched of Bay City in a thrilling three-set final. The apprentice had not yet outgrown the master.

By the time the final tournament of 2014- Fistivus IX – came around, Bay City had already featured in two consecutive unsuccessful finals, and were looking ready to break the duck in their third attempt. This time, on the muddy banks of Williamstown, Westside were once again waiting for them. Again, it was a three-set thriller, but this time we would have a different winner – Bay City emerging victorious to claim their first PNT.

While the two teams have had contrasting campaigns since these initial battles, the ‘friendly foes’ connection between the two captains continues to keep this rivalry strong.

4. The Fist & The Furious vs Fist Club

While this is a rivalry that may well have been quietly simmering for some time, it now appears to be really starting to take shape between these two consistently top teams.

Birthed at the same tournament – Fistivus III – these two teams have been pinnacles of consistency since, frequently featuring in the latter stages of Fistivus battles. Up until Fistivus XV however, Fist Club had experienced far greater success; claiming the Peter Norman Trophy 5 times from 6 attempts, including a historic ‘three-peat’ midway through the 2015 season. On the other hand, The Fist & The Furious (despite fielding easily the most consistent core line-up in the history of the VFL) seemed to be putting forward a case to be the fistball equivalent of that cinematic classic starring Katherine Heigl – 27 Dresses. In other words, they could not shake the “forever a bridesmaid” tag, failing in all 4 of their attempts at the big prize, including once during Fist Club’s bulldozing ‘three-peat’.

This all changed however, when Fistivus XV – the penultimate tournament of 2015 – was done and dusted. The Fist & The Furious, despite having not won a tournament for the year, were sitting in second place and still in contention for the 2015 Roger Willen Shield; a reward for their unflappable consistency. Fist Club, on the back of a dominant mid-season run, were sitting in first place. With Fist Club fielding another strong team at the final tournament, The Fist & The Furious would had to do something they had never done before in order to be the first team engraved into the Shield – they would have to win their first PNT at Fistivus XV. For those who love a good fairy tale finish, The Fist & The Furious delivered – coming back from a one set deficit in the final to defeat Fist Club in a three set thriller and finally drink from the PNT for the first time in their history, thereby claiming the Roger Willen Shield and securing a happy ending to their year. Just like Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses, [spoiler alert] they finally got to be the bride.

Of course, we should point out that Fist Club aren’t the ‘bad guy’ in this story… we just love a good cinematic fistball moment. While they haven’t yet been engraved onto the Roger Willen Shield, they’ll be pushing for it again in 2016, and until then – they’ll be pretty happy with their 5 PNTs (equal most in history) so far.

With the finals matchups now tied at 1-1, and The Fist & The Furious captain Jason ‘Butchers’ Beelders pipping Fist Club captain Bryce ‘Pope’ Griesheimer for the inaugural Klemens Kronsteiner Medal, this has all the makings of one of the future all-time great rivalries.

3. Fistroy Lions vs The Fist & The Furious

Arguably the most self-proclaimed rivalry in Australian fistball, the Fistroy Lions and The Fist & The Furious legitimised their rivalry early in 2013 when they purchased a second-hand wooden tray shaped like a leaf from the Salvation Army, named it the ‘Punt Road Plate’, and declared that the two teams would battle for this honour every time the matched up against each other.

The connection between the two teams runs deep – the Fist & The Furious were formed after the original team members attended a Fistroy Lions Family Day Fist Off social gathering, and the Fist & The Furious team name was chosen after a suggestion from Fistroy captain Chris ‘Super Mario’ Milne during a drunken night out together at the dog races. In addition, star Fistroy defensiveman Eric ‘The Dog’ Maddocks has not only worked with the entire Furious squad at some point or another in an occupational capacity, but has also shared living arrangements with several of them. As a result, no shortage of sledging and playful belittling has occurred on the fistball field between these two friendly rivals.

On the field, the two teams have both experienced levels of success, albeit on slightly different journeys. In the first two years of Fistvi, the Lions were a dominant force, both in the competition and against the Furious – claiming 4 PNTs, while also winning 5 of 6 matchups against the F&F, including the Fistivus IV Peter Norman Trophy. Since 2015 however, the matchups have been much closer, with the two teams splitting their battles at 4 wins a piece. While The Furious have been able to retain their core line-up throughout the years, the Lions have leaked once-permanent players, leaving only 3 original players that participated in the non-FiFA sanctioned Punt Road Plate best-of-seven set battles at Fawkner Park. As a result, the Lions have battled to keep their self-proclaimed “Fistball Powerhouse Club” status while The Fist & The Furious have gone on to claim the most prestigious club prize in Australian fistball – the Roger Willen Shield.

That said however, like the ANZAC Day battles of Collingwood and Essendon, their matchups are always intriguing affairs, regardless of their place on the ladder (note – disregard the miserable upcoming ANZAC Day clash in this example). Since 2014, only 5 points in total separate the two teams over those 10 matchups, proving the rivalry is still alive and well. We can only hope that the ceremonial ‘presentation of the Punt Road Plate’ grovelling ceremony comes back into effect some time in 2016. It truly is a sight to behold.

2. Das Fist vs Westside Wombats

Ah yes, the traditional rivalry. The rivalry on which Australian fistball was formed. Never really a blockbuster matchup that has titillated Aussie fistball fans, but an important one none-the-less. Kind of like the Melbourne Demons playing… uh… St Kilda?

The importance of this matchup hinges on the captains of each respective club – leading Das Fist into battle (sometimes completely by himself) is Fistball Federation of Australia President and Co-Founder, Rolf ‘Godfister’ Petersen, while Vice-President and Co-Founder Malcolm ‘Mr Fister’ Donnellon holds the captain’s mantle for the Westside Wombats. Both teams were present at the first tournament, and have regularly locked horns since – the Wombats holding an 8 wins, 4 losses advantage historically. Every time they line up against each other, the history of Australian fistball is on display – the two captains who helped to both plant and cultivate the seeds of fistball in Australia, battling it out on the fistball field, with both teams still wearing their original Covo branded uniforms (that’s a long story, for another time).

Similar to many other historical rivalries, these two teams have rarely peaked in form at the same time (or at all), and have yet to meet in a single playoff battle. While the Wombats have chugged glory from the Peter Norman Trophy twice, Das Fist have only tasted similar success in the most recent Fistivus – the Godfister holding up the trophy as co-captain of a hybrid Das Fist/Fistroy Lions team. Despite this, both teams have recently been in a state of flux, losing regular squad members to injury/relocation/immigration visa laws, and will be hoping to cement regular squads in the hope they can finally one day meet in the penultimate clash.

1. Fist Club vs Fistroy Lions

Some may argue that this rivalry is not the greatest rivalry in Australian fistball, but it would also be fair to argue that those people are clearly fools.

No two teams in the VFL have endured greater tournament success, and no two teams have knocked fists more times in the penultimate battle for the Peter Norman Trophy.

Perhaps it was due to the melting pot from which both teams emerged? The first Fistroy Lions team to take the field in the inaugural Fistivus did so as one cohesive unit, with then-captain James ‘The Coburg Sledgehammer’ Atkinson gathering a group of friends, and friends of friends, to put on a red t-shirt and run out as an inaugural Fistroy Lion. Yet little did they know that from within that squad their greatest fistballing foil would emerge just 2 Fistivi later.

After making an impressive contribution for the Lions at Fistivus I, Bryce ‘Pope’ Griesheimer and James Thurlow splintered off to form their own team, immediately wreaking havoc on the competition in their first outing at Fistivus III. Not only did they claim the PNT in their first tournament outing as a new unit, but they did so by thoroughly outplaying the Lions in the final, thereby robbing the Lions of a historic PNT three-peat (a historic feat that Fist Club would successfully achieve just 2 years later). From that point onwards, they have regularly met in the penultimate battle, and despite the Lions holding a healthy head-to-head advantage in group matches (6 wins, 2 losses), Fist Club seemingly hold a mental advantage at the final stage; beating Fistroy four times in their five grand final meetings. In their 14 meetings on the fistball field, Fist Club have outscored Fistroy by a total of 10 points, proving that a Fist Club-Fistroy Lions matchup is always a competitive affair.

Not unlike many other traditional rivalries (Carlton vs Collingwood comes to mind), they have not actually squared off against each other in the grand final for some time (12 months is a long time in fistball), but the tension remains. With both teams performing well to start the 2016 season, perhaps it will not be long before those fiery fists are matched up against each other in the penultimate battle once again.

Fist on!

Fistivus III, 14th September 2013 - Fistroy Lions and Fist Club get ready to fist off in the final, in what would kick off the start of an iconic rivalry in Australian fistball. Note the horrific 'Satin Candy Clown' uniforms being worn by the Fistroy Lions - the whereabouts of these uniforms is now completely unknown, never to be spoken of again.
Fistivus III, 14th September 2013 – Fistroy Lions and Fist Club get ready to fist off in the final, in what would kick off the start of an iconic rivalry in Australian fistball. Note the horrific ‘Satin Candy Clown’ uniforms being worn by the Fistroy Lions – the whereabouts of these uniforms is now completely unknown, never to be spoken of again.