Fans hold up 'No Merger' signs during the Melbourne-Hawthorn game in round 22, 1996. Picture: AFL Photos

THE TUMULTUOUS events of 1996, when the game's oldest club almost merged with a rival that had won nine premierships in the past 36 years, are never likely to be repeated. 

But 28 years ago, the prospect of the Melbourne Hawks was all too real for the Demons and Hawks supporter bases. 

After the secret merger talks were revealed in late July 1996, emotions ran high among the respective fan groups ahead of their clash in round 22 at the MCG. 

Thousands of 'No Merger' signs dotted the 63,000-strong crowd at the home of football as supporters filled the stands for what could have been their final look at their respective teams. 

And they were treated to a modern classic. 

Hawthorn champion Jason Dunstall kicked 10 goals, including his 100th of the season, while David Neitz (six) and Jeff Farmer (four) shared the same amount for the Demons. 


The Hawks led by two points heading into the final term and the clash came down to the final seconds, as Melbourne's final surge forward to Neitz was thwarted and Hawthorn held on for a heartfelt one-point win.


Weeks later, the merger was also defeated when Hawthorn members voted 'no' after the Demons membership, carried by a significant number of proxy votes from a few influential members, narrowly voted in favour. 

The Demons returned to finals in 1998 under coach Neale Daniher, and made the Grand Final in 2000, but it was Hawthorn that tasted the ultimate success first with premiership glory in 2008, and again with the famous hat-trick of flags in 2013-15. 

Melbourne finally saluted in 2021, claiming its first premiership since 1964 and ending the game's longest current premiership drought. 

But had the events of late 1996 taken an alternative turn, the fates of those two clubs, their hundreds of thousands of fans and the AFL itself would have been very, very different.