There was the 190-point loss to Fitzroy. A near quarter-century absence from finals capped by a then-record 96-point Grand Final loss to Hawthorn. And worse still - at least for diehard Demons - was another set of numbers, the outcome of the merger vote of 1996.

Mergers were part of the footy landscape because the league, determined to push Aussie Rules into the Rugby states, reckoned there were too many teams in Victoria. South Melbourne became Sydney, Fitzroy was sent to Brisbane, and $6 million was on offer to any two clubs willing to become one.

Unknown to their fans, the boards of Hawthorn and Melbourne agreed to do the deal. Hawthorn had been premiers five years before but were drowning in debt. Melbourne had been homeless nomads since being forced off the MCG and needed a summer training base. The AFL's $6 million would fix Hawthorn's problem and the club's Glenferrie home would become Melbourne's. The only hurdle? Both clubs said their members had to support the move.

According to the nominal count on the night of September 16, Melbourne members voting for the merger totalled 4679, compared to 4229 against, a margin of 450 votes and arguably the most shameful result in the club's history. But as any football fan knows, statistics are rarely the whole story.

On face value, it looked like Melbourne members wanted an easy way out. The reality was more complicated.

For one thing, most of the votes for the merger were proxy votes accumulated by the Melbourne board that was pushing for the merger. Three out of every four ordinary Demon members who turned up to vote on the night were opposed to the merger. And crucially so far as the anti-merger group was concerned, hundreds more had been turned away when the venue - the Dallas Brooks Hall - could not cope with the numbers that wanted to attend.

One Melbourne director gave 60 memberships to staff at his business, for them to cast a proxy for Melbourne to merge. Regardless of which team they supported, they could vote anyway.

As one journalist commented beforehand: “who knows how many mysteriously conjured proxy votes might make the Melbourne Hawks a reality despite the hordes of members passionately opposed?”

Ultimately fans of both clubs vented their fury at their respective meetings. Melbourne insiders were told privately it was more of a takeover than a merger, and Hawk fans agreed. Once more, more than 60% of Hawthorn members rejected the move and the merger was abandoned. Together, Melbourne and Hawthorn did the remaining Victorian clubs a favour. The decisive meetings were so chaotic, riotous and disrespectful of club leaders, that a shocked AFL abandoned its merger push.

For the previously untold story of how a group of volunteers took on the might of the AFL go to