Suns can win and Bear it

FOR all those with a vested and emotional interest in the Gold Coast Suns, tomorrow night's official birth against Carlton at the Gabba will be a night to remember.

For a small clan, it will also be a time to reminisce about when an earlier incarnation of a Carrara-based AFL team first took to the field.

Peter Knights is a legend of the Hawthorn Football Club and now part of the club's commercial operations team. But in late 1986, just a year after his high-flying and decorated playing career ended, he was named the inaugural coach of the then Brisbane Bears who, like the Suns, were based at Carrara.

The Bears should have been based in Brisbane, as the then Victorian Football League had stipulated as part of the $4 million licence fee, but the club - run under the private ownership of television and holiday resort tycoon, the late Christopher Skase, and former actor Paul Cronin - had sweet-talked officials into playing its matches on the Gold Coast. This, despite the administrative headquarters being in Brisbane and there being no regular training oval available.

While Guy McKenna's Suns have had more than two years to prepare, progressing through the under-18 competition and the VFL with a host of draft and trade concessions, the Bears had just four months.

As he reflected on that frustrating yet exhilarating time over a coffee at Waverley Park, Knights said those days remain part of his life.

''It has been virtually since the [Suns'] licence was issued. I reflect back from then, thinking, gee, OK, here is this new team playing out of the Gold Coast, virtually getting three seasons to prepare,'' he said.

''Back in 1987, I had four months to prepare. You look at the concessions that were given to recruit players at the end of '86, in preparation for '87, as against the draft concessions Gold Coast has received. You just can't compare it.''

The VFL asked clubs to provide at least two players for the new club, although most clubs, naturally, would not give up high-quality talent. Indeed, some offered retired and injured players, while one club even offered one who had already shifted overseas.

''We were very unpopular in Brisbane because the initial licence was offered to the club on the basis they were going to be playing games out of Brisbane, so we virtually had no support from the Brisbane media at all, or the corporate sector, because we went down to the Gold Coast,'' Knights said. ''I suppose it was [a] matter of back then, the licence fee was paid and that was about it. You take the money and run, so to speak, whereas now there is no doubt the AFL has learnt from that lesson to build a foundation. I suppose I see it as a guarantee this Gold Coast Football Club will not only survive but it will be super competitive very quickly.''

There was never any chance of that happening in '87, although the ''Bad News Bears'' as one media outlet would come to dub them shocked the football world when, on Friday, March 27, 1987, they defeated North Melbourne by 33 points in round one at the MCG.

In front of 14,096 fans, with only family and friends supporting the new boys, former Bomber Brenton Phillips kicked five goals, 1985 Brownlow medallist Brad Hardie added two, skipper Mark Mickan had 20 hit-outs, while recycled stars including former Collingwood captain Mark Williams, Geoff Raines and Mike Richardson had plenty of the ball through the midfield to shock John Kennedy's Kangaroos.

''North Melbourne were the night-time specialists at the time, which you can remember, and low and behold, we won the game,'' Knights said.

''We probably took the Kangaroos by surprise albeit from my point of view, North Melbourne coached by John Kennedy, well, John Kennedy was the biggest influence on probably my life, except for my father, such is his aura.

''He was my first coach and the respect I had for him. Here is my first coaching appointment, I am coming up against the great John Kennedy. I knew he would be saying to them you can't take this game for granted, cannot take it easy, but as it turned out, we had a good win.''

Knights doesn't recall what he said in his final pre-game address, but he believes his message was clear.

''There is no doubt it was all about, it goes without saying, how much have we got to prove, everyone has written us off, a lot of you guys have something to prove because they were rejected by their club, the media had written us off, we were a bit of laughing stock really, no one knew many players on their list, we had a nothing-to-lose attitude - there was no pressure on us,'' he said. ''We certainly built up that us-versus-them mentality.''

It was a special and rare moment, for the players knew they were creating history.

''The feeling around was pretty exciting because not many get a chance to be a part of a new footy team, a new footy club that is built from scratch, particularly at that level, the highest level. We all knew the challenge was going to be great but the excitement was great,'' Knights said.

There were challenges aplenty in that maiden year, not the least learning the words to the team song - Beware the Mighty Bear - after beating the Kangaroos.

''We all stood around with a sheet of paper singing to this tune,'' Knights said. ''Who could ever imagine that. I'm sure when the Gold Coast win their first game I reckon they may have rehearsed their song a little bit … in the VFL and TAC Cup. That's something I'll probably never forget, singing the song in the rooms off a sheet of paper because it was so unexpected.''

What was also unexpected was the Bears claiming six wins - eventually finishing 13th, a game ahead of the bottom-placed Tigers. The West Coast Eagles, also in their maiden season, finished eighth with 11 wins.

For all the money and concessions now thrown at the Suns, many experts feel they will be lucky to even finish with four wins.

Knights is not one of them. He has kept a close eye on the Suns, even using the club's website to keep up to date on the redevelopment at Carrara. He is also looking forward to returning north in round 24 with the Hawks.

''It will be interesting to see how they go but I have no doubt when you look at their list and their coaching staff, they will be competitive,'' he said of the Suns. ''They have arguably some of the best boys in the land over the last couple of years on their list. They will be competitive very quickly and they will be successful very quickly. I've no doubt.''