The Formation & Pre-1900s
*From The North Story, by Gerard Dowling
There had been an attempt to establish a football team in the locality (North Melbourne) five years before (1864), but it had been short lived.
The North Melbourne Football Club quite likely did not have an official launching as a formally-constituted organisation. To begin with it was most probably little more than someone calling together a group of players and helpers to organise some competitive team sport for local cricketers during the winter months.
None of the details of the first historic game has been kept. Consequently we know neither the players' names, nor the team against which they pitted themselves.
The only story that has survived about the first game concerns the purchase of the side's original football. Tradition has it that it was made available through the generosity of Tom Jacks, who is reputed to have made a sale of some roofing iron, and with the proceeds to have bought this first football.
The site of this first match was "The Royal Park" which continued to be North's home ground for many years afterwards. Its precise location within the park is not known today, but it could be described as within the western boundaries of the Zoological Gardens.
Whether or not any particular person has the right to be accorded the specific title of "founder" of the North Melbourne Football Club we shall probably never know with certainty. However, there is one who was the inspiration and driving force behind the club's establishment and early development and who has been traditionally regarded as its founder by subsequent generations - James Henry Gardiner.
He was a young man of about 21 when the club was launched, and over the next 50 years rendered outstanding service both as a player and as the holder of several executive positions.
In 1870 North Melbourne entered the premiership competition for the first time, and they won their opening encounter. The Australasian also mentions two of North Melbourne's games for the year; both against the Carlton United Club. While results for the second match are unavailable (24th September), but it is informed that the former was won by North Melbourne - scoring the only goal for the afternoon.
1871: The only discoverable reference to the club in 1871 came in The Australasian's summing up at the close of the season:
"Besides the Clubs already mentioned, there are a host of others around Melbourne, and if all their doings were reported there would be a list that would fill up a considerable space. So that all that can be done is to just mention the names of some that can be thought of at the present moment, viz Prince Alfred, Defiance, Meteor, All Saints, Leicester, North Melbourne, St Mary's, Victory, Albion, Argyle, Williamstown and so on."
1872: Notice of two impending matches is the mention that is made in the press about North's activities on the field. We are told that the North Melbourne Club were due to play Collingwood on 8 June, and Carlton's Second Twenty on 13 July.
There was a significant breakthrough in this season: for the very first time we come across details of the club's events off the field. In The Australasian we have details of the first club social function of which we have any knowledge today:
"The president of the Club, Mr R Alcock, presented the gift in a few appropriate words, to which (captain) Mr Fuhrhop feelingly replied."
1873: North Melbourne had a busy and successful season. According to the secretary's report, tabled at the club's annual meeting, North had played 14 matches during the course of 1873, and of these, seven had been won, six had been drawn and one lost. After only five years of existence, the North Melbourne Football Club was really starting to make its presence felt.
The Australasian claimed North Melbourne was "well up in junior ranks" and the blue and white of North Melbourne had already become "familiar in our mouths as household words".
1874: North Melbourne were promoted to senior status; formerly the club had been accorded the barest amount of publicity, but their graduation led to newspaper space being devoted to upcoming matches.
North Melbourne and St Kilda, making their debut as senior clubs that season, met on 23 May, the honours being divided, each team scoring one goal. North participated in 10 other engagements, during the course of which they scored a win and sustained a loss against Albert Park, and downed St Kilda at the second meeting.
North were beaten by Melbourne, but refused to meet for the second encounter that had been arranged. Furthermore, North played one draw with Carlton, while the second match remained unfinished owing to a quarrel which occurred during the course of play.
1875: During the year the North Melbourne football club boasted a grand total of 120 members. Harry Fuhrhop again had the honour of captaining the players in their blue knickerbockers, white and blue hooped guernseys, cap and hose.
The team's programme for the year was a fixture of 18 encounters, though none of these was against the Melbourne Football Club, with whom North Melbourne were still unfortunately at loggerheads.
1876: Of events in North Melbourne's first 125 seasons, none is perhaps so exceptional as that which transpired in 1876. Before the season commenced, North ceased to function and amalgamated with Albert Park.
Despite the name "Albert Park cum North Melbourne", the amalgamation was North-dominated, with Fuhrhop holding the captaincy and much of the team's strength coming from former North players.
The dramatic merger was to prove short-lived, and lasted no more than a year. It provided breathing space and allowed those responsible for the club's continuance to plan well for the future.
1877: The club re-emerged in 1877 under the name Hotham, which it retained until the local municipality became North Melbourne in 1887.
Football took a giant step forward with the establishment of its first controlling body. In view of the North Melbourne Football Club's achievements prior to the amalgamation with Albert Park, the re-formed club was accorded a place with the recognised first-class clubs, Melbourne, Geelong, Carlton, Albert Park, St Kilda, Essendon and East Melbourne.
What might be regarded as the initial VFA match was played between Hotham and Melbourne on the Melbourne ground on Saturday, 2 June 1877. The result was a draw with each side scoring one goal; Hotham's goalkicker on that occasion was a player named Thompson.
1878: The club was granted the use of the Madeline Street ground during 1878. This was quite close to their original playing area in the Royal Park, and occupied an area in the vicinity of the present Newman College in the University of Melbourne.
Hotham's captain that year was Jimmy Robertson, whom a contemporary commentator had rated as "the fastest man that plays".
1879: Hotham's senior twenty participated for the season in 14 engagements against other senior twenties, and played additional matches with junior teams of 25 players. Against the former, Hotham had an indifferent year, winning six, losing six and drawing two to place it fourth among the eight competing teams.
That year the first intercolonial match took place in Melbourne between Victoria and South Australia. Hotham representatives chosen to play for Victoria were Billy McLean, Jimmy Robertson, Arthur Ley and F. Lording.
1880: Hotham had a reasonable season, finishing fifth out of the eight competing clubs with 10 wins and four losses, the remaining five matches being tied. By the end of the concluding match they had had 30 goals kicked for and 17 against them for the year.
1881: Hotham visited Tasmania this year, and the tour incurred a loss of six pounds. At Launceston they met and defeated a Northern Tasmania side and at Hobart they took care of a Southern Tasmanian team.
On the domestic scene it was Hotham's poorest season since the inception of the Victorian Football Association. At the conclusion of competition matches they occupied last place among the seven competing clubs. Out of 20 engagements, they could manage only six victories and there drawn games.
1882: The 1882 season was an historic one for the club. That year witnessed an amalgamation between the Hotham Cricket Club and the Hotham Football Club. The joint venture was aimed at effecting improvements to the Hotham Cricket Ground, their joint home from then on.
On Saturday, 29 April 1882, the first game of Australian Rules Football ever played at the ground was staged between Hotham and Royal Park; the spoils of victory went to the home side by the margin of 2.9 to 0.2.
1883: Settled in their new home, the club decided to make an admission charge. This was set at 6d, and operated for the first time on 12 May 1883. A further innovation for the new season was a row of seats that the club had erected around the ground for the spectators.
Of their 22 matches played during the 1883 season, Hotham chalked up a total of seven wins, seven losses and eight draws. An important individual achievement worth noting during that year was A. Todd's 78-yard drop kick which registered a goal in the match between Hotham and Carlton on 15 September.
1884: With a tally for the year of 64 goals for and 48 against, the club was able to win 12 and draw three of their 22 encounters. One of their outstanding players that year was long to be remembered; Joey Tankard's marking in his role as follower was an asset to his side.
The club's leading goalkicker for the year was H. Todd. He scored a total of 13.
1885: Hotham were successful in 15 and tied in five of all 26 matches played. Their total number of goals for the season was 105 for with 65 against. Only South Melbourne and Essendon did better.
The club toured South Australia during the season, being victorious in four matches played in Adelaide. In this year the club's reserve in Arden Street became permanently reserved to the Crown.
1886: When Hotham took the field in 1886 their uniform had been redesigned. Previously thin blue and white hoops had been worn, but the Association had been receiving a number of complaints from officials and umpires that confusion was being caused (with Geelong).
The VFA accordingly instructed the Hotham Football Club that from 1886 onwards their players must wear their colours in vertical stripes. This basic design has remained the club's traditional uniform ever since.
1887: The ranks of the Victorian Football Association had by this time swelled to 18 with the inclusion of three teams from the Ballarat district. The controlling body, however, ruled that only those teams playing 18 or more premiership games would be eligible for that season's premiership.
North's R. Houston turned in the best individual performance, but the collective performance was only mediocre. In all, the side had eight wins, 12 defeats and six drawn games.
1888: By Order in Council on 22 August 1887, the Town of Hotham was proclaimed the Town of North Melbourne. As a result, at the club's next annual meeting, a move was initiated to bring the football body into line with this change. On the motion of Mr. Sutcliffe, it was unanimously decided "that the club be hence forth known as the North Melbourne Football Club".
Under the resumed banner, the team attained seventh position among the 16 clubs. They drew five games, lost seven and won eight for the year.
1889: North Melbourne travelled interstate once again, this time to Adelaide, where they won four games but went down to Norwood. Throughout the course of 20 games, North Melbourne won on 11 occasions, losing on eight and playing a draw on another.
1890: North Melbourne won nine and drew four of their 19 games played. During the 1880's and 1890's the post of club captain was never held by any one person for more than two years consecutively. This was in marked contrast to the club's first decade when Harry Fuhrhop had held undisputed leadership. In season 1890 the leadership was accorded to R. Houston, a very successful member of North's lineup at the time.
1891: North ended eighth out of the 15 clubs involved. The side won only three games, drew eight and lost nine. They had 86 goals kicked against them and only 55 for, finishing with the meager percentage of 30.8.
The VFA decided to appoint a sub-committee to draw up fixtures in future seasons instead of matches being arranged by club secretaries, as had been the case in the past. North's W.R. Mullens was the driving force behind these new arrangements.
1892: When the season concluded, the North Club looked back on a very disappointing year. It was in 11th position with only Collingwood and Williamstown below it. Due to the fact that only 55 goals were scored for them while 114 were scored against, North's percentage amounted to a mere 21.
1893: One of North Melbourne's greatest administrators took up duties as secretary. Alf J. Woodham was to render exceptional service to both his own club and the Association.
In his first year North again had little success. Twenty games were played, of which three were won and 15 lost. North Melbourne's goal tally for the season was 47, while their opponents amassed 116 against them. Of the 13 clubs it came an ignominious last.
1894: North rose to sixth position with eight wins, six draws and four defeats, and had a total of 72 goals for and 67 against. The season's achievement is even more praiseworthy when one keeps in mind that North Melbourne, as one of the clubs in an industrial area, was finding it difficult to continue.
1895: T.C Wilson led North in 1895 to seven wins and one draw from their 18 engagements. The club ended the season in eighth place among the 13 competing sides. A club player, Sicily, was nominated by the local football commentators as one of the Association's best ruckmen during the year.
1896: North Melbourne concluded the season in sixth place out of 13 teams with eight wins, nine losses and a draw, yet the big news of the season was a breakaway by the Victorian Football League (VFL). Despite their promising finish, North Melbourne were passed over for admittance into the VFL, and there were a few main reasons.
To begin with, North was not one of the powerful clubs. They had never won a premiership in their 20 years of VFA competition. They were also financially weak, as their locality was becoming increasingly industralised. There was also alleged hooliganism among a section of their supporters, and ill will towards the club on the part of the Collingwood Club following a recent torrid engagement.
One final element, which probably helped seal North's fate, was related to Essendon, one of the two clubs most involved with the breakaway movement. If the Northerners were to be included, Essendon stood to lose some of their valuable recruiting ground in Kensington and Flemington.
1897: North Melbourne had a very good season in the VFA in 1897, winning 14 of their 20 games. Eventually, North came in second behind Port Melbourne, who actually took off the premiership that year. This had been the closest they had ever come to being the premier Association team.
1898: North Melbourne were unable to regain their home ground until late in July. Its scheduled reopening had to be postponed a week, due to the state of the surface, and this allowed Port Melbourne to claim a walkover. During the year, the club suffered the death in office of their president, Cr D. Wadick. He had only been appointed a few months earlier.
1899: This season the Association celebrated an enlargement of its ranks to eight with the admission of Prahran and West Melbourne. This meant that it now had an equivalent number of teams to that of the League.
Footscray took off the premiership ahead of North Melbourne, which turned in the creditable performance of winning 17 of its 21 engagements.