1920s

Excerpts from The North Story, by Gerard Dowling

1920: Although the North Melbourne side was still comparable with the leading Association sides in 1920, it was only a shadow of its former self. There were players in the side whose ideas did not measure up to standard. They lacked the ability to sacrifice themselves in the interests of the team.

North Melbourne completed the 18 games of the 1920 season with 13 wins and went on to meet Footscray in the semi final. After the first contest was abandoned, the second was also close, before Footscray managed to hold on for a tight four point win.

1921: The North Melbourne players trained as usual in the last week of June, but after training on the 30th, the North Melbourne committee dropped a bombshell; informing the players that the North Melbourne Club had decided to disband. What was envisaged was a virtual amalgamation of North Melbourne (VFA) with Essendon (VFL).

During the week after the disbanding of the team, the future of the North Melbourne Recreation Reserve became a great talking point. It was ascertained that the North Melbourne Recreation Reserve was a Crown grant to the citizens of North Melbourne for their pleasure and recreation.

From this, it was quite evident that the Essendon club could have no right to use a ground which had been given to the citizens of North Melbourne. When the dust settled, the North Melbourne Football Club was still outside the League, and was, to all intents and purposes, a club without a team. Once more it re-formed, amalgamated not with Essendon (League) but Essendon (Association) and re-joined the Association.

1922: This was naturally a season of re-construction. Led by George E. Ravenhall as president, and retaining the services of Jack Heffernan as secretary, the committee set about rebuilding the club.

The success of the committee is amply demonstrated by the fact that with what was virtually a new team in the competition, the North Melbourne Football Club won 13 of 18 home and away games for the season, and capped this off by reaching the Grand Final before losing to Port Melbourne by 26 points.

1923: In this season, the VFA had a 18-match fixture, and North finished out of the finals, being fifth with nine wins and one draw. With the exception of 1921, when the team had been disbanded, this was the first time that the North Melbourne Football Club had not participated in the finals since they began their great run in 1910.

1924 - The Transition To The VFL: For a proper understanding of North's transition to the VFL from the VFA, one must recall some of the background in the formation of the League. In 1896, North Melbourne was excluded from the original eight clubs, and when the number grew to 10 in 1908, the new sides were Richmond and University, not North Melbourne.

University disbanded in 1915, and after nine years of an uneven nine teams, the VFL was ready to admit extra clubs. In late September delegates of the League voted for the formation of a sub-committee to examine the viability of the admission of club or clubs to the League.

On 9 January, 1925, the delegates of the nine VFL clubs met together to produce a final resolution of the problems with which it had been grappling for the previous six months. For the North Melbourne Football Club, it was to prove the most important meeting in the history of the VFL to that point.

A prolonged and involved discussion ensued, continuing for hours. The discussion went into the following morning, the fate of North Melbourne and a number of other clubs hanging in the balance. Eventually a decision was hammered out. It was agreed, by 14 votes to three, that the Footscray, Hawthorn and North Melbourne Clubs be admitted.

The year 1924 is often given as the year of elevation to League by these three clubs, whereas the authentic record of the minutes of the League meetings clearly records it as being 1925. Another often repeated error is that Hawthorn was the lucky club of the three inducted. In reality, North Melbourne was the lucky club, since the three clubs originally nominated were Footscray, Hawthorn and Prahran.

1925
Record: 5-12, 75.2%
Ladder Position: 10th
Leading Goalkicker: Jack Woods (27)

The next three months after admission were exciting for the North club as they prepared for their first season of League football. It was important now for the team to acquit themselves well on the field; local interest in the club had never been so widespread, nor received so much support.

On the whole, the 1925 season was a fitting debut for the North club as a member of the League. They concluded the year with a total of five wins out of 17, finishing in 10th place above their two companions from Association ranks.

1926
Record: 0-17-1, 73.7%
Ladder Position: 12th
Leading Goalkicker: Fred Metcalf (26)

North played 18 games for the 1926 season and could manage only one draw; at the conclusion of the year it occupied 12th place on the ladder. On the field G. Donnelly led and coached the side. It is interesting to note that North were known at this time as the Blue Birds.

1927
Record: 3-15, 73.5%
Ladder Position: 11th
Leading Goalkicker: Charlie Tyson (23)

1927 was notable for the return to the club of one of its greatest players and probably its most capable leader, Syd Barker. He began the season as captain and coach but injuries later forced him to restrict himself to the latter.

The team opened the season by winning their first two matches before narrowly losing to Geelong. The following week, after kicking what was then the club's highest League score against Hawthorn, the North Melbourne Football Club rose to the top of the ladder.

Unfortunately that was the end of the club's success for the year; they failed to win any of their remaining 15 matches.

1928
Record: 5-13, 62.7%
Ladder Position: 11th
Leading Goalkicker: John Dowling (28)

North Melbourne turned in their best season's performance since entering the League. Under the coaching of C. Tyson, they won five of their 18 games and concluded the year in 11th place.

Leo Dwyer, who won interstate selection during the season, was placed third in the Brownlow Medal. That was to stand for 32 years as the best performance by a North Melbourne player until the advent of his son Laurie who also notched up a third place in 1960.

1929
Record: 1-17, 60.2%
Ladder Position: 12th
Syd Barker Medal: Charlie Cameron
Leading Goalkicker: John Dowling (28)

Despite the club's improved performance in the previous year, it had only one victory out of 18 in 1929. As a result it dropped to the bottom of the ladder.

1930s

1930
Record: 1-17, 51.8%
Ladder Position: 12th
Leading Goalkicker: Bob Matthews (29)

By 1930 the world had reached the depths of the Depression, a path of misfortune that was reflected in many ways in the turn of events for the North Melbourne Football Club. Through lack of employment and a resultant transfer of players elsewhere, the club lost no fewer than seven of its most experienced and talented players.

In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that all North could achieve was one victory, over St Kilda, out of the 18 scheduled for the season. Poor performance on the field was matched by the club's dire financial straits.

To add to the gloom, 1930 saw the passing of the legendary Syd Barker. He died on 23 March, and to honour his memory the North Melbourne Football Club unveiled a memorial plaque.

1931
Record: 0-18, 50.8%
Ladder Position: 12th
Leading Goalkicker: Johnny Lewis (25)

In its seventh year in VFL competition the club committee set about rebuilding the team. As a result of intensified recruiting, it unearthed many new names who were moulded into one of the youngest sides in the League.

During the course of the year there was an added and unexpected source of encouragement; it came from the Geelong Football Club that went on to win the premiership for the year. After their game against North at Arden Street, the visiting club donated their share of the gate receipts to the home side - a truly unselfish and sporting gesture.

1932
Record: 8-10, 97.1%
Ladder Position: 8th
Syd Barker Medal: Jack Patterson
Leading Goalkicker: Tom Fitzmaurice (62)

The year 1932 was the club's best League season to that date, with eight wins out of 18 and a jump up the ladder from 12th to 8th. Patience, foresight and hard work were beginning to pay dividends.

Recruitment areas were always a bone of contention. On 1 July, 1932, Essendon relinquished its rights in Kensington and most of Flemington, giving a heartening advantage for the Northeners.

1933
Record: 7-10-1, 85.2%
Ladder Position: 8th
Leading Goalkicker: Tom Fitzmaurice (60)

This year saw the North Melbourne players appear once again in the royal blue and white stripes, a uniform that their successors have proudly worn to this day. This came about after a successful application to the League by the club.

With seven wins and a draw out of 18 games played, the club managed to retain their place on the ladder attained the year before. The highlight of the year however was their defeat of Collingwood on King's Birthday - the first of the three newcomers to do so.

1934

Record: 0-18, 66.4%
Ladder Position: 12th
Leading Goalkicker: Tom Fitzmaurice (63)

North's marked improvement in the past two seasons had given good grounds for optimism. But the side turned in one of its most disappointing seasons ever; North failed to win any of its 18 contests, and they plummeted to last place.

On reflection, it would seem that an important factor contributing to North's downfall was the undue reliance placed on the services of old, tired players, coupled with a failure to continue the infusion of new blood into the side.

1935
Record: 1-17, 65.1%
Ladder Position: 12th
Syd Barker Medal: Wally Carter
Leading Goalkicker: Johnny Lewis (23)

The year proved critical for North Melbourne. The committee was faced with the heavy task of stabilising club finances. North found itself with a debt of 1,200 pounds, quite a considerable sum in those days. This financial burden as well as the team's complete lack of success placed the club in grave jeopardy.

North decided to invoke the aid of the VFL, and made application for financial assistance. The League considered the matter and decided to advance North Melbourne 500 pounds on the condition that the committee raise a similar amount. Certain members of the committee therefore guaranteed a bank overdraft of 500 pounds.

This accomplished, the committee was able to liquidate the remaining 200 pounds owed before the 1935 season began. During the season, the club was able to repay 100 pounds to the league and to reduce the overdraft by 120 pounds.

1936
Record: 4-14, 75.9%
Ladder Position: 11th
Syd Barker Medal: Charles Skinner
Leading Goalkicker: Dudley Cassidy (48)

This was a satisfactory year from many points of view, but particularly from that of performance. Following an intensive campaign for new players during the summer, North unearthed a most promising batch of young players.

A win late in the season against Richmond was particularly satisfying, as it was the first time under the auspices of the League that North Melbourne had been able to eclipse its former Association rival. They chalked up four wins for the season out of 18, and gained 11th place on the ladder.

1937
Record: 3-15, 64.2%
Ladder Position: 12th
Syd Barker Medal: Wally Carter
Leading Goalkicker: Stewart Anderson (18)

In 1937 the team scored only three wins and lost the rest of its 18 matches, concluding the year in 12th place. The results are not surprising when it is realised that it was probably the club's worst ever year for serious injuries.

In a win against Carlton, no less than five players met with serious injury. Included among them was the captain, Claude Gaudion, who sustained a severe leg injury which forced his retirement.

1938
Record: 6-12, 74.7%
Ladder Position: 9th
Syd Barker Medal: Jock Cordner
Leading Goalkicker: Sel Murray (88)

As the 1938 season approached, there was an atmosphere of interest and excitement not witnessed since the club's opening year in the VFL. One particularly encouraging feature was the interest shown by businessmen in the district, combined with an easing of the employment position.

With Keith Forbes guiding the team as captain-coach, the tally of wins for the season reached six. At the end of the home and away matches, the team had climbed to ninth place, just one behind their previous best.

1939

Record: 6-12, 91.3%
Ladder Position: 9th
Syd Barker Medal: Sid Dyer
Leading Goalkicker: Sel Murray (78)

1939 was very much a repetition of its predecessor; the club occupied the same position with the same number of victories and defeats. However, one of those victories was quite a breakthrough.

It was North's defeat of Geelong, the first time that North had been able to find Geelong's measure since their historic League debut at the Corio Oval 14 years earlier.

1940s

1940
Record: 4-14, 75.1%
Ladder Position: 12th
Syd Barker Medal: Jim Adamson
Leading Goalkicker: Sel Murray (58)

By the time football resumed the following year, North Melbourne was starting to feel the effects of Australia's declaration of war on Germany the previous September. While the club accepted it in a patriotic way, there was still a great deal of disappointment due to the view that at no time since North entered the League had their prospects appeared so bright.

In view of this, it was not surprising that the club's successes only totaled four out of 18 by the year's end, and that they had dropped to last place on the ladder. When captain and coach for 1940, Len Thomas, had to resign, Wally Carter stepped into the breach, giving Carter his first taste of League coaching.

1941
Record: 6-12, 92.9%
Ladder Position: 9th
Syd Barker Medal: George Kennedy & Bill Findlay
Leading Goalkicker: Sel Murray (88)

Circumstances in 1941 gave Bob McCaskell the coaching mantle, and under his tutelage the side regained much of their poise. They increased their wins to six out of the 17 games rostered and rose three rungs on the ladder.

The club ran up their then record League score of 15.14. (104) against Footscray. Sel Murray with 88 goals created the club's record, and missed the honour of being leading VFL goalkicker by one goal.

1942
Record: 4-10, 78.2%
Ladder Position: 9th
Syd Barker Medal: Jack Allister
Leading Goalkicker: Sel Murray (42)

North Melbourne's most notable achievement in this wartime year was an administrative coup, which gave the club a lease of the Reserve. The basic agreement hammered out in 1922 had remained in existence ever since. After 20 years, this ground management committee handed back to the Melbourne City Council the management of the Reserve in 1942.

The president and treasurer, Messrs Trainor and Meere, acted promptly following the termination of the agreement. They applied for and were given by the Melbourne City Council a lease of the ground for the current football season. By that act the club became its own ground manager.

1943
Record: 5-9-1, 77%
Ladder Position: 9th
Syd Barker Medal: Don Kemp
Leading Goalkicker: Bill Findlay (43)

The wartime conditions of 1942 still prevailed in 1943. Because of this, the committee adopted an overall policy aimed at avoiding the uncertainties involved in relying on members of the armed forces; this involved relying on the products of junior teams.

The club's financial statement for 1943 showed that the committee had been able not only to lift the bank overdraft, but also complete repayments of the loan made available so generously to the club by the VFL in the darkest days of 1935.

1944
Record: 10-8, 100.3%
Ladder Position: 6th
Syd Barker Medal: Alan Crawford
Leading Goalkicker: Bill Findlay (55)

Though the war was still being waged, there was some alleviation at North from the difficulties which had hampered the club during the past three seasons. Bob McCaskell, who had begun so successfully as coach back in 1941, was able to resume his duties.

Up to this point, the 1944 season was North's record League performance. It had been a long and difficult 20 seasons, but at last opponents were being forced to drop their patronising cry of 'Poor Old North!' and had to sit up and take notice. Two of those who would not be quick to forget the 'New North' were Geelong and Hawthorn.

1945
Record: 13-7, 111.1%
Ladder Position: 3rd
Finals: Defeated in the Semi Final
Syd Barker Medal: Les Foote
Leading Goalkicker: Bill Findlay (49)

This year, for the first time, the North Melbourne Football Club attained a much coveted place in the final four. At the conclusion of the 21st round of home and away games drawn up for that season, North occupied third position behind South Melbourne and Collingwood, and just above Carlton which scraped into fourth place.

However, in North Melbourne's first semi final, the result was a clear-cut and convincing win to Carlton, which, with six successive wins behind them, had hit the form that took them on to the 1945 flag. Among North's best were Crane, Findlay, Quinn, Condon, Fairweather, and Malone.

1946
Record: 8-11, 91.2%
Ladder Position: 9th
Syd Barker Medal: Don Condon
Leading Goalkicker: Sid Dyer (55)

Following their better seasons of 1944 and 1945, North turned in a poor year in the first since the cessation of hostilities. After eight wins and 11 losses, they held ninth place. Some years previously this might have been regarded as a reasonably successful season, but now that the four had finally been attained, anything short of that was just not good enough.

1947
Record: 4-15, 77.7%
Ladder Position: 10th
Syd Barker Medal: Keith McKenzie
Leading Goalkicker: Sid Dyer (47)

At the season's end, the club found themselves down one rung from 1946 to 10th after winning four out of the 19 matches presented. The 1947 season also brought to an end Bob McCaskell's term as coach. At his retirement, he had become unquestionably the most successful man to have coached North Melbourne since they entered the VFL in 1925.

1948
Record: 8-11, 83.8%
Ladder Position: 8th
Syd Barker Medal: Dally O'Brien
Leading Goalkicker: Don Condon (38)

In 1948, though the North side only bettered their place of the previous year by two rungs on the League ladder with only eight out of 19 games won, important currents were discernible which would grow into a giant swell in the two years that followed.

One of these was an improvement in the club's financial position. Another was the advancement in junior football right through North's district, which now stretched as far as Bell Street in West Coburg.

1949
Record: 14-5, 119.1%
Ladder Position: 1st
Finals: Defeated in the Preliminary Final
Syd Barker Medal: Les Foote
Leading Goalkicker: Jock Spencer (65)

North Melbourne clinched their place at the top of the League ladder at the close of the first round matches for 1949. This gave the club the VFL minor premiership for the season, the first time that North Melbourne had attained such an honour. It was a well-earned triumph. Never before had North won so many of their home and away matches.

And despite two defeats in their finals matches - eliminated by Essendon in the preliminary final - North Melbourne was established as a League power and a force to be reckoned with. From the depths into which they had slid in the thirties, they had reversed the trend and had scaled the heights in the forties.