North Melbourne Football Club was born in 1869, 32 years before federation making it older than the Commonwealth of Australia itself. Formed soon after the formation of the first set of rules for Australian football it can be said to be one of the oldest football clubs in Australia and indeed one of the oldest football clubs, of any code in the world.
Australian football evolved from many forms of the game with Rugby and Gaelic Football having the most influence on its development. Some schools of thought put its primary influence as coming from an Aboriginal game played with a stuffed possum skin in which the players jumped on each others back shouting “marruk” as they caught the ball. The forerunner to the great feature of Australian football the Mark. The diggers on the Victorian goldfields witnessed this spectacle and developed a game drawing on their own ethnic influences to produce a unique football code.
Whatever its origins it is known that the game was played around Melbourne and the first official match between Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College was played on the site of the now famous Melbourne Cricket Ground, home of the Australian Football Leagues Grand Final.
Two prominent sportsmen of the 1800s, T.Wills and H.C.A. Harrison decided to draw up rules for this increasingly popular game and Wills set about encouraging the formation of football clubs in order to keep cricketers fit during the off season (the winter).
Acting upon this James Gardiner and other prominent citizens of the city of Hotham (an urban development to the North of Melbourne) formed the North Melbourne Football Club in 1869. At first the club played games against any other club with which they could arrange a match. Playing its matches at Royal Park (where the Melbourne Zoo now resides) In 1876 the club decided to amalgamate with another team Albert Park and for twelve months were known as “Albert Park cum North Melbourne”. Quite a mouthful! After just one year the amalgamation collapsed and the club changed its name to Hotham Football Club after its locality of origin.
In 1877 Hotham (North Melbourne) and 7 other clubs decided to form the Victorian Football Association (VFA) in order to compete in football matches on a regular basis. The VFA being one of the first football associations formed in the world.
In 1888 the club once again became the North Melbourne Football Club after Hotham municipality changed its name to North Melbourne in order to cash in on the reputation Melbourne had gained throughout the world.
In 1896 a breakaway group saw the establishment of the Victorian Football League (VFL) from which North Melbourne was excluded mainly through the opposition of the Collingwood Football Club which had not forgiven North for a controversial game in which they had met. North were upset by there non inclusion as they felt that they were as good as, if not better, than any team that formed the League.
North continued in the VFA becoming Premiers in 1903 and 1904. 1907 saw North attempt, for the first time, to enter the Victorian Football League. It proposed to amalgamate with the West Melbourne Football Club and seek membership of the League. The application was rejected with the result that the club was expelled from the Association (VFA) and found themselves without a competition in which to play. In 1908 a “new” club was formed and its application to join the VFA was accepted. North Melbourne Football Club was once again part of the VFA.
In the years 1905, 1910, 1914, 1915, 1918, and 1919 North finished at the top of the ladder, winning the premiership in 1910 and 1914 as well as going through the seasons 1915 and 1918 being undeafeated as well as being premiers. From 1914 to 1918 they won 58 games in succession.
1921 saw North once again seek admission to the VFL. They felt their record of dominance entitled them to admission into what was becoming the strongest competion in the land. Essendon Football Club, a foundation member of the League found themselves without an arena on which to play. North, an adjacent suburb to Essendon, offered them their ground, Arden St., if they would amalgamate thereby gaining a team based at North Melbourne into the League. Essendon agreed. North advised their players that they would disband and asked their players to transfer to Essendon so that in their next season they could continue their association with the team based at Arden St.
Unfortunately Essendon gained the use of a ground at the time being used by an Essendon team playing in the Association. This left North a disbanded club without players. The most highly regarded being Syd Barker who later captained Essendon and was a member of two premiership teams with that club.
In a clever move North quickly amalgamated with the displaced Essendon Association team and was once again competing in the VFA the following season having failed to complete the 1921 season.
In 1925 North finally gained admittance to the Victorian Football League, not by stealth as they had tried previously, but by invitation brought about by lobbying of the clubs supporters.
After a promising start in the League North had many lean years, not reaching a Grand Final until 1950, where they were beaten by their former proposed amalgamation partner Essendon.
It was not until 1975 that they finally won their first League Premiership, the culmination of a plan hatched under the presidency of Allen Aylett 4 years before. They followed this up in 1977 with another Premiership. Between the years 1974 and 1978 North participated in every Grand Final.
In 1990 the Victorian Football League became the Australian Football League as it extended its operations Australia wide. A foundation member of this league North Melbourne took out its inaugural Premiership under this banner in 1996. ( A year that North sought another amalgamation; this time with Fitzroy Football Club. A move that failed due to the opposition of other League teams fearing North would become too strong)
This was a season celebrated by the League as their centennial year as it was the hundredth season of VFL/AFL football. By winning the gold cup North Melbourne Football Club became the Centennial Premiers. A fitting tribute to this historic club.
References: Downing, Gerard “The North Story”, Revised and Enlarged Edition, Playright Publishing Pty Ltd, Sydney,1997
The Age “Aussie Rules CD- ROM” Melbourne 1995
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