Reverend Shinboner goes back through the annals of North Melbourne Football Club’s history, reliving one season from each decade, starting with 1871. The club was just about to embark on their third winter of football.
North Melbourne, known as Hotham at the time, was a largely industrial suburb with some 13,500 residents, significantly more than today’s population of 10,000. A Benevolent Asylum for the mentally ill, built in the 1850s between Curzon and Abbotsford streets, signified the suburb’s less-favourable status in Melbourne’s development.
A Victorian election was held in March, the key issues being import tariffs, education , the 8-hour working day, and whether pubs should be allowed to open on Sundays.
The district of North Melbourne (encompassing Hotham, Royal Park, University and Carlton), according to one Carlton resident, was contested by representatives for ‘the working man, the teetotaller, the publican, the Catholic, the orangeman, and the advanced protectionists’, but no-one representing, ‘the educated portion of the community’. An Irish publican from Carlton and an English ironmonger cum wholesaler in Russell St won the two seats on offer.
Football had come a long way since it’s beginnings in the late 1850s. Teams played across Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat and further afield, on numerous Saturday afternoons. And the people were jumping on board, The Age suggesting that it had overtaken cricket and lawn bowls in popularity.
Matches were generally 20-aside and contested on extremely large public parks which were rarely flat, and littered with gum trees. Larrikins often intruded onto the grounds mid-match. Scoring was usually difficult, with 2 goals usually enough to win. Scrimmages were common and rough play a given.
Each year, a handful of club secretaries gathered at the pub to determine a fixture for the ‘Challenge Cup’. Seated at the table in 1871 were Melbourne, Carlton, Albert Park and South Yarra, among others. North Melbourne, like dozens of other infant and informal clubs, were not.
Hotham also fielded a team, but it is clear that this is a separate entity to North Melbourne.
Carlton ultimately won the Challenge Cup, defeating Melbourne 2-0 after winning a handy toss – Carlton captain J. A. Donovan sent Melbourne kicking uphill and against the wind!
Records indicate North Melbourne were involved in four matches for the year, but the actual number is likely to be higher. North Melbourne were to line up against Carlton United (likely a Carlton reserves team), Collingwood, East Melbourne and Esplanade. Sadly, the matches were deemed of such insignificance by the press of the day that the results, bar one, are unknown: East Melbourne defeating North Melbourne 3-0 in an ‘easy victory’ at the Richmond Paddock. The match involving Esplanade, to be hosted in St. Kilda, was unlikely to have been played due to the heavy rain which ‘interfered greatly with numerous football arrangements’.
None of the North Melbourne players or officials from the 1871 season are mentioned. However, we do know that the 1872 Annual General Meeting of the club, held in the Victoria Hotel, Hotham, on 26 April, was chaired by Mr R. J. Alcock:
The report and balance sheet were read by the secretary, Mr. McIndoe, showing the club to be in a prosperous state. The office-bearers for the ensuing season were elected as follows: – President, R. J. Alcock ; Captain, H. Fuhrhop ; treasurer, J. Walker ; secretary, A. Walker ; match committee – Messrs. Hastings, Dobson, J. Walker, and Fahrhop.
The man attributed as a key founding figure of the club, J. H. Gardiner, is not mentioned. Indeed, his involvement in the club at this early stage remains unclear.