Reverend Shinboner continues his review of the 1881 season of North Melbourne Football Club – a season full of colour, glory, mischief and controversy.
In June 1881, a party of 32 members of Hotham Football Club (including the infamous Barnes), travelled by steamer to Launceston for a football tour of Tasmania. It was the first time a football team from the mainland had toured the isle and was considered a massive fillip for the colony’s footy-loving public. (Note to Hawthorn: we were there first!) It created something of a media storm.
One member of the public, identifying themselves only as ‘A Victorian’, wrote into The Launceston Examiner expressing his anger that the team was wrongly billed as a Victorian representative team, going on to describe Hotham as ‘fourth rate’.
The publican from the Cornwall hotel, who hosted the Hotham men, took umbrage:
If “A Victorian” was at all conversant with football gossip, he would find on reading such papers as the Australasian, Leader, etc., that the Hotham Club is not a whit inferior to the best clubs in Victoria, and that all matches with the Hotham Club are looked forward to with interest, and a good game has been invariably the result. Moreover, that it is allowed on all sides that the Hotham Club possesses some of the best men in Victoria …
Besides, the Hotham Club has not come over here to indulge its vanity – like a correspondent signing himself “A Victorian” – in wordy warfare through the press … Instead of which it is the intention of the “Hothamites” to play a friendly game, and advance the interest of football in Launceston.
After a few idle days, twenty Hotham men lined up against twenty-three of Northern Tasmania’s finest footballers at the Western Swamp. Over 1,000 keen spectators joined them. The Examiner wrote:
Although the state of the ground was against good play on Saturday from its wet and slippery nature, the onlookers were nevertheless treated to the best exhibition of football that has taken place in Northern Tasmania at all events, and the anticipation formed of our visitors were borne out.
While playing a rough game at times, Hotham’s system of marking and running was superb. The Tasmanians were out-weighed and out-classed. Hotham won 4.18 to 0.2.
The boys then jumped on the train to Hobart, where they were met by three cheers from a large number of local footballers. The Mercury welcomed them as a ‘fine athletic set of men’ who would ‘confirm the notoriety they have acquired for playing the game without any of that unseemly roughness which robs football of so many of its charms.’
The match, played on a Tuesday afternoon on the lower cricket ground, was a big deal – most local businesses closed down for the occasion. The weather was good and a crowd of 2,000 attended, including the Governor and many women, which, according to The Mercury, ‘must have been cheering to all the players’.
This time, seventeen players were fielded for each team, a Southern Tasmanian side selected from the many clubs in Hobart, Richmond and Oatlands . While playing under the subtly different Tasmanian rules, the cross-bar on the goal-line was taken down in a compromise for the visitors.
The match was a cracker. While Hotham led for most of the game, the local team – ‘plucky and fast’ – came over the top to win 3.15 to 2.16. It was a welcome surprise for the ecstatic crowd.
But it didn’t all go to script. The first-half umpire, a Hotham official, copped so much abused for his one-eyed decisions that he stopped the game and punched an offending spectator. Police intervened, stopping a serious barney erupting, and play re-commenced.
After the match, the Hotham team were guests of the Tasmanian Football Association at the Criterion Hotel, where the largely Irish-Catholic boys celebrated their momentous tour’s end in style.
The Tasmanian legacy
Hotham’s tour of Tasmania was celebrated by the local media as one of the sporting highlights of the year.
Local clubs were applauded for not being ‘too proud to take a lesson in play from a visiting team’, copying aspects of Hotham’s game. And one of Hotham’s players, Dedman, didn’t even return home, taking up a captain-coaching role with Launceston City Football Club.
But not everyone thought so highly of the boys from Hotham, the Hobart correspondent for The Launceston Examiner reporting:
The Hotham footballers will become acknowledged rowdies if they don’t take care. Even at home they are credited with a “frisky” nature, and our experience of their team here was quite “too, too.” The larrikin propensities of the pugnacious Hotham umpire and his extra-ordinary decisions, coupled with the team’s city bout, will not be forgotten for a while.
Frisky? So that’s why Dedman stayed.
More from the historic 1881 season to come