NMFC 1881: Carlton buries the hatchet

Reverend Shinboner continues his review of the 1881 season of North Melbourne Football Club – a season full of colour, glory, mischief and controversy.

The hatchet is buried

Carlton and Hotham hadn’t played each other for three years since a bitter match in July 1878; Hotham had been robbed.

In the infamous encounter, Carlton began well but Hotham got themselves back into it in the second half and looked likely to force a draw. However tensions rose when Hotham were on the receiving end of a series of poor decisions from the umpire – J. O’Brien – who happened to be a Carlton committeeman. Fuming, the Hotham players vented their spleen and took it up to the Carlton players, but the Blues defence held strong and prevented ‘the stripes’ from drawing the game, winning 2-1.

In the flurry of correspondence that followed, Carlton accused our boys of playing an ‘unsavoury’ brand of football and ‘breaching the third commandment’ (using the Lord’s name in vain). Hotham secretary, J. McIndoe, placed blame on O’Brien, who’s decisions ‘determined the outcome of the match’.

Carlton responded in a similar way to ‘Sticks’ Kernahan – like sooks. They cancelled all meetings between the clubs for the rest of the season and took the alleged slander of O’Brien to the VFA. The Association found one Hotham player guilty and asked him to apologise, two others were cleared.

While the stand-off continued the following season, Hotham had a moral victory: Carlton’s Nash defected to Hotham and W. Bracken to Norwoods (SA), who later returned to Melbourne to play for the royal-blue and white.

It wasn’t until 1881 that tensions thawed enough to see the northern neighbours meet again. The Age said, “we are glad to see the entente cordiale restored between these clubs.’

Sadly, Carlton won in a dominant performance 3.14 – 0.8.

Frank Lording, a stained glass artist, in Hotham get-up circa 1879. Lording was one of Hotham's best players and one of seven clubmen who represented Victoria in 1881.

The season slips away

A couple of weeks after the loss to Carlton, Hotham jumped on the train down to Corio cricket oval to meet the magnificent Geelong team at home. They were duly thrashed 8.26 to 0.0 in one of football’s finest displays. It signalled the end to any premiership hopes Hotham may have had.

While still beating lesser teams such as East Melbourne and Brunswick, and going down bravely against the eventual premiers, South Melbourne, Hotham would have to settle for seventh with five wins, ten losses and three draws.

The gun player

Arthur Ley, who ran a tobacconist/hairdressing business in Victoria St, was clearly Hotham’s best player for the season. The fleet-footed goal sneak was regularly required to take the captaincy a number of times due to the regular captain’s absence. He handled it with aplomb, featuring in the best in all bar one match.

His talents did not go unnoticed, being the only Hotham player to represent Victoria in all four inter-colonial encounters (against South Australia and New South Wales).


The 1882 annual general meeting revealed that the club was in debt to the tune of £6 10s. In response, the annual subscription for Hotham Football Club was put at 5s.

Arden St

The meeting also saw Hotham Football Club co-locate with Hotham Cricket Club at the Arden St recreational reserve. The club remains there to this day.


1 Comment

Filed under History

One response to “NMFC 1881: Carlton buries the hatchet

  1. Intriguing…

    I can’t believe that “entente cordiale” appeared in a sports article in The Age. I don’t think too many journalists (or readers) would understand that phrase today…

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