Melbourne Football Club



The early days
Into the VFA and the birth of the VFL
Between the wars
Rebuilding and Dominance
The wilderness years
Back into the finals - the "Swooper" era
Into the AFL
The 21st Century

The early days

In 1858 Tom Wills wrote to Bells Life magazine to suggest formation of a "football club", or a "rifle club", or some athletic pursuit be undertaken to keep cricketers fit during winter. Just under two months later the first game of what became Australian Rules Football between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar was started.

The Melbourne Football Club was formed on 14 May 1859 at Bryant's Parade Hotel in East Melbourne. Three days later Tom Wills, William Hammersley an James Thompson met to create the first set of rules for the game . There was a push in the early years of the game for the MFC rules to be universally adopted, but as various competitions set their own laws games were usually played under compromises as agreed by the competing captains.

This first set of rules was heavily influenced by the games of football played at British public schools like Rugby, Harrow, Eton and Winchester. Wills argued for Rugby school rules like place kicks and players who catch the ball being given a 'free kick'. Thompson protested but lost out. Wills also later won out against Thompson in a debate about what shape the ball should take.

The first Annual General Meeting of the club was held on Friday, 27 April 1860. Sydney Woolley was appointed as treasurer and secretary while the committee consisted of Bruce, Hammersley, Morrison, Smith, Thompson and Wills. A challenge from the newly formed Richmond was received and accepted, and two matches were organised against them. After the meeting 40 gentlemen joined in a scratch game with the 'novel shape' oval ball until darkness forced them to stop.

Despite an association with the Melbourne Cricket Club, the team was banned from using the MCG as a venue in 1873 and used the paddock in what is now Yarra Park for games in the Seven Twenties and South Yarra Cup competitions.

By 1866 other clubs had started to adopt the Melbourne rules, and the famous red and blue colour scheme was adopted soon after. Until that point they had been known as the "Invincible Whites". The nickname "Redlegs" was adopted after an official brought a sets of red and blue socks back from a trip to England and presented the club with the reds. Legend has it that Carlton were given the blue set and it also influenced their nickname.

Into the VFA and the birth of the VFL

Melbourne, then known as the Fuschias, were a founding member of the Victorian Football Association in 1877. The founding clubs Albert Park (later South Melbourne), East Melbourne, Essendon, Geelong, Hotham (later North Melbourne), Melbourne and St. Kilda met at Oliver's Cafe in Collins Street to create the organisation.

Melbourne played its first VFA match against Hotham on Saturday, June 2nd 1877 for a draw. The club were runners-up that season and also 1878, before dropping to fourth in 1879.

In 1880 a deal was finally struck to let the club use the MCG, albeit only for half the year, and the first night match in Australian Football history was held the same year.

1884 saw a disaster for the MCG when a 3000 capacity stand burnt down. The football club too was affected, with their goalposts and other equipment housed under the stand. It was the start of a bad run both on and off the field for the MFC.

By 1889 the club had hit rock bottom and were financially destitute. It was then that the MCC stepped in and took over the running of the football club, saving them from oblivion. They had incurred debts of between 300 and 600 pounds moving to a new ground on the site of today's AAMI Park, and gate receipts were totally inadequate to cover repayments as the side was thrashed on a weekly basis. It had been suggested late in the year that their status as a senior football side might have been removed.

For nearly the next century the 'football' division of the MCC would theoretically be equal with the cricket side, bowls team or any other sports side that the club fielded. The reincorporation into the MCC also allowed the football club to permanently use the MCG itself as their home ground.

The improved financial clout of the club allowed them to delve back into recruitment, and players were lured with the promise of jobs with the MCC. Melbourne finished fourth with ten wins in 1892 and second behind Essendon in both 1893 and 1894. They remained contenders in the dying days of the original VFA, with third and fourth place finishes in 1895 and 1896.

When the VFL competition was formed in 1897, the Fuschias were one of the founding members. They remained comfortably mid-table in the early seasons, and even won the 1900 flag from 6th on the ladder after finishing top of the 'sectional' ladder and beating Fitzroy in the Grand Final.

The club then embarked on a long and fruitless period where they missed the finals every year from 1903 to 1914, despite Vin Coutie and Harry Brereton topping the league goalkicking in 1904 and 1912.

The Fuschias had just dragged themselves back into the final four in 1915 when the First World War broke out and they forced into recess.

Between the wars

Melbourne rejoined the competition in 1919 with little success - they failed to win a game. They had seen their playing stocks decimated by the break, and by the war.

As the 1920's wore on the Redlegs started to build towards another tilt at the premiership. In 1925 they returned to the finals, and eventually in 1926, the year that Ivor Warne-Smith won his first Brownlow, they broke through for their second flag. Warne-Smith won his second Brownlow in 1928, but once more it proved to be another one off flag.

In 1933 Frank "Checker" Hughes became coach, lured to the club by his former Richmond secretary Percy Page. Hughes famously changed the team's nickname to the Demons, and under his leadership the side saw significant improvement as the decade continued.

The glory era and World War II

Image Hughes' winning touch took a few years to deliver results, but when it did it it did with some style delivering premierships in 1939, 1940 and 1941.

'Checker' retired after his team's third triumph, and Percy Beames took over as coach but his reign was instantly marred by the ravages of the Second World War. Seven of the side who had played in the hat-trick of championships were missing for the start of the next year and once again Melbourne were hit hard by wartime casualties.

Hughes returned in 1945, and it was the master coach who helped deliver the 1948 cup. They had been lucky to hold onto a draw in the Grand Final, but Essendon's inaccuracy allowed the Demons to force a draw before comfortably winning the replay.

Rebuilding and Dominance

Hughes retired again - leaving for a second time after winning a premiership. Allan La Fontaine took over, but despite seeing his team make the semi finals in 1950 he was replaced after a 1951 wooden spoon campaign.

Norm Smith returned to the club after three years coaching Fitzroy, and took his side to sixth in their first outing. They dropped back to 11th in 1953, but it was a season that saw 19 new players make their debut. Many of those players would form the nucleus of the glory era to come. In 1954 Smith took the side from 11th to a Grand Final where they lost to Footscray.

The next year, however, Smith would have his first premiership success as a coach. The 1955 flag was followed with the 1956 and 1957 cups. Shooting for four in a row to equal Collingwood's VFL record of the 1920's the Demons started hot favourites in the 1958 decider but were beaten. They gained some measure of revenge over the Pies in 1959, but it would be another 45 years before another side would play for four premierships in a row.

1960 bought further glory, before a preliminary final exit in 1961. 1962 and 1963 also saw Melbourne knocked out in the finals, with Ron Barassi controversially suspended for the entire '63 finals series.
A 'lucky' premiership in 1964 was the last hurrah of the glory era, and as fans celebrated that win they were not to know that things would never be the same again.

Shortly after the season ended Ron Barassi rocked the football world by accepting an offer to captain-coach Carlton.

The wilderness years

1965 saw the defending premiers fall to seventh, in a season where Norm Smith was controversially sacked before being reinstated. Checker Hughes came out of retirement to coach the round 13 game against North Melbourne before Smith was reinstated. The Demons had opened the season with eight straight wins, but after the Smith fiasco they fell to pieces.

1966 brought an 11th place finish, and despite recovering to 7th the next season it was clear that the club was no longer one of the VFL's major contenders. Smith stepped down as coach for 1968, replaced by John Beckwith but by 1969 the Demons were once again propping up the ladder with just three wins for the season.

Despite showing promise under Ian Ridley in 1971, and topping the ladder for the first five weeks, the 1970's would continue to be barren for the Demons. Bob Skilton took over in 1974 but the side finished last again. They won six more games in 1975 finish 10th, but it was now more than a decade since the powerhouse of the 50's and early 60's had appeared in a finals series.

Even the introduction of a final five didn't help. In 1976 under Skilton the club went within a point of making the finals when only a Carlton/Footscray draw in the final round would tip them out. Melbourne did their bit by beating Collingwood, condeming the Magpies to their first ever wooden spoon in the process, but inexplicably minor-premiers Carlton couldn't beat the Dogs and Footscray leapt over Melbourne into 5th.

Expected to build on their near miss in 1977 the side crashed back to 11th and lost Stan Alves to North Melbourne after a protracted clearance wrangle. '78 brought another wooden spoon and Skilton was dismissed, with Carl Ditterich returning as playing-coach.

Under Ditterich the Demons climbed off the bottom to 10th, but suffered some fearful poundings, including the round 17 VFL/AFL 190pt record loss against Fitzroy at Waverley. Ditterich retired at the end of 1980, a season where his side had improved to ninth, and was replaced by the prodigal son Ron Barassi.

In July of that year the football club separated from the MCC and became a public company in the quest of increasing supporter base and membership numbers. In the past the cricket club had taken any profits, and covered any shortfalls, of their football department. This was cause for some concern given that they had contributed $120,000 to cover deficits the year before. Melbourne Football Club were now tenants of the MCG on the same terms as Richmond and forced to pay rent.

Imploring the fans to give him five years to work his magic, Barassi saw his side win just one game in 1981 - their worst season since 1919. Finishing 8th in 1982 and 1983 it always seemed Melbourne were on the verge of something but always managed to shoot themselves in the footy. Back down to 9th in 1984, the only causes for celebration were the Brownlow Medal wins of Brian Wilson (1982) and Peter Moore (1984).

1985 saw the side slip even further, winning just one of their last 12 to finish only above the hapless Saints. Barassi retired for good, and against the backdrop of a rebellion against President Billy Snedden, former Sydney coach John Northey was appointed coach.

Back into the finals - the "Swooper" era

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The Demons showed some improvement under Northey in 1986, but more importantly they were blooding talented young players. The Irish Experiment had delivered Sean Wight, and would soon add Jim Stynes while recruits like Warren Deal and Earl Spalding gave the long suffering fans hope of some sort of success.

When success came it came rapidly - the 1987 Panasonic Cup was the Demons first senior triumph since the 1971 Night Series. On the back of that win Northey conjured up a second half revival in to put Melbourne into its first finals series since 1964. It had taken a miraculous comeback by Hawthorn in the dying minutes of their round 22 clash to get them there, but once the Demons were in they weren't resting on their laurels.

A first up demolition of North Melbourne in the Elimination Final was followed by another big win in the Semi Final against Sydney to take them into a Preliminary Final where they suffered a heartbreaking loss after the siren against Hawthorn.

Sneaking into the finals again the next year they went all the way to a Grand Final but were destroyed by the Hawks to the tune of 96 points. Jim Stynes won the Brownlow Medal in 1991 and the Demons were regular finalists until 1992

Into the AFL

Northey resigned at the end the fruitless '92 campaign where the Demons finished 11th and was replaced with former Richmond player Neil Balme. Balme took his side to a preliminary final in his second year, but the side were unsuccessful after that and it was the only finals series he would ever coach.

In 1996, with a significant financial carrot being dangled by the AFL, members voted to become the Melbourne Hawks but the proposal was defeated when Hawthorn fans voted against what they considered a take over. In the next few years the two side's financial fortunes would swing around to the point where the Hawks became a financial powerhouse and Melbourne were destitute.

1997 began with a shock first up win over defending premiers North Melbourne, but it would be the last time Neale Balme tasted victory with the Demons. He was sacked after round 9 when his side travelled to Football Park and kicked just two goals. They finished last that year, and former Essendon player Neale Daniher was appointed senior coach for 1998.

The bulk of the '97 side, with the addition of a number one draft pick (Travis Johnstone), gun recruit (Jeff White) and discarded St. Kilda defender (Jamie Shanahan), climbed off the ladder and into the finals. A side that won four games the year before had eclipsed that total by round six of '98. They went on to two big finals wins and a preliminary final against North Melbourne.

After a season of such promise, 1999 saw Melbourne struggle again, with the side sliding back towards the bottom of the ladder.

The 21st Century

In 2000 the Demons rebounded to a top four finish and a Grand Final against Essendon. Like 1988 they had the misfortune to end their season against a side who were one of the most dominant of their era and were heavy losers in what would be the closest they came to a premiership for the whole decade.

The now familiar even year/odd year syndrome reared its ugly head again, though, when the Demons missed the 8 in 2001. They bounced back to reach the second week of the finals in 2002 before collapsing to win just five games in 2003. Many believed the only thing that saved Neale Daniher from the sack at that point was the abysmal financial state the club found itself in, but Daniher managed to steer his side into September action in the next three seasons.

Touted as one of Victoria's brightest hopes for 2007, the Demons struggled and Daniher resigned mid-way through the year. His eventual successor as full-time coach Dean Bailey suffered a horror introduction to the job with two massive losses at the start of 2008 - and a wooden spoon in both his first two seasons.

The 2009 season saw rapid improvement compared to the year before, and though they won just one more match the side showed much more promise. At the end of the year the side 'earned' the rare right to have both the number 1 and 2 draft selections when they got a priority pick for two consecutive seasons of less than five wins.

2010 was another step forward for the young Demons and with three weeks left in the season they were in contention for the finals before eventually losing all of their last three matches.

With big things expected in 2011 Melbourne went through a rollercoaster season where they spent much of the first half of the year inside or around the top eight but also suffered crushing defeats against top sides. Bailey was sacked after the Demons underwent a humiliating 186 point loss to Geelong in Round 19, and Todd Viney was installed as caretaker coach.

At the end of the year former Collingwood Assistant Mark Neeld was appointed to the coaching job full-time, the 25th man to hold the job permanently and almost immediately suffered a string of misfortunes, most prominently the death of Jim Stynes after a brave battle against cancer.

Neeld's first season was a disappointment, and the club won just four games - three against the new Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney teams. He was dismissed midway through 2013, with the Demons sitting on one win. At the end of the season - after fill-in coach Neil Craig had added just one more victory - ex-Sydney premiership coach Paul Roos was appointed. He presided over a three season rise before handing over to assistant Simon Goodwin, who after a near miss in 2017 guided the side to the finals again in 2018. There they won two finals before bowing out in the Qualifying Final. The next season was a return to form, crashing back to 17th.

After a finals near miss in the COVID-19 ravaged 2020 season, shortened to 17 games and largely played outside Victoria, Goodwin's Demons finally struck gold again in 2021. The season started in Victoria, but after Melbourne started 9-0 this competition was again moved interstate due to COVID outbreaks. Captain Max Gawn won the club its first minor premiership since 1964 with a kick after the siren in the last game of the year. The Demons then romped through the finals, comfortably accounting for Brisbane, then romping past Geelong in the Preliminary Final, then coming back from 19 points down to register a huge, drought-breaking win over the Western Bulldogs in the first Grand Final played in Perth. The 74 point win secured the club's 13th premiership, ending 57 year flag drought, the longest in football.


Demonland MFC history - Part One
Demonland MFC history - Part Two
Demonland MFC history - Part Three
Demonland MFC history - Part Four
Demonland MFC history - Part Five
Demonland MFC history - Part Six
Demonland MFC history - Part Seven
Demonland MFC history - Part Eight
Demonland MFC history - Part Nine
Demonland MFC history - Part Ten
Sports History - Melbourne FC
Argus - 02/05/1936

Created by Supermercado. Last Modification: Thursday 31 March 2022 16:23:34 AEDT by Supermercado. (Version 53)

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