Foundation Year of the VFL


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1897 Summary

On 2nd October, 1896, delegates from six clubs (Melbourne, Collingwood, South Melbourne, Essendon, Geelong and Fitzroy) met to discuss their dissatisfaction at the structure of the VFA, and perhaps more relevantly their unhappiness at having to financially carry weaker clubs. One proposal discussed was to break the VFA into divisions, but eventually it was decided to form a breakaway competition, the Victorian Football League (VFL).

Carlton was also invited to join because of our past good record, but we might have been fortunate because we had struggled in recent years and did not control our own home ground. St Kilda also accepted an invitation to join the fledgling competition, meaning that the VFL would kick off its first season with matches featuring eight teams: Geelong, Essendon, Melbourne, Collingwood, South Melbourne, Fitzroy, St Kilda, and, of course, Carlton.

  • Geelong (The Pivotonians) played their home matches at Corio Oval, East Geelong;
  • Essendon (The Same Old) played their home games at East Melbourne Cricket Ground, Jolimont;
  • Melbourne (The Fuschias) played their home games at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Jolimont;
  • Collingwood (The Magpies) played their home games at Victoria Park, Abbotsford;
  • South Melbourne (The Bloods or Bloodstained Angels) played their home games at Albert Park, South Melbourne;
  • Fitzroy (The Maroons) played their home games at Brunswick Street Oval, Fitzroy;
  • St Kilda (The Saints) played their home games at the Junction Oval, St Kilda;
  • Carlton (The Blues) played their home games at Princes Park, Carlton.


"The old Carltonians are getting an improved twenty together this season, and are likey to shake things up a bit. The boys have been turning up well during the past week or two, and a number of smart and promising juniors have been looking with longing eyes at the club. Some of them are as yet undecided as to the club they will play with, but the "certs" are said to be Reekie, a follower, Albion United; Cummings, forward, a good man from Castlemaine; Riordan, wing, a local lad; Graham, half back on the wing, Crescent; Howard, who played last year, is one of the team.
Blake,Woodhouse, Weir, Walton, Armstrong, and O'Cock have shown rattling form so far. Ted Walton, Ingram, and Rolfe have gone to Western Australia. Patterson will probably not play for some time, and Balharry will not take the field unless on occasions when they are hard pressed for a player. "Bal" is doing much for the club and though he is not hon. sec. this season is working heartily for the good of the game in general and his club in particular. Mr. H. Darke is carrying out the duties of honorary secretary."
(Herald May 01 1897 p3)

Our first VFL match was played against Fitzroy at the Brunswick Oval, and resulted in a 33 point loss. Our first win was against St Kilda in Round 6, and our only other victory for the year (and the first on Carlton's new home ground at the northern end of Princes Park) also came against the Saints in Round 13. These would be the Blues' only wins in our inaugural VFL season.

It was originally agreed that the VFL Premier would be decided not by a one-match final, but by points earned over a series of semi-finals, with the top four from the preliminary rounds moving on to the semi-finals. Essendon were crowned inaugural VFL Premiers on the back of an undefeated run through these Semi-Finals.

At the other end of the table was Carlton, who finished seventh in our first year in the VFL. No doubt, 7th sounds a lot more positive than second last - but the fact is that the Blues struggled through the year, winning only the two matches against St Kilda. The Saints didn't win a game and finished up with the appalling percentage of 29%. Carlton fans should be more thankful for the existence of St Kilda, for without them, we would have won a wooden spoon in the very first year of the competition! This would also be the first of 6 years in a row without finals action, a record that Carlton would not repeat until the 21st century.

All up, Carlton used 39 players during 1897, twenty-four of whom had worn Navy Blue in the VFA. Only two; Brook Hannah and Ernie Walton played in every game, while six others missed just one match. Fifteen individuals scored at least one goal for Carlton during the year, with Wally Ocock the leading goal-scorer with 15. Sam Chapman was next, with 12 goals.


5Sth Melbourne8153478.126.59457.88.430138.1
8St Kilda0014035.71.281133.168.96629.1
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Posn 8 6 6 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
% 32 58 55 54 44 51 55 51 49 48 45 45 51 51

During the 1897 home and away season, Carlton's attack and defence were both ranked seventh. Carlton averaged 27 points per game at a goal-kicking accuracy rate of 41.8%. We conceded an average of 53 points per game, at an accuracy rate of 39.7%. Essendon had the best attack, with 706 points for, and Geelong had the best defence with 382 points against. As previously mentioned, St Kilda didn't win a game. They had by far the worst attack (281 points) and the worst defence: 966 points conceded.

Carlton v Brunswick at Princes Park, April 25

Carlton players required to be present by 2.30pm
No further details.

VFL vs Bendigo, June 09

A League team played a Bendigo representative team on the Upper Reserve Bendigo on Wednesday June 09.
The Bendigo Independent (June 07) in previewing the game said of Carlton's players;
"Reekie and Walton backs, two of the best; Hannah, centre, small, smart and slippery."
The VFL team wore Essendon colours - black with red sash guernsey, black knickers, and red and black socks.

People of 1897

Captain: Jimmy Aitken
Vice Captain: Ernie Walton
Leading Goalkicker: Wally Ocock, who would be our leading Goalkicker with 15 (2 goals when he played under the pseudonym of Wallace in Round 12)
Patrons: The Mayor Cr. Strong, Ald. Pigdon, Crs. Cook, Brennan, Ievers, Hennesy, A. Gillespie, Esq., T. S. Marshall, Esq., S. Quirk, Esq., Lt Col. Robertson, Drs. Cole, Fletcher, Mailer, Griffith, Lynch.


Inception Blues: The first Blues to ever represent the Club are listed here.
Debuts (Round 2 to 14): Billy Arnott, Jim Goonan, Herbie Lowenthal, Sam Reid, Bill Patterson, Oscar Manchester, Jack Roberts, Jack Frost, Henry Crane, Jim Lyons, Harry H Morgan, Bobby Walsh, Jim Caffery, Chic Breese, Sam Chapman, Harry Gyles, Harry Howard, Alby Paterson, Peter Williams

Round: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14
Playing List | Debuts | 1897 Season Gallery
Big Stories: Finals Droughts | Interchange Rules | Granddad Crane
Pre VFL years | 1896 | 1898

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