Australasian. June 23 1888.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground this afternoon is something of a great octopus stretching out it’s arms to gather in it’s thousands. There is a stream of people passing along Flinders-street and down past Jolimont, another through the Fitzroy-gardens and out at the south-eastern gate, a third from the end of Bridge-road, and others almost as large from the direction of the Richmond railway station and down through the park from Powlett-street.

Passengers cling upon the trams from Melbourne anyhow, like a newly- swarmed hive of bees upon a bough. On one tram we counted 93 passengers, which is about double as many the licence permits, not only two of the number went further than the cricket ground gates. What a struggle at the pigeon-holes for tickets! The Rugby “scrimmager” would be invaluable here. The turnstiles groan as though weary of registering the passage of so many people.

Inside the rink the Ragamuffin Troupe of acrobats and tumblers are giving the customary performance-not for mere honour and glory, since one member of the company is occupied nearly the whole of the time in taking up a collection in a ragged cap. An enthusiastic policeman, who has not yet been laughed at by the crowd for his folly in “achivvyin” the bounding wonder of the Yarrapark or the Punt-road phenomenon, enters the ground and attempts to evict the company, but he might as well try to corner rabbits. They decoy him over the far side of the ground, then stream back again and continue the performance. All these things are a sign of a great football match. The lode-stone that draws the multitude together is a large blue-lettered announcement on the hoardings “Carlton v Geelong”.
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A few words about the clubs, chiefly historic. Although Carlton is known as the “old club,” Geelong is really the much elder of the two, for it was first organised in 1859, while Carlton did not come into existence until 1864. Their first colours were orange and blue caps, the rest of their uniform being a matter of individual choice.

Melbourne, oldest of all the senior clubs, were distinctive in this respect, for as all their players were accustomed to wear white pants they became known in the field as the ‘invincible whites”. A significance in colours outside mere club considerations was sought. One club, for instance, wore green caps with a scarlet band, for, as there were a great many Irishmen in the team, an international blend was desired, and it was held that the blue jersey sufficiently represented Scotland. Someone suggested that this might indicate a resolve to hoist “the green above the red”, so, to prevent misunderstanding, the cap was crowned with a large red button.

The soldiers under Lieutenant Noyes played in forage caps and grey jerseys, and it was of them that a poet of the period wrote in this pessimistic strain:-

''Woe to the chap with the narrow chest
Who meets the 14th with lance in rest.
A charge, a punch, a sudden crunch-
Take him away till his wounds are dressed.''

Carlton first went down to Geelong to play football in 1869-very nearly 20 years ago-and they were soundly beaten, but it was not until the Geelong and Barwon teams buried their local feuds and turned their united strength against the common enemy that Geelong footballers made a reputation.

They came up to Melbourne shortly afterwards, and a tremendous crowd followed them to the Royal Park, where they met Carlton in the open, won the match, and fairly started their since brilliant career. The poet sung their praises in the following issue of the Australasian, the commencement of the battle being thus described-

''"Now, boys, to your places!” Each forward man races,
And almost outpaces the ball as it rolls,
And ere half a minute the Pivot are in it,
And go with a rush at the enemy’s goals.''

So, after many battles, they meet again today.

Much of the colour and character of the game is foreshadowed in the dressing-rooms, although all that goes on here is something beyond the public ken. The thousands know the players only as they see them afield, but if they are ignorant of what goes on in the dressing-room it is not for the want of any lack of energy in trying to find out.

The doorkeeper is constantly pestered with applicants for admission, and reiterates again and again the explanation, “Players and trainers only”. A card from Mr.Atkinson brings us under either of these headings, but we are not sure which. Even then one finds that he has pierced merely the line of outposts, for there is an inner cordon of camp sentries, who all, however, respect the M.C.C. countersign.


First to the Carlton dressing-room. Here are “the boys in blue” all in the bustle of perspiration. The first impression is an over-powering odour of eucalyptus oil, with which several players are generously anointing themselves. They are patriotic in their choice of unguents at any rate, and the room smells like a dense gum forest on one of those dull dewy mornings when the sun has not begun the work of distillation. The players say that this oil takes all the stiffness out of old bruises and generally makes one feel pliant and elastic-a fine physical merit in a footballer.

The little man who has the honour to be the trainer of the Carlton team-and therefore to be the envy of all the youth of the northern suburbs-flits about the room, stumbling over boots and entangling himself among uniforms, now with a pair of hard flesh-gloves laboriously rubbing down a player, next handling round a red-labelled bottle and giving to each player, a wine-glassful of it’s contents. It is a cordial- a herbal mixture intended to keep the player’s mouth moist during the exertions of the game. It is a brown, bilious-looking mixture, but each player takes his medicine with good grace, as though his physician had ordered it.

There are no intoxicants used in this room. Nothing but restoratives and “revivers”, the latter being the name given by the trainer to his brown mixture. There are constant calls for “Bonnor’. This was clearly not the name given to the little man in baptism, but his thrifty physique has provided another christening from some of the facetious members of the team. Indeed, it strikes one that liberties have been more or less taken with the Christian names of nearly every member of the team. By way of endearment, perhaps, a termination has been added, so that the players have become variously Mickey, Geordie, or Wally.

At one end of a form the club shoemaker is fitting to the boots of the players small leather blocks to prevent their slipping upon the greasy turf. These are big or little, in proportion to the state of the ground, for the use of iron spikes is not permitted. Here is literally the old note of preparation from “Henry V”-“With busy hammer closing rivets up.”

At the other end of the form is a heap of glistening yellow dust- the powered resin into which each player as he leaves the room for the field rubs his hands, so that he may not at a critical moment lose his hold of an opponent. Amongst the uniforms of the players is a great a harmony as in physique. Several wear small blue skullcaps, but the majority play bare-headed. Every man has the shoulders of his jacket-for it is no longer the jersey of olden times-strapped with chamois leather. Once these might be pulled over the head, and were often torn to ribbons in a match, but the sleeveless dungaree jacket is now tight-laced, and opposing hands glance over it without finding a hold.

It is the battle of ships and guns over again. The player puts on a jacket which he claims cannot be held, and rubs upon his hands a preparation warranted to hold anything. The Carlton team are wonderfully alike in build. There is no tall man amongst them, and but two to whom the descriptions small or slight may apply. They may be correctly described as little-big men. Indeed, as long as one can remember almost, width has been a characteristic of Carlton footballers, and perhaps the dark uniform, as giving the team a solid appearance, may have something to do with it.

Proportionally, most of the teams are models for a sculptor. One cannot look upon them and admit the Anglo-Saxon race is becoming physically degenerate. How safe we might feel on the lee side of a row of bayonets held in such sturdy arms as these, and what a corps either for fighting or a forced march might be organised in an emergency from our footballers. The discipline of a football team is so strict that they have already learned the best lessons of a soldier. The family resemblance in the Carlton team extends largely to the face as well as the frame, and apart from physical considerations the type might be said to lack character.

The profile of this club face is almost a straight line, the forehead hardly as expansive, perhaps, as Mr. Ruskin would have liked it, but the chin dominant wonderfully square and eloquent in it’s expression of determination. Altogether not a team to be beaten half-way through a game. Here in the corner is a brawny follower with a skin brown and healthy-looking, carrying that ruddy tint which we noticed so strikingly in the arms of the ex-champion, Edward Hanlan, as he stepped into his boat on the Nepean River for his first race upon Australian waters. Everywhere is muscle and sinew, but no spare flesh. Everywhere the perfection of health and condition.


Now for a peep at the Geelong twenty ere they are summoned to the field by the voice of the impatient thousands outside. The Geelong mentor is quite another type of man to “Bonnor’ of Carlton. An old gentleman, brown in complexion, and with his grey “bell-topper” pushed well to the back of his head. Like the prospects of the club this season it seems somewhat out of sorts with the world. Possibly the owner won it when Geelong were last premiers, and the chance of a new one at the end of the season seems poor at present.

Geelong methods are not exactly those of Carlton. Each player, for example, after coating his hands with powered resin, pours upon it a few drops of liquid from a small vial which smells strongly of ammonia. It makes the resin stick, and apparently has the effect desired, for the team have the reputation of being holders. Not that the Geelong men are lacking in respect for the rules, but their trainer’s “hold fast” is too strong for them, and they cannot always let go even when they wish to do so.

Before going out each player in turn stands erect, with his arms extended aloft, at an angle of 45 deg. between the line of the head and the shoulders. Then, standing in front of him, the trainer drums on the player’s chest pretty vigorously with his open palm, just as the doctor might in seeking for a possible spot in a patient’s lung. This, no doubt, is intended to clear away the cobwebs and keep the breathing pipes clean, for during the next couple of hours they will be fully occupied. Then the trainer stands, towel in hand, watching the players go out, very much as you may have seen the horse trainer in the birdcage at Flemington send away his Cup horse with the last flick of the towel at an imaginary speck of dust upon it’s glossy skin.

The Geelong boys have no chamois leather upon their shoulders, and they wear hose of distinct pattern, the stripes being narrow instead of the regulation inch band. They are, as a team, less muscular than Carlton, and the type of face is more intellectual all though, as might be expected of a team whose recruits are drawn largely from public schools, in contradistinction to Carlton, whose nursery is junior football. The Geelong club claims the credit of having long ago taught metropolitan teams the benefit of a temperate training for football, and the latter, it seems, have benefited by the lesson. They showed that the footballer must be temperate, regular, and orderly in all things-that he must avoid public-houses as a local optionist would, and observe, at least, the first part of the advice, “Early to bed and early to rise,” even if he be not too particular in his devotion to the latter half of it. It is told of a certain senior team that on the night it was founded the members determined to drink success to it, and the order given to the waiter was “Thirty pints of beer and one ginger-ale” , the player ordering the latter remarking that he would preserve the harmony in colour , at any rate. The performances of the team in the field are just what the baptism of beer might have indicated. The Geelong team, at the height of their fame, were credited with doing a great deal of their training in the sea-water.


Outside there is no lack of colour. At every step almost one meets some of the champions who followed the bounding ball in the days when the first two goals settled the match, even if they were got inside five minutes-an unsatisfactory arrangement as compared with the spirited two hours’ struggle of today. These old footballers are wonderfully loyal. Having once worn the colours, they must perforce cheer them on for the term of their natural lives.

Foremost amongst them is the honourable member for the district, a dashing player in his day and a terrible charger. Who that saw it will never forget the way in which he spread out “Big”Watson on the Corio ground, when that good-tempered giant from very force of circumstances was accustomed to play nine-pins with his opponents?

The pleasant face close by, with the ‘strawberry blonde” moustache is clearly that of Lanty, “the famed punt kick”. Not far away is a noted follower of the blues, who in the days when condition was a less important point than it is now, we have seen search about for a couple of pebbles to keep his mouth from catching fire, for there were no herbal mixtures then.

He seems to fit the family motto, “Virtutis Gloria Merces”. Another equally old “Blue” is the honorary secretary of the association-one of the founders of the club. It is said that some of the keenest critics in the world are the crowds who gather to see Yorkshire or Notts play their county matches, and of this crowd of 20,000 people gathered here to-day it may be said with equal truth that, excluding the ladies, not five percent can be taught a new point in the game. The game is too often described by those who know nothing about it as a mere vehicle for the release of passions otherwise dangerously conserved. Brain force is put down as the first and last requirement in a footballer. A player must necessarily have a good constitution to stand the strain put upon it, but unless he has, in addition to strength of arm and limb, a cool head, he soon learns he has no business on the football field.

Even the suspicion of rough or unfair play will bring together a thunder of groans from the crowd, and thus the very influences that urge the footballer to do his best prevent him doing that best in any other than a manly and generous spirit. He must be pretty thick in the skin who can disregard the censure as conveyed in characteristic manner by such a gathering as this.

The fascination of the game can only be realized by thus moving amongst the crowd. Here is a youth of 14, perhaps, hanging half over the front of the grandstand. His face is a mirror, in which every change of the game is faithfully reflected. Watching it, you may turn your back to the players, and yet know how the game goes.

In the one instant there is gloom-Geelong are forcing it up the ground-then a spasm of joy, Carlton has turned the attack. No comedian on the stage ever forced his face to express so many feelings as this boy unconsciously portrays. Now, again, facial expression cannot rise to the situation, and he screams out a word of approval or advice to a player on the further side of the ground, which distance, even it not the din of the crowd, would prevent his hearing.

All the badges worn are blue and white to-day, only of Geelong it may be said, something in the words of Ophelia, “You wear your blue with a difference”. The “hon. member”, hesitating between claims of birth and residence, has compromised the matter in a necktie which pledges him definitely to neither team. The colours displayed in hat, scarf, or button-hole are of three styles. First, the sixpenny badge of superfine silk, then the threepenny favor, hardly so good in quality, and, last, the penny cardboard, generally worn by a boy in the band of his hat. Had it cost a guinea, it could not be the symbol of a keener partisan.

A delicate-looking boy, not more than eight years old, is talking football to a friend. “I’ve been a supporter of Melbourne for three years,” he says in a melancholy tone, as though venturing the hope that such devotion must someday have it’s reward in seeing the club premiers. “The South Melbourne push”, we learn, are pretty good; and a third team are described as “nearly all butchers’, but whether by occupation or inclination is not made clear. For the time being, indeed, all the onlookers are but boys of large growth.

The highest official of the Carlton club is even more illogical than the rest and all through the play continues to assert things just as firmly in the one instant as he denies them in the next. A Carlton player has the ball now, and the president applauds vociferously. “Well played Johnnie. Well played Johnnie. The best man in the team”, he continues in a tone that challenges contradiction. Then the player bungles it sadly, and all the praise is taken back again with an indignant “Pooh, not fit for a second twenty.” Space forbids one telling the funny things he sees and hears amongst the crowd at a football match.


A cheer taken up all round the ground announces the appearance, just as you see them in a sketch, coming through the gate way. “The foremost Tartar in the gap” is the captain of the Geelong twenty. Close behind him is the umpire in white cricketing flannels and Cambridge-blue cap-the hardest-worked man, perhaps of the whole forty. He is generally an old player, who acquired his stamina in playing the game, and now by reason of his coolness and judgment is chosen to see fair play. A still wilder cheer announces the Carlton team. Not many years ago the captain would have moved about, paper in hand, placing his men and instructing them. “You play back and watch the goal- sneak. You keep just outside the ruck. You go forward on the right and play to Dedman.”

Such were the orders given by Carlton skippers of old. Now every man knows his place, and experiments in the way of changing are rarely made in the big match unless there is good reason for it. Even the coin is spun in the dressing-rooms. The losing side places the ball in the centre of the ground, the partisans of both sides unite their voices in a swelling roar of excited encouragement, and the game has commenced.


Now to single out a few of the leading players from the bulk as the game proceeds. M’Lean and Baker, two of the manliest and most generous of footballers, may appropriately be named together, for each stands at present a unique example of loyalty and devotion to one club. The former, though he carries on his business in Collins-street, does not permit distance to separate him from his team with whom he has so long and creditably played, while Baker has for years past been resident near Geelong, and has travelled down to Melbourne Saturday after Saturday, season after season, to play for Carlton.

And for this reason, not less than for the merit as players, the two, is certain, are held in higher estimation by the 20,000 people round about them than any dozen of footballers of the “sundowner” type, of which there are one or two in blue a-field to-day. Here is a neatly built footballer who has played the game with Carlton for, I should think, 15 years, played it manfully and well, and yet it seems to have hurt him but slightly, for, as one of the onlookers puts it, “He’s a bit of a Goer still.” The name links us in a sense with some of the worthies of the past.


In the dressing-rooms preparation of being made for half-time. The janitor at the door fills his bag with oranges from the club bag, while “Bonnor” wrestles with a carpet bag in which there are nicely-sliced lemons. A half dozen enthusiasts-champions of a bygone time-file into the room, pull off their coats, and roll up their sleeves, preparatory to giving the team a rub down.

The players are a long time forcing their way through the crush in front of the grand stand, and hundreds of hands are stretched out to pat them on the back as they pass. Inside they have little else to do than wash away some of the mud from their faces and suck their lemons-enthusiastic followers see to everything else. Half the players are talking at one time about incidents of the play. The follower with the muscular arms looks upon them with some concern, for there are red weals across where opposing hands, coated with resin, have glanced, across. “Yes” he says “they do hold you.” At three quarter time there is a final and hurried distribution of lemons as players change ends for the last time.

(From Garrie Hutchinson's book Great Australian Football Stories)

Blueseum: Season 1888 | Jack Baker