Origins of the Carlton Football Club

Origins of the Carlton Football Club
Jeff Atkinson

Carlton’s famous football club, the “Blues”, has been in existence for more than 150 years.

Founded in 1864, it was one of the dominant clubs in the early days of Australian rules football in Melbourne.

According to its first annual report, published in 1865, the club grew rapidly in membership and reputation: “Since its first match, which was played with the Grammar School Club, it has steadily increased its position among footballers till it attained the top of the ladder by being ranked second to none in the colony.”

The other teams that Carlton played against in those early days included Williamstown, South Yarra, Royal Park, and one called the Warehousemen.

Originally the club had no home ground on which to train or play and was forced to use a variety of different grounds in and around Carlton. Its first teams were fielded on a clearing in Royal Park, and that reserve provided the backdrop for the first 10 years of its existence. Over the next few decades, it trained and played on grounds in the University of Melbourne and at the southern end of Princes Park.

In those early years, the players at Carlton tended to be predominantly middle class as that was the nature of the suburb. But they nevertheless acquired a reputation for being wild and tempestuous players. By the early 1870s, matches between Carlton (the Blues) and Melbourne (the Reds) were a highlight of the football season, regularly attracting crowds in the tens of thousands.

The 1870 season saw Victoria’s first official premiership competition. Carlton performed creditably that year to finish third. The following year, however, brought the club’s first premiership, and then three more in succession in 1873, 1874 and 1875. These were the years in which Carlton dominated the competition.


In 1877 the Victorian Football Association (VFA) was formed with Carlton as one of its founding members. It was one of the VFA’s most successful teams sweeping all before it to win the inaugural premiership that year.


By the late 1870s, however, Carlton’s early halcyon period was coming to an end. Part of the problem was its lack of a home ground on which to train. In 1878, the club suddenly found itself evicted from its grounds at the University of Melbourne. Without the advantage of a home base the side slumped to third place that season behind Geelong who were premiers, and Melbourne.

The 1879 season saw Carlton playing its home matches at the southern end of Princes Park, but it was not permitted to enclose the grounds nor to charge admission. The side improved slightly that year however to finish as runner-up to Geelong.

It was not until 1896 that the Carlton Football Club acquired a permanent home when it and the Carlton Cricket Club were granted occupancy of some rather rustic sports grounds on the site of the current oval at the northern end of Princes Park.

The end of the 19th century saw the club well established on its own grounds in Princes Park, but not doing well in the competition. In both 1899 and 1900, Carlton was placed seventh on the ladder, in a competition that had only eight teams. •


Caption: The Carlton football team in 1874, probably taken in Royal Park. Carlton won the premiership that year (Photo: Blueseum).

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