The Melbourne Rules

Oz Sports History



University Football Club

The foundation stone was laid in July 1854, and the first four professors in the faculties of Mathematics, Classics and Ancient History, Natural Sciences, and Modern History and Literature arrived early in 1855.

Construction was still incomplete, so classes commenced in April, 1855 in the then Exhibition Building in William Street. The University building was occupied later in the year.  (Image)

Control of the playing area was in the first instance the responsibility of the cricket club.  

Later, the control was vested in the University Athletic Association (dating back to 1872), but with a variety of sports clamouring for use of the ground, management was then placed in the hands of an independent University Recreation Grounds Committee – three members of the University Council, the heads of the colleges, the Registrar of the University, the president and secretary of the Sports Union, two members of the cricket club, and one from each of the clubs enrolled with the Sports Union with perhaps the obvious exception of the rowing club.

In the early days, there were very few students – various histories put the numbers in the early years as somewhere between 11 and 16 and a report in The Age in 1933 suggested that in 1859, when Bell’s Life on May 28 carried a correspondent’s report on a game between St. Kilda and the University, (described as “long-awaited” and 15 aside), there were just 36 students enrolled.

After several false starts in the nineteenth century where the University tried to establish both football and cricket teams in the contemporary senior ranks of the day, the "senior" University club in 1905 joined the Metropolitan Football Association, from 1909, the Metropolitan Amateur Football Association, and then from 1932 to its current title of the Victorian Amateur Football Association.

The club immediately became a major force in amateur ranks, winning the 1906 premiership with just one loss to Hawthorn Amateurs, one of the clubs that ultimately merged to become the Association and later League club from the district.

The University club repeated the feat in 1907, losing one game to Brighton, one of the their rival  applicants to be the League's tenth team, but destined to confine their ambitions to the Victorian Football Association after Richmond were invited in preference.

Given the club's success, a meeting was held in the Biology School at the University on September 12, when there were about 100 undergraduates present.

The president, Professor Baldwin Spencer took the chair and suggested that with the current number of students and a sound infrastructure, an effort should be made to return the University to senior ranks, i.e. the V.F.L. who had made in known that they were keen to introduce two new clubs.

Spencer's idea was the University should continue to run their second team in the Metropolitan Association (hence the later concept of University Blacks and University Blues).

The team captain, Henry "Harry" Cordner suggested that the University's win over the Essendon Association team showed them to be up to senior ranks, a status that the tennis, cricket, lacrosse, and rowing teams all shared, and he ultimately moved a motion “that this meeting is of the opinion that it is desirable for the University Football Club to apply to enter the Victorian Football League.”

Mr. John Lang, the secretary of the University Sports Union, seconded the motion which was carried unanimously and an application to join League ranks was duly submitted with a delegation comprising Spencer, Cordner and the secretary, Mr. J. N. Allen meeting with League officials on September 25.

The delegation admitted that the University ground was "not in a condition to play league football", but they were willing to use the East Melbourne ground in the interim while their own oval was brought up to scratch.

Allen claimed that there were 28 men who had played league football that season that were eligible to play for the University, and that 12 or 13 were willing to switch to the new club along with 15 of their regular players.

The University's application was discussed at a meeting of the League on October 4.

The motion to admit "the students" was moved by the Carlton delegate, Mr. J. Urquhart and seconded by Mr. M. Wilson of Essendon, but unfortunately the motion included an additional clause that the League should also admit a second club to expand the competition to ten teams.  

The inclusion of the University was unanimous, but the second half of Urquhart's motion caused rather more discussion with both Richmond and Brighton in the running.  Collingwood were pushing the case for their neighbour Richmond, and with support from South Melbourne were strongly in favour of their admittance, Geelong and Essendon rather less so.

The attitudes of other clubs were not recorded, but Mr. Henry Skinner, one of the South Melbourne delegates perhaps revealed a hidden agenda when he suggested "… League clubs should have metropolitan grounds and let the Association look after the suburbs … if we take in University and Richmond, we'll have two good central grounds".

Skinner's ambition of a "good central ground" fell apart almost immediately.

The Sports Union of the University were rather less than impressed with Spencer's movement of their football club to the somewhat dubious "amateur" Victorian Football League and refused permission for the team to use the University Oval regardless of condition.

The new team accepted the shared use of the East Melbourne Cricket Ground with Essendon for the 1908, 1909 and 1910 seasons, then switching to share the M.C.G. with Melbourne, the latter switch leading some historians to incorrectly suggest that the two clubs officially merged with the demise of the alma mater in September, 1914.

(There had been a proposed merger of Melbourne and University in 1889 after Melbourne had won just four games in the preceding year - Melbourne's Annual Meeting in April saw many members keen on the concept, but unwilling accept any change to their name or colours).

The first meeting of the new League club was held, not surprisingly, at the Biological School at the University with Baldwin Spencer again in the chair and a committee elected comprising one delegate from each of the Trinity, Queens and Ormond Colleges, plus five "extra-collegiate" appointments, including Cordner, a former Melbourne player. It was also resolved to continue their association with the M.F.A. with a seconds side.

(Dr. Henry “Harry” Cordner was in England when war broke out and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps on 16 August, 1914 and promoted to Captain on 16 August, 1916, while serving in France).

In the interim, the League refused to endorse the recommendations of their Finance Committee made "in the interest of maintaining the game on an amateur basis".  The Committee's three recommendations, in brief, were :

No one to play with a metropolitan club unless residing within 25 miles of the Melbourne G.P.O., (same for Geelong and the local Post Office),

Existing players with League clubs not to be subjected to the above, but expense to be limited to 10 shillings per day and first-class rail free from place of residence, both limited to three days per week.

Players to reside in their present location for three months before becoming eligible under the two previous rules

The rebuttal of the Finance Committee's proposal effectively meant that clubs could continue paying players as much as they could see fit (and obviously afford), but the University's meeting confirmed the status of their players - Spencer re-affirming "the University entered the League as amateurs and would have nothing to do with professionalism".

The League, a few weeks after admitting Richmond and the University, passed a resolution that each club must advise the League which ground they would play on, and must guarantee no other team would use that ground.  The move was a thinly-disguised swipe at the V.F.A. which was rapidly gaining popularity with their finals being played at the East Melbourne ground used by the Essendon club.

The League was forced almost immediately to rescind its own motion to allow the University to use the East Melbourne ground - the club also played the 1909 and 1910 seasons there before moving to the nearby Melbourne Cricket Ground in conjunction with Melbourne.

In the final years of his medical studies, Harry Cordner relinquished his role of captain (although he continued as a leading player in 1908-09 before heading to Western Australia), to Thomas Fogarty, a former student who had played with St. Kilda in 1898 (10 games) and then South Melbourne (66 games, 20 goals) from 1902 to 1906.  

Fogarty retired due to business commitments in 1907, but was convinced to return to represent the alma mater in their first season of senior football.  Vice-captain was Edgar Kneen, son of a former Collingwood junior player, Tom and, nephew of Jack Kneen, captain of Carlton in the late 1870s.

Allen's prediction of the previous year of a number of former and current players willing to switch to the new University club proved true.

In a Gold Coast/GWS style coup, no less than 19 former League players, the majority of who seem to have played with the amateur side of 1907 were granted permits to play.

Only a handful had extensive League experience - Edgar Kneen had played 48 games for 35 goals with Fitzroy including the 1904 and 1905 premierships before another 46 games and 48 goals with University, and Gil. Barker (42/4, 6/2) was also a member of the 1904 premiership side.

In a marathon sitting of the V.F.L Permit committee Geelong's Ralph Upton (no senior games), Frank Boynton (14 games and 2 goals) and Dr. Jim Piper, one game); from Melbourne came Harry Cordner (11/16), his brother Edward (2/-), Tom Ogilvie (1/-), Jack West (4/-), Athol Tymms (3/1)), Lancelot Sleeman (1/0), Ted Fleming (1/0), William Marshall (1/0) and Charles Mackay (12/7).

Tom Fogarty was joined by two brothers; Joe (9/5 with South Melbourne and 2/3 with Essendon) and Chris 10/0 with St. Kilda and 66/20 with South Melbourne.

Many of these recruits had played with the University in 1906 and 1907 in the M.F.A., and stilled required a “clearance” from their brief careers at the League level, but what it is perhaps most surprising was the contribution made by three unheralded players granted permits from Ballarat.

Denby Browning played with the Uni for three years, totalling 38 games and 25 goals, Martin Ratz 42 and 52, but the proverbial “one that got away” was Leo Seward.

Seward had studied at the Ballarat School of Mines while dominating the local football competition and moved to Melbourne to complete a degree in Mining Engineering at the University.  At 6 feet 4 and 14 and a half stone (193 cm and 93 kg) Seward was considered by many commentators at the time as being potentially one of the greatest players of the time.

He played just one season with the University in 1908 before moving to Western Australia, where he was tragically killed in a road accident early in 1941.

The First Season

Coincidentally, the University played their co-tenants Essendon in the opening round, but they proved no match for their more experienced opponents, losing 3.11 to 14.11.  

The following week saw the students post their first win in League ranks, beating Richmond, the other new team (who the Sporting Judge suggested "suffered from the V.F.A. convention that the ball should not be kicked from a ruck of players, instead moved around by hand until it could be picked up"), kicking 14.10 to 12.4.

Some commentators suggested that despite their lack of experience and, given they were by nature a young team, a lack of weight, “their superior intelligence will win through".

Despite this, "the students" earned a reputation as a vigorous team, willing to give us much as they took.   

Perhaps "intelligence" also counted, The Argus a few weeks into the season noting that “… it was emphatically declared by numerous “know-alls” that the medical students in the team or amongst its supporters had instructed their comrades how to elbow opponents in such part of their anatomy that they would be greatly hampered in their play, but would not be in danger of permanent injury".

The University had a highly respectable season, winning eight of 18 matches to finish sixth of the ten teams - compared with Richmond's six wins and ninth position - but some commentators were already concerned about the club's future, noting the club's lack of a natural suburban base and thus "real barrackers", and a limited choice of potential players.

To qualify, a player had to be attending the University or have successfully completed the Matriculation Certificate, one estimate a year or so later suggesting that the club had a base of just 670 to select players from.

The uniform adopted for the League team was described a black jersey with blue "V" and facings - the "facings" a neckband, waistband and cuffs - white knickers and black hose with blue tops. The white knicks seem later to have changed to black, perhaps for the ease of washing.

Ironically, the 1908 season saw a move by the University of Adelaide to join the South Australian Football League, an application eventually not even considered by the League delegates.  

An earlier meeting had promised a hearing of a representation group from the University, but the League secretary later informed the organizers that a subsequent resolution had been passed that the delegation not be heard - the existing clubs concerned that the University's presence would threaten the current "electorate system".  "That the University officials are indignant at such shabby treatment goes without saying" according to the Adelaide Advertiser.

The "electorate system" was a scheme adopted several years beforehand in both Adelaide and Sydney to restrict the rights of senior cricket and football clubs to recruit players to within nominated residential districts local to the clubs concerned.  

Despite protests from the Melbourne Cricket Club (whose players and member were drawn from all over Melbourne and attracted by the club's influence), the Victorian Cricket Association adopted the principle in 1906, although it wasn't until 1916 that the V.F.L. adopted the idea, following a similar scheme introduced  by the V.F.A. in 1912.

Not surprisingly, the turnover of University players given their three or four years on campus was high - 112 in total in the seven seasons from 1908 to 1914.

Bert Hurrey, a quality centre man and 1913 captain with 101 matches was the only one to reach "the century".  Many others managed 50 or 60 games, their football mixed with studies while they were enrolled, and then lost to the game after qualifying and pursuing professional careers.

Victorian teams were selected with a minimum of one player included from each club - in seven seasons, just eight from the Students team were awarded the honour - Tom Ogilvie, Dave Greenstone, George Elliott, Jack Brake, Hurrey, Lester Kelley, Roy Park and Eric Woods, the latter two in the Australian Football Council Carnival in Sydney in 1914 (usually at full-forward and full-back respectively).

The Demise

Some historians have place the demise of the University club as being caused by many of their players enlisting after the start of the Great War, but the real reason appears to have been the "professionalism" that had crept into League football while the University club continued to regard the game as purely as a sport.

The question of payments being made to players had been a thorny problem in the later years of the Victorian Football Association and continued unabated with the split of the eight teams to form the Victorian Football League at the end of the 1896 season, but was finally put to rest prior to the 1911 season when, after an abortive first move, voted 16-4 to legalise payments, Melbourne and University the only clubs opposing the move (although Fitzroy and St. Kilda later unsuccessfully tried to set a maximum payment of 30/- per match).

The University team disbanded early in September, 1914, in fact while the finals were still being played and just four or five weeks after the outbreak of the War and almost certainly before enlistments had any major impact.

Their second side continued for a year in the M.F.A. before it also closed for the duration.

Some historians have suggested that University merged with their co-tenants Melbourne (as had been attempted in 1889); there were meetings between the two, but no official amalgamation ever took place.

The University's withdrawal was a double-edged sword for the V.F.L. administrators.

One of the reasons for the delay in introducing the residential qualification scheme had been the lack of a natural district for Melbourne, a similar problem having arisen in 1906 with the introduction of District cricket and the Melbourne Cricket Club being left out of the competition and playing "friendlies"" against the club with the bye.

Players qualifying for the University team were assigned as part of Melbourne's district, but of course, the V.F.L. were left with a nine-team competition and an unwanted bye each Saturday.

At the time of University's withdrawal, it was suggested that North Melbourne be invited to switch from the V.F.A., but with war impacting and many clubs going into recess at the end of 1915, it wasn't until 1924 that the bye was eliminated when North and Footscray, the two leading Association teams and the rather modestly performed Hawthorn joined League ranks and made up the traditional 12-team competition that lasted for over sixty years.  

Melbourne did however reap an immediate benefit of the remains of the playing group after at least six players switched allegiances in 1915.

The influx of new players (albeit in the short term, as all of the six had enlisted with the Expeditionary Forces before the start of the 1916 season) assisted in no small part by the appointment of Essendon Jack "Dookie" McKenzie saw the Melbourne club play in the finals for the first time in thirteen seasons.

The players that moved to Melbourne pre-season were : Roy Park (with University, 44 games and 111 goals, with Melbourne, 13 and 35), Percy Rodriquez (17/1. 5/1), Jack Doubleday (36/7), Claude Bryan (7/0, 15/1), Jack Brake (81/21, 17/2) and Richard "Dick" Gibbs (35/3, 8/1).

Another player, Leo Little (34/20) did not play in 1915, but joined Melbourne post-war for 12 games and four goals before being transferred to Canberra with the Home Affairs Department.

A handful of players headed to other clubs, Carl Willis (46/41, 29/18 and incidentally the only "student" ever to be suspended as well as regular Victorian Sheffield Shield player pre- and post-war) to South Melbourne, and Fred. McIntosh (25/14, 14/1) in his only season with Essendon before being killed in France)

Mid-season, Albert Hartkopk (48/87), a Northcote resident was granted a permit under the new district scheme to Fitzroy, but he did not play a senior due to his assignments to hospitals in Melbourne and Perth.

Rodriguez, Gibbs and Doubleday were later Killed In Action, just three of an astonishing total of 19 servicemen of the 112 players known to have worn the black and blue of the University to pay the supreme sacrifice during the Great War.

Park resigned from Melbourne and then enlisted after being somewhat controversially suspended during the year and Bryan and Brake re-appeared when Melbourne returned to the field in 1919 after three years in recess.  Brake, perhaps the best remembered of the University players, later became a long-serving member of the V.F.L. Tribunal.

No definitive records remain of just what degrees that the players were studying, but from those that were killed during the Great War (for which National Archive records remain available), we can identify that around two-thirds were pursuing Medicine or Dentistry and a high percentage of the remainder a Bachelor of Arts in Law.

These figures roughly correspond with a 1909 report on University's draw with Collingwood that suggests 13 of 18 of their players on that day were either studying or practicing medicine.

Like a number of University players, Brake (perhaps the club's only "super-star") in an unusual combination of sports won the pole-vault at the 1911 and 1914 Australian championships, while Park and Hartkopk were outstanding sportsmen in the more traditional summer sport of cricket (although the latter the Victorian state 440 yards champion in athletics).   Coincidentally, both played Test cricket, but just one match each, and were practicing medical practitioners at the time of their selection.

Park in particular was unfortunate.  

An immensely popular character and at the peak of his Sheffield Shield form, he was selected in the Australian team for the second tour of South Africa in the summer of 1915-16 and retired from football about two-thirds of the way through the season in anticipation of the trip.  

The tour was cancelled after the declaration of war and Park returned for a couple of "farewell" matches with Melbourne before the 1915 season wound up.

His Test record is remarkably well known for its almost total failure.  After rebuilding his cricket career after his repatriation from France in 1919, Park was selected for the Second Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Park was wildly applauded on his way to the wicket, but to everyone's horror, he was bowled first ball by the English quick, Howell, and he never faced another ball in Test cricket He bowled just one over for nine runs in the English innings

Over the years a couple of fables have emerged over Jim Park's brief appearance.  One suggests his wife sat beaming with pride as he took block, but dropped a ball of wool from her knitting and while picking it up, was mortified to hear a raucous shout and hence missed her husband's entire Test career!

Park's daughter, Lal married Australian captain, Ian Johnson, who nearly sixty years later revealed another reason for his immensely popular father-in-law's one-off failure, suggesting that Park had been called out to attend a patient's difficult pregnancy on the previous evening and had remained with her during the night, and had not slept before packing his gear and heading off to the ground.

Post-war, Park played a couple of seasons with Footscray in the V.F.A.

Hartkopk's only Test was rather more spectacular.  An all-rounder specializing as a spin bowler, he was selected against England at the age of 35.  In the Second Test in Melbourne, took just one wicket at a cost of 134, but batting at number eight, made a quick 80 not out to help Australia to a total of 600 and ultimate victory by 81 runs, but was never selected again.

Born in North Fitzroy to German parents, Hartkopk served at the Royal Women's Hospital and then the Royal Children's Hospital in Perth during the war years before returning to establish a medical practice in High street, Northcote in 1919.

As well as their one-match Test careers, Park and Hartkopk shared another coincidence.

After the introduction of the District cricket scheme in 1906-07, the Melbourne Cricket Club were left without a natural area from which to draw players, and while they partook in the competition, they were not eligible for premiership points.

As part of their drive to attract players, Melbourne introduced an 'exhibition' membership designed to attract schoolboy cricketers with outstanding potential, Park (Wesley College) and Hartkopk (Scotch) both induced to the club in the 1908-09 season.

University Players Who Fell in The Great War

Jim Main and David Allen's "Fallen - The Ultimate Heroes", a history of League footballers that died in the service of Australia in the Boer, First and Second World and finally Korean War lists 67 fatalities in the Great War of 1914 to 1918 (later research suggests the figure was a little higher with further casualties identified post-publication).

Many commentators of the time and historians since justified the continuation of football and the defeat of two ballots on compulsory conscription on social differences between what might broadly be termed the "working class" who were expected to volunteer and the privileged few in the professions.

There could be no further rejection of this claim (at least within the football world) than a simple analysis Main and Allen's list. Of the 67, an astonishing 19 played their last game with "the toffs" of the University.

Due to their education, all but one (Corporal Stanley Martin) were commissioned officers, again perhaps refuting the public belief that "the troops" were regarded as cannon-fodder while officers lived a life of relative luxury.

Of the other clubs, all suffered at least two fatalities from their ranks : South Melbourne lost 8 playing members, Geelong 7, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Melbourne 6 each, Carlton 5, Essendon and St. Kilda 3, and Richmond 2  (in a handful of cases, those killed had played with more than club, they are categorized under their team at the time of enlistment.

Season By Season

"Percentages" of the time were based on premiership points won or lost, not on points kicked for and against.  The last three columns above have been compiled an added to the official ladders to give an up-to-date perspective of the University club's performances over the seven seasons it survived.  

Jim Park's 53 goals in 1913 perhaps needs to be put into perspective.

In a team that failed to win a game, he actually led the V.F.L. goal kicking, only to be surpassed by Fitzroy's Jim Freake in the final series.  Goals kicked in finals at that time were included in determining the leading goal kicker, Freake kicked seven to finish on 56.

Park's 53 goals came from University's 122, a tick over 43% of the team tally - although remarkably, this was not a record, St. Kilda's Charles Baker kicking 30 of their miserly 62 goals of 1902 for 46% and third place on the goal kicking list in his first year.

Perhaps Gerard Brosnan's record as "coach" could also come under some scrutiny.

University won just 2 of 54 games when he was in charge, a winning percentage of 3.7% (the decimal place counts under these circumstances!).  Brosnan coached Melbourne Football Club for five wins in 16 matches and later became a leading writer on football.


Before the impact of the war, the Victorian Football League were planning two major changes to the competition structure - the institution of a residential zoning scheme similar to that in place for District cricket (first mooted by Collingwood in 1910), and the introduction of a Seconds competition, initially known as the Victorian Junior Football League.

There was no serious consideration of the University re-entering senior ranks, but they were requested by the League to enter teams in the new competition, initially known as University "A" and University "B" (how players were assigned was never revealed).

The two teams actually played each other in the initial First Semi-Final of 1919, "A" winning by 17 points before beating Collingwood District by five points in the final. Collingwood, as minor premiers, had a right of challenge under the finals system of the day and beat the "A" by 15 points in the replay.

University "B" moved to the Metropolitan Amateur Football Association (now the Victorian Amateur Football Association) in 1920, the "A" team again runners-up to Collingwood District in the V.J.F.L..

In 1921, the "A" team also moved to the Amateurs, adopting the name on University Blues, with the "B" team known as University Blacks, although the names were not formally adopted by the club until 1930.

In a strange twist of fate, the pair contested the 1921 M.A.F.A Grand Final, with the Blacks winning what to date is the only grand final the two teams have contested in the M.A.F.A or V.A.F.A.

Leading Players

Games :  

  Bert Hurrey (101, 1908-13),

  Jack Gray (85, 1908-13),

  Jack Brake (81, 1909-14),

  George Elliott (79, 1908-13),

  Jack West (71, 1908-14),

  Stan Martin (65, 1909-14),

  Ted Corner (60, 1908-12)

Goals :  

  Jim Park (111, 1912-14),  

  Albert Hartkopk (87, 1908-14),

  Martin Ratz (52, 1908-14),

  Edgar Kneen (45, 1908-12),

  Carl Willis (41, 1912-14).

An act for the incorporation and endowment of the University of Melbourne was introduced late in 1852 and passed by the Legislative Council of Victoria early the following year, making our local alma mater older than all the universities in England except Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and London.   

The Crown conveyed forty acres of land to the University for the purposes of the institution.  In 1873, another four acres were added for a site for a medical and surgical school, and in subsequent years, and an additional sixteen acres were conveyed to the University for a recreation ground.