The University of Melbourne opened for business in 1855, just four years after separation from New South Wales and the discovery of rich gold in the young Colony, and only twenty years since Melbourne was nothing but bush. Three years later, in 1858, the famous first game of “Victorian” football was played, and it only took one more year for the game to take hold within the University.
The University Club was formed in 1859 and the first known match was against St. Kilda with a Mr. Phillips as Captain. By 1861 University was regarded as the leading team with a Mr Purcell as Captain, Hon. Secretary and Hon. Treasurer.
The next twenty years or so saw the gradual development of regular competitions in Melbourne and by 1870 matches were formally arranged at pre-season meetings.· University competed in the (Victorian) Football Association (VFA) which was the premier competition from 1877. The Victorian Football League (VFL) split away from the VFA in 1897 and University was admitted to the VFL in 1908.
Another body which emerged towards the end of the century (1892) was the Metropolitan (Amateur) Football Association M(A)FA, and University subsequently entered a team, a relationship which has been almost continuous, and which eventually strengthened into our representation in what became the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA). The University MAFA team won the club’s the first pennant in 1906.
The MUFC just missed the four in its first 3 years in the VFL, but struggled in subsequent years. Nevertheless University players figured in Combined League teams and Interstate matches, notable among whom were Jack Brake and Roy Park.
The onset of the Great War in 1914 marked the end of this first phase of continued development of football in the University. Many University students and graduates joined the armed forces.Â· 251 were killed, many of whom were still undergraduates.
Those of us lucky to have met Colin Shaw, Alan Jolley, Lance Sleeman and others who played in the League days will remember not just their nostalgia for the great period of University’s participation in what had already become top grade football, but also the stories of being stoned off the ground by supporters of North Melbourne and other teams. This was about the time the mound was built around the University Oval “for our huge crowds“ using spoil from the Inner Circle railway cutting around Royal Park.
After the war University decided not to reapply to the VFL, but was asked by the VFL to provide two teams to the newly-formed VFL Reserves. University A and B, which soon became University Blue(s) and University Black(s). Collingwood defeated Blues in the VFL Reserves Grand Final in 1920. In 1921 Blues joined the MAFA, and were grand finalists in 1921 with Surgeon Rear-Admiral Lionel Lockwood as captain.
Blues were rarely lower than 5th through the 20’s but were not successful at the business end of the season.
From 1932 to the war Blues were the second MUFC team and achieved only limited success. Blues centre-half forward and Captain of four years standing (1929-32), (Dr.) Alec McGregor was transferred to the Blacks in 1933 and was promptly made Captain!
Blues were runners up in B Section in the last year before the war and gained promotion to A Section in 1949 after yet again failing to clinch a premiership in B Section against Geelong (and thus still without a premiership after 30 years). In response to the strong Blues leadership of (Dr.) Geoff Sinclair, John Thwaites, Geoff Cameron, Tom Hogg and others, the MUFC restored the “equal-strength” allocation policy which had been abandoned in 1932.
This ushered in the era of the rise of the Blues who shrugged off their secondary status. Blues first-ever Premiership came in 1952, under Geoff Sinclair against Ormond, an extraordinary happy day. Blues were A Section Runners-up in 1953 and 1954; 4th in 1955; and Runners-up in 1957 before their next Premiership in 1960, then mixed fortunes until a B Section Premiership in 1967.
University Juniors (U19) were formed in 1957 and were Premiers in 1958. Under coaches Don Osborne, Les Hughson, Barry Johnson and David Mithen, the Juniors (Blues Juniors from 1972 to 1979) were in the final four between 1963 and 1978, and in those sixteen years played in eleven grand finals for eight premierships. In 1980 the Club decided to revert to a single Junior team, but has fielded two Juniors since 1986 except for 1990-91. Blues have had a longstanding philosophy of building senior success by developing players through its U19 team.
1970 saw a strong finish to the season from Blues and there was optimism in 1971 when new coach Barry Johnston took over, fresh from coaching the Juniors to the 1970 flag. Barry Church continued to be an inspiring captain, Jim Sharp made the All-Australian team, and Mike Nicholls, John Renowden and Ken Scarfe all showed the benefits of a couple of years senior experience. David “Sparkles” Barkley topped the goal kicking with 94 goals and youngsters Simon Trumble and Geoff Whittakers proved fine acquisitions.
After a magnificent win in the Second Semi against Ormond in a game still described by many as the finest game of Amateur football every played, the Blues could not handle the wet and windy conditions and lost the 1971 Grand Final to Ormond. Unfortunately the Blues could not sustain their momentum and started to slide down the ladder to the point where in 1974 they failed to win a game under the leadership of Bob Girdwood.
Blues regrouped in 1975 and Team Chairman Peter Brukner recruited ex-Coburg stalwarts, coach Alan Salter team manager Ted McNamara and Jim Gilchrist. Blues immediately regained their A Section position by reaching the B Section Grand Final. Despite going in as hot favourites, the Blues lost the flag to De La Salle. This was to be the story of the next decade. Barry Church had resumed as captain and Tim Standish continued to dominate the ruck, but it was the influx of players such as Rod Hager, Mike Sleeman, John Carmody, Peter Schauble and Mark Tyquin that would prove to be the basis of the Blues success over the next few years.
A fourth place in their first season in A Section of 1976 gave the Blues a taste of success and they went into the finals as favourites for three successive years 1978, 1979 and 1980. Each year they were to fall at the final obstacle with De La Salle becoming their bogey team. The Blues had been very active recruiting players, many of whom proved to be fine acquisitions to the Club. None more so than Michael Yeo who proceeded to win a record equalling four Best and Fairest awards as well as playing many fine games for Victoria.
The Blues were controversially relegated to B Grade in 1981 for playing an ineligible player, but were back in A Grade the following year after defeating hot favourites Collegians in the Grand Final. In 1983 under coach Sid Myers, Blues again finished on top of the ladder only to lose again to De La Salle in the Grand Final. As other University teams declined through the eighties Blues clung to their position in A Section. But after making the four in 1989 Blues were relegated in 1991 and struggled in B Grade in 1992.
The end of 1992 marked another turning point for the Blues. Senior player Grant Williams put his hand up to coach the team and with the support of Bob Girdwood and Michael Robin off the field, and John Kanis, Hamish Worsley and Richard Furphy both on the field, Grant created the environment which led to continued success for the Blues for the rest of the decade. Blues were runners-up in B Grade in 1994, and then Grand Finalists in A Grade the following year, but were soundly defeated by an Old Xaverians side which was to go on and win five flags in a row.
During the 90’s Blues had outstanding success in both Reserves and Juniors. Blues Reserves won their first ever premiership in B Grade in 1994 and then followed with A Grade Reserve premierships in 1996 and 1999. Blues Under 19s were Junior Premier Section Premiers and Champions in 1995 stringing together a record 39 match winning sequence before defeat in the 1996 Finals, and followed with another flag in 1997. These results were a credit to their coach, former Blues President, Steve Carroll.
The end of the nineties and early two thousands were generally characterised by middle of the ladder performances from the Senior team. Blues finished fourth in 1996 and 2000, but often had poor starts to the season, rallied when confronted with relegation only to falter at the end of the season and miss finals.
In 2004 Bob Girdwood was back as President and John Kanis was appointed coach. The team had a good deal of experience by Blues standards and the motto for the year of “Don’t Waste It” was quickly adopted. Mark Paterson, Tim Muhlebach and James Scambler were recruited along with Ed Clark, Matt Torney, Ross Young and several others from the previous years U19 grand final team. A club 18 team was entered for the first time to cope with increased player depth. Kanis got the players fitter than they had ever been preseason and developed a distinctive attacking ball carrying style of play that was reflected in every training drill.
2004 was the most outstanding year the club had ever had. The Reserve and Club 18 teams both went through the year undefeated. The Under 19’s finished fourth and the Seniors won a one sided grand final against St Bernards by 11 goals. Blues captain and rover Quinton Gleeson won the A Grade B&F medal with midfielder Ross Young close behind.
In 2005 the Blues looked set to repeat the dose but went down to Xavs by 9 points in the grand final. Despite poor starts to the season in 2006 and 2007, Blues stormed into the finals only to lose the preliminary on both occasions.
Blues record since 1950 has been by far the best of any University club, although only five senior premierships have been won, and the record of lost Grand Finals is regrettable. Blues also have the best record of any VAFA club in terms of competing at the top level of amateur football, having contested A Grade for 60 of the last 66 years