Mentone’s First Football Teams: The Local Game Before 1900

Members of the Mentone Football Team c1909. Courtesy Mordialloc and District Historical Society.

The first record of a football team in Mentone comes from the year 1889. There could have been informal football games played in the town before that time but no record of any organised match exists before the last year of the 1880s. Mentone had been established quickly after the railway came through in 1881 and Matthew Davies transformed Balcombe’s paddocks into a beach resort town, replacing the name ‘Balcombe’ with the ‘Riviera-sounding’ title of ‘Mentone’ in 1884. The new town’s plan included a recreation reserve set back from Mentone Parade near the shopping strip, so it was natural that those with sporting interests should want to use it for organised contests. A cricket club began in 1888 and football was soon to follow.

The new town of Mentone developed in a period when Australian Rules football had become immensely popular in a very short time. When Mentone footballers played their first games in 1889 the type of football they played had been evolving for barely three decades, since the epic first game near Jolimont between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar in 1858. Geoffrey Blainey, Rob Hess and others have researched the early years of Aussie Rules and they show that in the 1880s the game was blossoming with many clubs forming and more spectators flocking to games. The Victorian Football Association with its many inner-suburban teams in Melbourne was the key body in formulating rules and fixtures for the conduct of the game. At first there were no premierships. Clubs simply recorded their own wins and losses in annual reports. By the eighties the media had become very interested in the game with journalists awarding unofficial VFA premierships to clubs with the best records. It was not until the VFL was formed as a breakaway group in 1897 that finals were played each year. Before that the team with the best win-loss record was the premier team, except in1896 when South Melbourne and Collingwood were equal in the win-loss measure so a ‘grand final’ was played. Collingwood won and joined seven other clubs to form the breakaway VFL. The VFL played finals from then on. It also abolished the ‘little mark’ amid many changes to the laws that took place over its early years, including a reduction in team size from 20 to 18. The press advertised that the ‘ABC Book’ of VFL rules could be bought at Melbourne Sports Depot, an Elizabeth Street store for decades.

In the 1890s at the outer suburban level the game was much less formalised. Clubs tended to organise fixtures individually at first, so the secretary was an important figure. The team might not have a game every week as only the better clubs were sought after for matches each Saturday. This situation led to disappointments. In 1894 the secretaries of Frankston and Hastings football clubs engaged in a slanging match in the local paper week by week early in the season. Each accused the other of conduct ‘unbecoming of a gentleman’. Frankston had played against another club when Hastings people believed it had tied up a Frankston visit on a certain Saturday. The Frankston secretary was accused of double-dealing.

By the late 1880s the organisation closer to Melbourne had become more serious, and around the Brighton-Moorabbin area a district competition grew, with many teams and fixtures that resulted from clubs forming an association affiliated with the umbrella organisation, Victorian Junior Football Association. No premiership was competed for. Teams played each other on a basis of local rivalry where they ‘tried conclusions’ against well-known neighbours. By the time Mentone formed its first team it was common for the club secretaries to meet at a city hotel or café before the season and work out the season’s fixtures for clubs in a local group. Young and Jackson’s hotel in the city was a popular meeting place for sports organisers. Teams came and went quickly. Some lasted only a year or two. Many had names that were not of the suburb they played in. Thus there were teams called ‘Hurlingham’, ‘West Beach’, ‘Glendon’, ‘Wolsley Park’, ‘St Lawrence’, ‘Leopold’ and the like, all coming from the district south of St Kilda, mostly around Brighton, and competing at various times during the late 1880s and through the 1890s.

When Mentone formed its team in 1889 it played clubs in one-off games as opportunities arose. It seems that the team was not in the organised fixtures for several seasons. On June 29 1889 the Brighton Southern Cross reported on a match between Mentone and South Melbourne Imperials:

On Saturday last the recently formed Mentone District football club played its first match against a second rate junior football club who have an unbeaten record for the present year. The new club, comprised as it is of players resident at Mordialloc, Mentone, Cheltenham, South Brighton and Highett, suffered from the disadvantage of never having played together, indeed many of the players had never even seen each other before. Therefore, it is not to be wondered that they suffered defeat at the hands of a club like South Melbourne Imperials which, though a small-sized team, were particularly active, and clever at the ‘little mark’ business.

It should be explained that the term ‘second-rate’, used to describe the South Melbourne team, meant that they were in the second grade of the association, not that they were inferior. The South Melbourne Imperials were actually close to being in the top grade of suburban teams outside the VFA. The term ‘little mark’ referred to the rule at the time where a ball could be kicked to a teammate from as close as one or two metres to allow the player who caught it to take a free kick.

The local press report went on:

In the Mentone District is the raw material for the makings of a splendid club. They are all active young men of good physique and plenty of bone and muscle, and with practice and good handling, there is no fear but they will render a good account of themselves before the season is over.

The best players were listed as Cole (captain), Stewart, Lee, Clayton, Coleman, Tulloch, Thomas, Thurling and Millman. The report ended by saying that South Melbourne completely ran over Mentone, scoring 11 goals 22 behinds to 1 behind.

The Brighton Southern Cross reported that Mentone’s next fixture was on July 27 when the ‘Western Star’ club visited Mentone. No scores were given. The Mentone team was named before the match as : Collett, McGrotty, Scott, Osborne, Cole, Rigg, Coleman, Millman, Stewart, Clayton, Caudwell, Roberts, Tulloch, Thurling, Parkes Murray, Lyons, Fink, Spence and Dermott. At the time 20 was the standard size for a football team, even at the VFA level. In the same paper it was announced that a committee meeting of the Mentone Football Club was held the previous Monday evening at the Coffee Palace for the purpose of drawing up rules for the guidance of members. It was stated that a general meeting at an early date would vote on these rules. No report went into the paper to show if this ever occurred. No team colours were announced. At the time footballers competed in long trousers tucked inside long socks. Woollen jumpers had team colours as time went on, but sometimes coloured caps were used to identify a team’s players. There is no evidence that Mentone club members wore specific colours before 1900.

Games were well spaced in Mentone’s first season. Hurlingham beat them by kicking 4 goals 10 behinds to Mentone’s 1 goal 3 behinds. That game on August 10 was followed by a game at Mentone in mid-September against Brighton Juniors. No scores were recorded, but it would be surprising if Brighton, a well-established club, did not win. Mentone’s tennis club played matches against Brighton on the same afternoon on the courts, located where the Kingston Offices are now, on the Brindisi Street corner near the football oval. Mentone’s tennis players included Charles Figgis, the hotel architect, and J.B.Davies, the principal of at least one land boom company that would crash a year or two after this. To reach Mentone the Brighton footballers were asked to meet at North Brighton station at 1-30 p.m. to proceed by drag to Mentone. A drag was a large four-wheeled vehicle fitted with seats and usually pulled by four horses. The route would have been down Bay Street to Snapper Point Road (Point Nepean Road) and then south along the rough surface to Mentone. It would have taken over an hour to reach Mentone so that the game could start about 3 p.m., the late kick-off made necessary by the fact that Saturday morning work was then normal. It was common at the time for clubs to entertain the visitors after the match, sometimes with a meal. One wonders whether the footballers and the tennis players from Brighton and Mentone came together in the nearby skating rink for a ‘convivial’ that evening!

During the next season Mentone continued to play matches whenever they could be arranged. It is worth noting that the only record of the period’s local sport is found in the brief articles of the Brighton Southern Cross and the Mentone and Moorabbin Chronicle. Some games may not have been included, so it is difficult to say how much football Mentone club was involved in. During 1890 the press reported on several games. Mentone played East Brighton (Bentleigh) on June 21 and Frankston on July 12. Then there was a return game against East Brighton on August 2. The final encounter that year saw Mentone meet Brighton Juniors at Mentone on September 6. The Brighton Southern Cross reported:

The Brighton Juniors paid a visit to Mentone last Saturday to meet the Mentone District. The ground was in a frightful state and good football out of the question. The game resulted in a win for Brighton by 4 goals (5 to 1).

It should be noted that, even though behinds were usually recorded, they did not count in the result of a match until the VFL was formed in 1897. Thus a team scoring 4 goals 6 behinds did not beat a team scoring 4 goals 5 behinds. Such a result would have been called a draw.

Mentone’s best game was at Frankston in July. The report said that after a most pleasant game victory remained with the locals who succeeded in kicking 3-13 to Mentone 0-3. Jas Roberts from Mordialloc was central umpire and he made ready and impartial decisions.

After Mentone’s first two seasons, during which there is no evidence of the club winning a game, there are no reports of Mentone football games for the years 1891-3. There could have been some matches that did not receive press attention, or the club could have been in temporary recess at a time when economic recession took people away from the district. Some players’ names in other local teams indicate that the club did not continue and footballers tried their luck elsewhere.

Members of Cheltenham Football Club 1891 – Back: G Puttick, Franklyn, Unknown, Unknown, C Corstorphine, D Arland, Dave Hughes, H Bryant. Centre: T Elliott, S Parsons, F Judd, H Foreman, N Corstorphine, J McCormack, S Chandler, H Orr. Front: H Clayton, G Rose, A Chandler, G Mennie, C Judd, W Freeman, T Williams, F Chandler, D Murphy. Courtesy Betty Kuc.

In 1894 the club made a re-appearance in the reports and is referred to as ‘Mentone Juniors’. This probably means that Mentone did not enter the organised competition in the Brighton district which by then was well established and had reached a standard beyond that of a group of social players. In June a Moorabbin team came to Mentone but could only muster 13 players. With two substitutes, co-opted from the home team’s reserves, they were beaten by the locals 3 goals to 1. This was Mentone’s first win as recorded in the press, but it was probably against Moorabbin’s second team. Then followed a close game against Armadale which Mentone lost 5 goals to 4. On July 26 the Brighton Southern Cross reported on an incident that gives us a clear idea of the informal and primitive state of local football in the 1890s. The report said that Mentone Juniors had to put up with a disappointment last Saturday owing to the Moorabbin not being able to obtain a ground, their ground having been leased for potato-growing. (Teams were referred to at the time as ‘the Moorabbin’ or ‘the Cheltenham’)

Football then was played on rough paddocks, and open spaces that could be hired or made available by local owners. Wolsley Park played on ‘Higginbotham’s Paddock’ and one can merely speculate on the state of surfaces provided for games at the time.

The Brighton Southern Cross reporter, after sympathising with Mentone over the potato-growing fiasco, added that the Juniors had got together a very strong 20 and would be strong the next season. The Mentone Juniors played two more games in 1894. They were beaten 9-10 to 3-8 against Toorak Seconds and played against a ‘Parkville’ team with no record of the scores printed. In that last game for the year the team was listed as: Bothwell, Creswick Coffey, Davies. Gartside (2) Hutchison, Inglis, Jeanneret, Kelly (2) McCaughey, Price H., Ross (2), Price D. (Capt.), Miller, Roberts, Ricketts (2), Williams and Strain.

This team, with the addition of a few players, notably Judd, Birrell, Cowen, McCoy and Tulloch, played many games for the next two seasons on a regular basis. It bears little resemblance to the 1889-90 teams which suggests that most of the earlier ‘Mentone District’ players were drawn from outside Mentone and joined other clubs after 1890. Some may have moved away from the area altogether.

In 1895-6 Mentone had much more success, though it was not to last. There was a note of optimism in the press report of March 23 1895 when the Mentone Football Club annual meeting details were given. It was held at Clark’s Coffee Palace (the building is now Kilbreda College) with the proprietor elected as president. Among the large attendance were patrons Dr Scantlebury and Councillors Penny and Benjamin. D. Price was made captain and he had a large committee to support him. Subscriptions for the year for members were two shillings and sixpence.

During 1895 Mentone played sixteen games with better results than in its previous years. The games were as follows:

Mentone v. Brighton Park (No scores given but Brighton won easily)
Mentone v. Hawksburn Imperials (No scores given but Mentone won)
Cheltenham 11-9 d. Mentone 0-1.
Armadale v. Mentone (no scores given)
Mentone 5-9 d. Mordialloc 0-7.
Mentone 3-9 lost to Wolsley Park 6-9.
Mentone 3-8 lost to Brighton Park 4-8.
Mordialloc 5-7 d. Mentone 3-12.
Mentone drew with Hawksburn Imperials (no scores given)
Mentone 1-13 drew with Glendon 1-8.
Mentone 4-15 d. Mordialloc 2-9
Wolsley Park 4-12 drew with Mentone 4-8.
East Brighton Juniors 4-10 d. Mentone 3-7.
Cheltenham 7 goals d. Mentone 1 goal (no behinds recorded)
Mentone v. Brighton Park (no scores recorded)
Mentone v. Armadale (no scores recorded)

Mentone won three of the games where results were recorded and drew two others. The team was competitive in several other games, so 1895 was a reasonably successful season. It was not clear from the press reports whether Mentone was playing the firsts or the seconds of other clubs in some of the games. In a period when the football scene was a lot more informal some irregular things happened. For example, in Mentone’s second game it is reported that Cheltenham had a ‘day off’ for that fixture so Droop and Chandler, a couple of their cracks, as the paper put it, came down to play with Mentone and helped them win. Rules about clearances and registration seemed to have been rather loose. During 1895 some individuals began to emerge as handy players at Mentone. The Brighton Southern Cross reporter at the season’s first game against Brighton wrote:

If Mentone had a few players like Ross the result on Saturday might have been different. He is a brilliant and fast footballer and never seems to tire. He played a splendid game throughout on Saturday under most disheartening conditions, for he received very little support from his comrades.

He was less enthusiastic about another player when he added:

The speedy Birrell resembled the sun, inasmuch as he was under a cloud most of the day. He is undoubtedly very fast and in the last quarter made a beautiful run half the length of the ground.

It should be recorded that in the team there were two Ross brothers, nephews of Mentone pioneer, Sam Mundy, who had settled on his Balcombe Road property back in 1853.

There were others playing well at Mentone. H. Jeanneret scored goals in several games and is mentioned as the best player in the drawn match against Wolsley Park where his splendid marking was a feature. He also played cricket for Mentone, batting well in many games. The Price brothers and Ricketts also came under notice as promising footballers. The second of the Cheltenham games was described as very rough where the umpiring was unsatisfactory, with three different umpires being used through the game. It was a time when teams had to agree on an umpire from among the ranks of the teams themselves. Football in the 1890s was not always pleasant and sportsmanlike. The main Brighton club hosted Brunswick in May of 1895 and it was reported that the language was so bad that several gentlemen who had brought ladies to see the game were forced at once to retire. The report said that the filth emerged almost entirely from the mouths of the Brunswick players. The rough and brutal game was won by Brighton, 3 goals to 2.

At the beginning of the 1896 season the Brighton Southern Cross reported that Mentone had been admitted to South Suburban Fourth Rate Association. That meant the fourth grade of the southern suburbs football competition. The fixtures were set and Mentone played each of the following teams twice: East Brighton, Toorak, West Beach, St Lawrence, Wolsley Park, Leopold, Armadale, Middle Park and Camberwell Juniors.

Not all these games received press coverage. The Brighton Southern Cross gave the following results:

Hawksburn Imperials 5-3 d. Mentone 1-9 (Practice Game)
Mentone 1-9 drew with Cheltenham 1-7) (Practice Game)
Mentone 6-4 d. East Brighton 2-8
Toorak 2-6 drew with Mentone 2-7
Mentone 5-10 d. West Beach 3-7
Wolsley Park 5-7 d. Mentone 3-4
East Brighton 9-8 d. Mentone 1-4
St Lawrence 12 goals d. Mentone 0-1
Wolsley Park 12-11 d. Mentone 0-3

Mentone, after a promising start where they won two games and drew two others, suffered two terrible thrashings and then disappeared from the press coverage. It is hard to say why this occurred. Perhaps some of their players were induced to play elsewhere or were irregular in turning up for games, a failing noted in the reports of clubs at that time. It remains a mystery because the club attracted many new players. Team lists included new names such as Wawn, Boys, Fartier, Germaine, Bourke, Murphy and Cameron, among others, while most of the 1895 names remained. The best player lists regularly had Jeanneret, Price, McCaughey, Cameron, McCoy, Bourke., Kelly and Wawn on them. The last mentioned kicked three goals in the win against East Brighton. Germaine was the son of the Mentone Hotel licensee, while Bourke was a teacher at McCristal’s new Mentone College opposite the pub.

The season had its highs and lows. When Mentone played West Beach, a St Kilda team, the locals entertained the visitors later with a meal at the St Kilda Coffee Palace in Grey Street and Mentone players were gracious in their praise of the occasion; they also won the game. However, towards the season’s end they protested that St Lawrence, another St Kilda team, had played two of their firsts in a fourth grade game which Mentone lost by 12 goals.

Mentone Football Club’s record in the years 1894-6 was not brilliant, but the team had some success and it is difficult to explain its demise. The severe defeats that are reported seem to indicate the club could not maintain support of enough players. In 1897 Mentone ceased to exist as a separate football club. On April 3 the Brighton Southern Cross reported that a meeting of players of Mentone, Cheltenham and Mordialloc clubs was held at the Cheltenham Mechanics Institute on the previous Tuesday for the purpose of forming a combined club. It was decided to name the team the ‘Moorabbin Football Club’ and enter Association matches. The meeting elected a large committee with Dr Scantlebury as president. The vice presidents and patrons included many important local people. Councillors Le Page, Penny and Lamb-Smith; W.H. Moule (MLA); Rennison, Keighran, de Henzel Storey, Proudman and Clark (businessmen); T. Attenborough (J.P.), T. McCristal (College Principal) and many others threw their support behind this new club. The secretary was David White, later a notable local public figure and mayor of Mordialloc.

Moorabbin Football Team 1908. Philip Jones holds Football. Courtesy Moorabbin Historical Society and Isa Herron.

Despite this impressive launch the club failed. In 1897 there were very few reports of games played by Moorabbin. The team beat Frankston 4-11 to 2-3 and Carrum 2-9 to 1-6, but little else is said in the press about it. Some Mentone players from its 1896 side were mentioned in the results, notably Coffey, Ricketts, Millman, Stuart, Rigg, Kelly and Bourke. Other names are from Cheltenham and Mordialloc. It is not stated where the team’s home games were played, or where the players trained. It would have been difficult to keep such a team operative, given local rivalries and the dispersed locations of players’ homes. Communication then was difficult. Players were listed in the local press and asked to meet at a given time and place. The steam trains were used for games played at East Brighton and other places on the Frankston line, but for Brighton district fixtures a drag was hired. There were cases where the drag broke down and games were cancelled. The Moorabbin club would have faced organisational difficulties like these but, whatever the reasons, the club did not survive as ‘Moorabbin’. In 1898 Cheltenham was in the fixtures for the football association, but not Moorabbin. Whether the club disbanded or became ‘Cheltenham’ is difficult to say. After 1900 Mordialloc re-appeared in the fixtures indicating that the merger of the three neighbouring teams did not last. Team lists of both Cheltenham and Mordialloc clubs at the time include a few former Mentone names so the period around 1900 was one where people swapped teams readily. As for Mentone Football Club it did not make a re-appearance as a separate entity until 1904. But that is another story.

Leo Gamble
27 June 2018
  • Brighton Southern Cross. The issues from 1888 to 1904 give scores, teams and some reports.
  • Mentone and Moorabbin Chronicle. This paper appeared from 1890 to 1895 and contained some football scores and reports.
  • Moorabbin News. This paper began in April, 1900, and some football reports are printed.
  • Rob Hess and Bob Stewart (ed.) : More than a game, MUP, Melbourne, 1998.
  • Geoffrey Blainey: A Game of Our Own. The Origins of Australian Football, Black Inc., Melbourne, 2003.
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