At 272 Lygon Street, diagonally opposite Borsari’s Ristorante at the bustling intersection of Grattan Street, stands the 141-year-old watering hole known as the University Hotel. Head to the front bar, and there you’ll find a framed dark Navy Blue guernsey hanging from a nearby wall.
Beneath that guernsey is a plaque which simply reads:
“The Carlton Football Club was founded here at the University Hotel, on 17th May 1865. Ben James was elected as Carlton’s first secretary and James Linacre was invited to be president.”
The guernsey serves as the only tangible reminder that on a Wednesday evening in autumn almost 150 years ago, the good gentlemen of the local district convened at the place to formally establish the greatest of all Australian football institutions.
“A lot of people who file into the bar find that this (the site of the club’s founding) is news to them,” University Hotel publican and self-confessed Carlton supporter Andrew Treganowan said.
“A lot of people read the plaque and say ‘Oh right, Carlton was founded here’. In the old days, when matches were played at Princes Park and supporters came back for a beer, the story was more widely known because there was more of a territorial association.”
The first newspaper account of what was clearly a landmark assembly of Carlton types at the University Hotel appears in the Melbourne-based sporting publication Bell’s Life of Saturday May 20, 1865. A column paragraph located under a headline simply marked “Football”, reads as follows:
CARLTON FOOTBALL CLUB. – A meeting of the Carlton Football Club was held on Wednesday evening last at the University hotel, for the purpose of electing office-bearers for the season. The following were elected, viz., Messrs. Byrne, McLean, McHarg, Adamson, Bowen, Richardson, Waugh, and McFarland, to form the committee; Mr. John Walls was elected vice-president, Mr. B. James secretary. The secretary was instructed to write to Mr. James Linacre asking him to accept the office of president to the club. The rules of the Melbourne Football Club were adopted.
The historic gathering on that autumn Wednesday night in 1865 appears to cast into some doubt the long-held view that the football club was actually founded in July of the previous year.
Regrettably, no record of the 1864 formalisation of the football club can be found either in the club’s archives or the newspapers of the day. Nor does there appear to exist any evidence that a Carlton team actually took to the field in the winter of ’64.
But it’s worth noting here that Carlton and Royal Park were virtually interchangeable at this time, for every player in Royal Park’s 1864 team turned out for Carlton the following year. The club’s “first” annual report of 1865 carries details of the team’s opening hit-outs with opponents such as the Grammar School Club, Williamstown and the Warehousemen – matches wrongly interpreted as having been played in 1864, the season that never was.
It is also possible that the first “official” Carlton match involving the Grammar Club was actually staged in 1864, but once again the newspapers and periodicals of 1864-65 do not appear to record the happening.
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