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Fitzroy v. University: rivalry and respect that began 136 years ago but remains strong today

09-Apr-2021

By David Leydon

One of the great, long-standing rivalries for the Fitzroy Football Club will have its next instalment in the opening round of the 2021 season when we take on the University Blacks.

Most supporters will know that the Fitzroy Football Club was formed in 1883 and played its first official games in the old Victorian Football Association (VFA) in 1884. In 1885 the University Football Club was also admitted into the VFA and stayed in that competition until 1888. It was during this four-year period that the Roy-ites and Uni played their first games against each other.

The first ever recorded Fitzroy vs University clash happened on the 2nd of May, 1885 at Brunswick Street Oval in front of a crowd of 1500 people.

The Roys came out victors on this day, kicking 5.10 to Uni 2.3. These were the times where, despite the behinds being recorded, they effectively counted for nothing in either the result or the percentage obtained from the game. Only the goals really counted.

That saw Fitzroy record a second win over Uni later in the season when they kicked 2.10 to Uni’s 1.16 which, using modern scoring methods, would register as a draw, but in 1885 it was a two goal to one victory for Fitzroy.

Fitzroy recorded further victories over University in 1886 by seven goals at the University ground and then by four goals late in the season at BSO in front of 2000 adoring fans.

The teams only played each other once in 1887, with the Royboys running out three-goal winners at BSO. Despite both teams being in the VFA in 1888, a quirky fixture, and an uneven number of games played by each team saw no games played between Fitzroy and University that year. University then left the VFA at the end of 1888 and went into brief recess before reforming and joining several other suburban competitions over the next 20 years.

Fitzroy was one of the eight clubs that eventually broke away from the VFA and formed the Victorian Football League in 1897, the competition that became the AFL in 1990.

When the VFL had its first expansion in 1908, it added two teams, Richmond and University, to its ranks to become a ten-team competition. Of course this meant Fitzroy and University locked horns once again at the top level of Victorian football.

This was a period of rebuilding for Fitzroy who, across the ten years between 1895 and 1905, had won a staggering five premierships and had been runners-up on three occasions.

A number of the champion Fitzroy players had retired and the club begun its rebuild journey in 1907, which eventually secured further Premierships in 1913, 1916 and 1922.

The first time Fitzroy and University met in 1908 came in round 7, on the 8th of June at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground (EMCG) which the University team used in its first few years in the VFL. Fitzroy won that game 12.12.84 to University 9.7.61. When the teams met again at the Brunswick Street Oval later in the season, Fitzroy were victors a second time 13.16.94 to 11.7.73.

Despite this being University’s first season in the big time of the VFL, they did pretty well finishing 6th on the ladder with 8 wins and 10 losses, one spot above Fitzroy who had 7 wins and 11 losses. The teams next met in round 9 of 1909, and this time University were victors by 40-points at the EMCG. They met again in the last round of 1909 and played out a thrilling draw at Brunswick Street Oval.

1909 saw the previous seasons positions on the ladder reversed with Fitzroy finishing 6th and Uni ending up in 7th place.

In 1910 it was two wins to University. The first early in the season by 36-points and they overran the Roys at BSO later in the year by 25-points. By season's end, Uni had a credible 6th place finish and the Roys had dropped to 8th. 1910 also saw University appoint former Fitzroy captain and premiership champion, Gerald Brosnan, as coach. Brosnan, who had played in the back to back 1904-05 Fitzroy premiership teams, ended up coaching Uni for four seasons (1910,11, 12, and 14).

By 1911 the Uni boys had moved their home ground to share with Melbourne at the MCG. When the Roys visited the mighty ground in round 6, they had a stirring 34-point away win and then backed it up with a 37-point win at BSO later in the season.

It was during this period that things started on a downward spiral for University. Most of their rival VFL teams were paying their players as professionalism started to grow within the league. Uni was keen to ensure it maintained its amateur status, and had steadfastly refused to pay players. This meant that many of their better players of the time went elsewhere to play under the lure of the money on offer.

The University team only won one game in 1911 to finish bottom. The club won wooden spoons again in 1912, 1913 and 1914, losing its last 51 games in a row and eventually leaving the VFL at the end of 1914.

Fitzroy recorded wins over University in 1912 by 27-points and 36-points.

In 1913, the Roys won both games again by 42 and 40-points en-route to the magnificent 1913 VFL Premiership.

In University’s last year in the VFL in 1914, Fitzroy recorded respective 84 and 89-point victories and again made the finals.

At the end of World War I, University were invited into the newly formed VFL Reserves competition (also known as the Victorian Junior Football League). Two University teams were entered and they were originally called University A and University B.

By 1921, both Uni teams had moved to the Metropolitan Amateur Football Association which eventually became the Victorian Amateur Football Association in 1933.

The Uni A and Uni B name was replaced with Uni Blues and Uni Blacks – the teams that survive and thrive to this day in the VAFA competition.

In 1954 a third University team was formed – the mighty University Reds.

The Reds played until 1996 under the University umbrella. The team moved to BSO in 1991 to play its home games. When Melbourne University withdrew its support for the Reds, players and supporters changed the club's name to the Fitzroy Reds.

In 2008 the Fitzroy Reds merged with the magnificent old Fitzroy Football Club to become the club that we know and love today.

So the ties between Fitzroy and University that go back 136 years are strong and full of history. That history will get another chapter in round 1 of 2021 when the teams again take the field of battle to kick off the new VAFA season at the Brunswick Street Oval.

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