Introduction

I started this journey while reading an article on the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) website, where I saw an origin story for the 'Big-V', that the Amateurs had been the first to wear the Big-V jumper in a game against South Australia in 1925.1 I had been compiling my own collection of VFL representative team photos and it was clear that this origin story was not true, as I had already found VFL teams wearing the ‘Big V’ Jumper in 1923, then 1919, and then prior to WW1. But these new discoveries made it clear that there must be another story.

Wikipedia’s page on the Victorian State Football Team was also of little help. 2 It announced that "The Australian rules side was the first to use the 'Big V' motif, which was later used by other codes" but this appeared without any citation or references.

It seemed that the history of one of the great icons of Victorian football remained unclear. Thus the search began, with help from many along the way from commenters on the BigFooty website, and from others at the NSW Australian Football History Society, the Australian Sport Museum and the AFL.


Red, White and Blue

During the 1870’s, the Australian colonies adopted flag designs. The Royal Navy was in part responsible for this, as they required all Navies to fly an identifying flag. The flags from the 1870’s have been changed over time. South Australia’s flag featured the southern cross on an amorphous black shape, the black magpie on a yellow background was not adopted until 1904, but a Black swan on a yellow background did feature on the 1870’s Western Australian Flag. In Victoria the 1870’s flag had the Southern Cross on a blue background with the royal crown above the cross. The flag was originally designed without the crown, but that had changed by the late 1870’s.

Victorian Flag - Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Victoria
Victorian Flag - Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Victoria


These new designs would have been fresh in the minds of the organisers of the first ever Intercolonial football match (under the auspices of the VFA), played between South Australia and Victoria at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1879 where the VFA team appeared in “Blue knickerbockers, red, white, and blue jersey, cap, and hose” while South Australia appeared in 'All dark blue'.3 It is impossible to tell from the woodblock print of the match about stripes as the players are only tiny in the image.

Australian Sketcher 02Aug1879 p73 Intercolonial Football Match SLV - Crop
Australian Sketcher 02Aug1879 p73 Intercolonial Football Match SLV - Crop


Red, White and Blue were the VFA colours for the following years. In an 1881 inter colonial match at the MCG, 'visitors NSW in red and the Victorians in stripes'.4 And in 1886 Victoria v NSW (MCG), 'VICTORIA.(Colours-Red, white, and blue.) v New South Wales .(Colours-Red, black, and yellow.)'.5


The VFA club, Footscray, changed their jumper in 1886 to a Red, White and blue jumper First with horizontal stripes and then with vertical stripes. This change by Footscray apparently was too similar to the VFA colours causing the VFA to adopt a new Guernsey, this time blue, with a gold sash.

According to the always useful footyjumpers.com website, the Footscray Jumper that was too close to the Inter-Colonial Jumper was:
Image 1886
Red incorporated into the jumper
Image 1887 - 1889
Stripes changed to vertical

Image Source: http://www.footyjumpers.com/

Blue and Gold

Blue and gold was already in use in 1889 in a game against Northern Districts NSW at the MCG:

The colours of the teams in this match will be somewhat alike. The Victorians will not wear the harlequin-pattern colours, as in the match with Tasmania, but the blue and gold in narrow vertical stripes, something after the pattern of the jackets worn by the St. Kilda, North Melbourne, and Richmond clubs. So that the spectators may have a chance of picking out the representatives of the different clubs they will wear their own club caps. This is not likely to be a very great assistance, as the Ballarat and South Ballarat colours are very like those of the South Melbourne and Melbourne clubs.6

By 1890 the jumper design settled into its longer term design:

Although the colours blue and gold have of late been adopted as the colours, of the colony for inter colonial football, every year finds a variation in the method of wearing them. To-day the team will have a dark-blue cap, jersey, and hose, relieved only by a yellow sash across the jersey. The knickerbockers will be blue, instead of white, so that in this a further contrast will be afforded with the South Australian team. The colours of the South Australians are red, white, and blue, which were formerly the Victorian colours on the football field prior to their adoption by the Footscray Club. 7

What is not mentioned in this explanation for the change is that around 1890, VFA club Williamstown (Black and Yellow) merged with South Williamstown (Blue and White) and took on a new combined Blue and Yellow Jumper. (Little Mark writing in the Williamstown Chronicle in April 1890 was still referring to the team as the ‘Black and Yellow’.8

The new 1890’s Victorian Jumper may no longer have looked like a Footscray jumper, but the colours were very similar to the new Williamstown colours.

Although the State jumper was not blue and Yellow, the actual shade of colours was still unclear. The Argus described them as 'Dark Blue and yellow' while the South Australian Register described the Victorian colours at the same game as 'Royal Blue and Gold'.9

By 1893 Victoria v Norwood (Adelaide Oval) 1893 Victoria (Blue and gold) became the standard description of the colours.10 11

A team photo from a game in South Australia shows and illustrates the jumpers:
Victoria VFA 1893 Source:NLA Newby, H. D. A profusely illustrated souvenir and programme of the Australasian Football Jubilee Carnival, 1908  Page 37 Photographer:Unknown
Victoria VFA 1893 Source:NLA Newby, H. D. A profusely illustrated souvenir and programme of the Australasian Football Jubilee Carnival, 1908 Page 37 Photographer:Unknown


Note the bluestone wall behind the players where all the blue stones appear very dark indicating that the actual blue may have been much lighter than the image suggests.

1897 and the new VFL

When the VFL split from the VFA in 1897 the League experimented with new colours. 1897 saw the newly formed League play two inter League matches, first against Bendigo and then against Ballarat. Against Bendigo, the League lined up in the Essendon colours 12 and against Ballarat the League wore Maroon.13

The VFA also appears to not have worn the Blue and Gold in 1897, and it is recorded that the Association wore borrowed Port Melbourne Jumpers for their Game against the Ballarat Association. 14

The League soon reverted back to the Blue and Gold and in games against South Australia in 1900 (in South Australia)15 and in 1901 (at the MCG)16, South Australians played in black and white, while the Victorians appeared in blue and gold. Photographs of the Victorian team from 1900 to 1904 show the team in a striped jumper. The lighting in the images distort the shading of the jumpers which was most likely a consistent blue over the period

Victoria VFL 1900 - Source: NLA Newby, H. D. A profusely illustrated souvenir and programme of the Australasian Football Jubilee Carnival, 1908 P39 Photographer:Unknown
Victoria VFL 1900 - Source: NLA Newby, H. D. A profusely illustrated souvenir and programme of the Australasian Football Jubilee Carnival, 1908 P39 Photographer:Unknown
Victoria VFL 1902 - Source: NLA Newby, H. D. A profusely illustrated souvenir and programme of the Australasian Football Jubilee Carnival, 1908 P39 Photographer:Unknown
Victoria VFL 1902 - Source: NLA Newby, H. D. A profusely illustrated souvenir and programme of the Australasian Football Jubilee Carnival, 1908 P39 Photographer:Unknown
Victoria VFL 1904 - AFL record 1992 State of Origin p6 Victorian Team 1904
Victoria VFL 1904 - AFL record 1992 State of Origin p6 Victorian Team 1904


By now the Blue and Gold were seen not just as VFL or VFA colours, but as the Victorian Football Colours. In an inter-state schoolboy game, Albert Park State School lined up against Petersham from Sydney in blue and gold, “the Victorian football colours”, which were presented to them by the league.17

1905 -1907 Transition to the Big V

1905 appears to have been the start of the search for a new League interstate jumper. It is not clear whether this was to differentiate the League from the Association (who were also playing interstate matches at the time), or whether it was part of a wider move to standardize Victorian colours across all sports as by 1904 Victorian Rowing and Athletics teams were wearing dark blue. 'By the time the Victorians, who wore dark blue with white knickerbockers, had put up two goals and five behinds, the Sydney men began to settle in their places' (Argus 14-Aug-1905 p9). A picture of the team clearly shows a plain jumper with no V.

VFL v NSW 1905 - Source Weekly Times - via Stephen Rodgers and Col Hutchinson
VFL v NSW 1905 - Source Weekly Times - via Stephen Rodgers and Col Hutchinson


The VFL also played against Ballarat on the same day as the 1905 NSW game, but there is no mention of colours in the Age or Argus.

In 1906 the VFL again played one of its regular matches against Ballarat, this one at the MCG. Interestingly, the 1906 VFL v Ballarat game photos show that the League did not have a big V, but rather had 'VFL' written on the front of the jumpers.

A blow up of the image highlights the logo:
The Australasian 30-Jun-1906 p29 VFL v Ballarat - Crop
The Australasian 30-Jun-1906 p29 VFL v Ballarat - Crop


From the original:
The Australasian 30-Jun-1906 p29 VFL v Ballarat
The Australasian 30-Jun-1906 p29 VFL v Ballarat


In a 1907 game against Ballarat the League were described as wearing 'dark blue, with white knickerbockers'.18

1908 and the First Football Carnival

1908 Australasian Football Jubilee Carnival Official Program - Source - Encyclopaedia of New Zealand - http://www.teara.govt.nz
1908 Australasian Football Jubilee Carnival Official Program - Source - Encyclopaedia of New Zealand - http://www.teara.govt.nz


The introduction of a white ‘V’ to the front of the blue jumper appears to have been introduced in 1908 and was first used at the 1908 Jubilee Football Carnival’. The first is a long series of interstate carnivals. The 1908 Carnival under the “Australasian Football” banner also included New Zealand, and was timed to coincide with the visit to Victoria of the American “Great White Fleet” which was circumnavigating the world.19

The Carnival saw a significant change in State jumpers across all states and it appears that rather than Victoria happening to make the change at this time, the Australasian Football Council make a clear attempt to review the jumpers.
The Hobart Mercury provides some evidence of this review when they noted that “The colours allotted to West Australia by the Australasian Football Council, are green and gold. The guernseys are to carry a gold swan on chest, and white knickers are to be worn. (W.A. had previously worn horizontal stripes and no swan on the front).20

The design of the Tasmanian Jumper also changed and a map of Tasmania appeared on the front for the first time.21

The' South' Australians, appeared for the first time in their new interstate colours, “chocolate and light blue guernsey and stockings and dark blue knickers” in a match against the VFA a few months before the start of the Carnival.
22

For Victoria, the description of the jumper as 'Dark Blue with a White V'.23 and photos of the Carnival team show the first appearance of a Victorian Football team wearing the ‘Big V’.


Stars of the 1908 Carnival - Lets Look at Footy with Hugh Buggy p 1947
Stars of the 1908 Carnival - Lets Look at Footy with Hugh Buggy p 1947


But were the footballers the first to use this design? The answer is no.

Athletics

Victorian Amateur athletics teams had competed in interstate events since the early 1890s. Photos from the Australasian from 1902 to 1905 clearly show the Victorian’s with a white V on their front.

The Australasian 6-Feb-1904 p29 - Amateur Athletics - 220 Yards Second Heat
The Australasian 6-Feb-1904 p29 - Amateur Athletics - 220 Yards Second Heat
The Australasian 6-Feb-1904 p29 - Amateur Athletics - Three Mile Walk
The Australasian 6-Feb-1904 p29 - Amateur Athletics - Three Mile Walk
The Australasian 11-Jan-1902 - Amateur Athletics - Mile Walk
The Australasian 11-Jan-1902 - Amateur Athletics - Mile Walk
The Australasian 11-Jan-1902 - Amateur Athletics - Running Broad Jump
The Australasian 11-Jan-1902 - Amateur Athletics - Running Broad Jump



Rowing

In rowing it is less clear. A photo of J Donald - Victorian Crew - Referee Sydney 17-May-1905 p1 clearly shows a White V on his jumper, but it is unclear if this was an interstate rowing jumper.

J Donald - Victorian Crew - Referee Sydney 17-May-1905 p1
J Donald - Victorian Crew - Referee Sydney 17-May-1905 p1


Contemporary newspaper articles mention ‘Dark Blue Jersey” in 1904.24 In 1907 “Colors-Navy blue, blue cap, white V”,25 And colors, dark blue, -with white "V" on cap in May 1908 (still prior to the football carnival).26

Though not definitive in terms of a long term design, Rowing also appears to have used a ‘Big-V’ prior to its use by the footballers.

Other sports such as Rugby, Cycling, Lacrosse and Baseball have also been investigated but no other sport appears to have used the white ‘V’ prior to its introduction into athletics.

Since 1908


In terms of the Blue and Gold, they were not forgotten and for many years, the VFA continued to play in those colours, at least up to the 1930’s, when in 1931 the VFA team wore the blue and gold against a VFL side wearing the 'big-V'.

The Big-V grew as an icon over the period. For players in teams that did not make the finals, a big-V jumper provided an opportunity to dsplay their talents on a bigger stage. For example Harold Bray played for 11 seasons with the Saints, playing 156 games. Bray came third in the Brownlow medal in 1949 and 1952 and second in the count in 1947 but in that time St Kilda never made the finals. Robert Hancock played 58 games for the Saints as a speedy rover and was the club's best and fairest in 1948.

Harold Bray and Robert Hancock - 1948 - Source: Sipossmagic (Bigfooty Forum) - Photographer - Charles Boyles
Harold Bray and Robert Hancock - 1948 - Source: Sipossmagic (Bigfooty Forum) - Photographer - Charles Boyles




Preservation


Clubs tell the story of their jumpers, when they changed. and their origin stories. Clubs collect their own historic jumpers for their collections, but what of the Big ‘V’? The jumper so dear to Ted Whitten’s heart? Interstate/Inter-League Guernseys fall through the cracks as they are not club specific.

The 'Big-V' jumper is probably the most iconic of the interleague jumpers. Other jumpers such as the Ballarat League Jumper are also worth preserving, but by whom? Those interested in football history should be asking the question of who is preserving the history of football outside that of the League - such as Interstate/Inter-League Football, Country Football, War-time football, Women's football etc?

This is certainly not a criticism of the hard work already been done within the limited time and resources available, but a question for the football community. The question is what is important to US when WE look at football history.





Boyles Website Newsletter

Just us sending out an email when we post a new article.
Image

End Notes


1. 'The VAFA were the first to wear the Big V in a game against South Australian Amateurs in 1925 and it has been worn by Victorian teams of all sports since then.' http://www.vafa.com.au/index.php?id=131 visited 30-Mar-2014
3. VICTORIA V. SOUTH AUSTRALIA. (1879, July 1). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 7. Retrieved April 3, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5948948
4. FOOTBALL. (1881, July 2). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 8. Retrieved March 31, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article597703
5. THE INTERCOLONIAL FOOTBALL MATCH. (1886, May 22). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 5. Retrieved March 31, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article6097255
6. THE INTERCOLONIAL FOOTBALL MATCH. (1889, July 13). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 12. Retrieved March 31, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article6262156
7. THE INTERCOLONIAL FOOTBALL MATCH. (1890, July 5). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 12. Retrieved April 3, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8414800
8. FOOTBALL. (1890, April 26). Williamstown Chronicle (Vic. : 1856 - 1954), p. 3. Retrieved April 4, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article68593669
9. VICTORIA V. SOUTH AUSTRALIA. (1890, July 9). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 3. Retrieved April 3, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47280729
10. INTERCOLONIAL FOOT-BAIL. (1893, June 13). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 6. Retrieved March 31, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48528107
11. FOOTBALL. (1893, June 13). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 3. Retrieved April 3, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8563865
12. FOOTBALL. MELBOURNE V. BENDIGO. (1897, June 10). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 7. Retrieved April 4, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9186814
13. THE FOOTBALL SEASON. (1897, June 14). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 6. Retrieved April 4, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9193190
15. Football. (1900, July 28). Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), p. 41. Retrieved April 5, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87798349
16. Melbourne Football Notes. (1901, June 19). Referee (Sydney, NSW : 1886 - 1939), p. 8. Retrieved March 31, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121803555
17. FOOTBALL. (1904, September 17). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 13. Retrieved April 4, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10340614
18. FOOTBALL. THE LEAGUE V. BALLARAT. (1907, June 10). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 5. Retrieved March 8, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10640838
20. CHAMPIONSHIP FIXTURES IN MELBOURNE. (1908, July 4). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), p. 8. Retrieved April 4, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12689816
21. SALE OF BOOTHS. (1908, June 15). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), p. 7. Retrieved April 4, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12651118
22. INTERSTATE FOOTBALL MATCH. (1908, June 22). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 4. Retrieved April 3, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56876288
23. FOOTBALL. (1908, August 13). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 6. Retrieved March 8, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10194061
24. INTERSTATE SCULLING AND EIGHT-OAR CHAMPIONSHIPS. (1904, May 7). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), p. 11. Retrieved April 5, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19279406
25. THE INTER-STATE EIGHT OAR RACE. (1907, May 4). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), p. 9. Retrieved April 5, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5064052
26. THE RACING. (1908, May 11). Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. : 1855 - 1918), p. 5. Retrieved April 5, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article90706160