The Essendon Football Club is celebrating its 150-year anniversary in 2022. This year also marks 100 years since the football club returned to Essendon in controversial circumstances.
On 20 October 1921, the City of Essendon Council and the Essendon Football Club signed an agreement which gave the Club control of the Essendon Recreation Reserve for five years from 1 April to 30 September each year. The Council was to erect substantial fencing, build a grandstand and lengthen the oval.
On 16 February 1922, the Essendon Football Club held its Annual General meeting at the Essendon Town Hall and this marked the “Same Old” Essendon’s return after an absence of 40 years.
The Council accepted a tender for the erection of a grandstand capable of seating from 1,300 to 1,500 people. The successful tenderer was Mr. W. C. Burne at £7,291. On 6 May 1922 the Foundation Stone of the grandstand was laid on the opening day of the 1922 football season by the Mayor, Cr. John B. Hunt. Essendon defeated Carlton in the match 11-14 to 9-8.
The “New Grandstand” as depicted in the Essendon Gazette of 16 March 1922. Described as having a frontage of 155 ft by a depth of 42 ft.
The grandstand opened on 19 August 1922.
The history and the controversy
The Essendon Recreation Reserve later also called “Windy Hill”, was Crown Land and always planned as a reserve. This eventuated on 19 June 1873 when the Essendon Cricket Club signed an agreement with the Essendon Council permitting cricket matches to be played on the ground.
At the same time the Football Club’s home ground was McCracken’s Paddock, adjoining Robert McCracken’s Ailsa mansion which stood opposite the tram depot in Ascot Vale. McCracken’s Paddock was bordered by today’s Ailsa St, Wigton St, Kent St and Mt. Alexander Rd, Ascot Vale. It was probable that the ground was to the east of the later Ayr Street. This land was subdivided and sold on 9 February 1907.
Robert McCracken’s Ailsa c1880s in Flemington Hill, now Ascot Vale.
In 1864 he purchased a two-storey residence in Mount Alexander Road, Ascot Vale. McCracken enlarged the brick residence and named it “Ailsa”.
Thought to be the location of the meeting in 1872 where the Essendon Football Club was formed. The house was built in 1849-50 and demolished in 1936.
After being refused the use of the Essendon Recreation Reserve, the 1882 season saw the Same Old play their last games at McCracken’s Paddock and first at the new home ground at East Melbourne Cricket Ground in Jolimont. However, in 1920 the Railways Department announced it was acquiring the East Melbourne Cricket Ground to extend its suburban train stabling yard.
The Football Club looked at various options such as the Showgrounds but chose Arden Street as its new home ground for financial reasons. Essendon locals were expecting a return to the Essendon district. The announcement that the Club was to occupy the North Melbourne Arden Street ground came as a shock despite an assurance that the Essendon name was to be retained. It next transpired that the North Melbourne Club was to be merged with Essendon. At this stage the residents of Essendon, the Council and the Victorian Football Association were active opponents of the move whilst North Melbourne and the incumbent Essendon Association football team at Windy Hill were strong advocates and a bitter struggle ensued.
Cr. Arthur F. Showers and Cr. Edward H. Kinnear, a former player, were prominent in advocating that the Club make its headquarters at the Essendon Recreation Reserve, and finally citizens were delighted to learn that David S. Oman, Minister for Lands, had exercised his power of veto and refused to sanction the lease of the North Melbourne ground.
The Football Club accepted the Council’s offer and used Windy Hill as its home ground until 1991.
The 1922 grandstand still exists. Known as the “Main Grandstand”, it was renamed the R. S. Reynolds Stand in April 1951. Current redevelopment plans for Windy Hill, envisage the grandstand’s retention.
Key participants in the history of the “Bombers”
Robert was born in Ardwell, Scotland in 1813 and arrived in Port Philip District with his brother Peter in 1841. He commenced a brewing business in 1851 and in 1864 he purchased a two-storey residence in Mount Alexander Road, Ascot Vale. McCracken enlarged the brick residence and named it “Ailsa”. He was the Essendon Football Club’s foundation President, eldest son, John, became the first captain and another son – 16 year old Alexander – though still studying at Scotch College, was appointed as the inaugural Secretary. Robert died in 1885 and his wife, Margaret died in 1905.
Arthur Field Showers
Arthur was born in Melbourne in 1869 and grew up in Essendon. He was elected to the Essendon Town Council in 1897 and went on to serve a record 43 years. Cr. Showers was actively involved in the operation of the Essendon Club which controlled the use of the Essendon Recreation Reserve. He was elected to the EFC Committee in 1921 and played a leading role in moves to re-establish the Essendon Football team at the Essendon Ground in 1922. Cr. Showers served the Club as President from 1935-40. Cr. Showers passed away on 4 October 1940. His wife Maude Elizabeth (nee Swan) died in 1959.
Edward Hore Kinnear
Born in Moonee Ponds in 1874, Edward (Teddy) was a member of the Kinnear rope making family. Cr. Kinnear served on the Essendon Council for 22 years, and he was a member of the first Essendon Football team that took part in the Victorian Football League in 1897. From 1894 he played 51 games for the Association team and then 108 VFL games, was Vice Captain in 1902 and a member of premiership sides in 1897 and 1901. Edward’s first wife Jessie Frew (nee Connelly) died in 1944. Edward died in 1965.
Additional information available from the Essendon Historical Society.