The Preston Football Club, now known as the Northern Bullants, started life in 1882. In its long history it has been known by several names, has faced mergers and threats of extinction but has always survived to be a symbol of continuity for the city of Preston. The club has always played at Preston Park in Cramer St.
The Club had two stints in the Victorian Football Association (VFA). The first, from 1903-1911 followed a period of success in the Victorian Junior Football Association. Unfortunately Preston’s small rural population was unable to sustain a club at the senior level and they were forced to merge with Northcote in 1912. The merger was that in theory only, in reality Preston Football Club was absorbed into another local club, Preston Districts, and resumed playing in the VJFA.
Having established itself as a top club in the VJFA, Preston returned to the VFA in 1926. Despite being a strong club which consistently made the finals, Preston found winning finals to be particularly difficult. Preston, led by captain-coach Roy Cazaly(of 'up there cazaly' fame), beat Oakleigh in the Second Semi Final of 1931 but this was the only final of eighteen the club won until its breakthrough success in 1963 when it won the second division Premiership. By the end of the Second World War, Preston had become known as the Bullants after radio commentator Wallace “Jumbo” Sharland had compared the club to “swarming bullants” due to their red and white uniforms.
Preston graduated to senior honours in 1968 and then repeated as Premiers in 1969 with a team captain-coached by Alan Joyce, who would later coach Hawthorn to VFL/AFL Premierships in 1988 and 1991. Preston again captured back to back Premierships in 1983 and 1984 after being losing grand-finalists in 1971, 1978 and 1981. These successes were book ended by threats to the survival of the club. In the early 1960s Fitzroy approached Preston with a view to establishing a new home ground at Cramer St. The proposed merger was skewed heavily in favour of the VFL club. Preston, despite the threat and the possibility of losing its home ground, decided to fight for its independence. A fight that was eventually won when the local council would not spend the money required to upgrade Cramer St to VFL standard. In 1985 the club found itself deeply in debt as a result of the aggressive recruiting which had helped secure the ’83 and ’84 flags. Despite the constant threat of financial ruin, Preston survived through its strong core of local support and the loyalty of its playing group.
In the 1990s the VFA changed dramatically. The Association re-branded itself the VFL in 1995 at which point Preston began a joint venture with Victorian State Football League club Northern Knights. The new merged club fielded senior teams in the VFL and under 18 teams in the VSFL under the name Preston Knights. The Club changed its strip from red and white to black, blue and white; the first major change to club colours since 1912. The Preston Knights era was short but eventful. The club faced expulsion from the VSFL as the league’s administrators intended to re-assign the under 18 club to Port Melbourne. Fortunately the Kennett Government’s dramatic changed to local government came at the right time for the Preston Football Club. The local council had been removed and an administrator, Don Gillies had been appointed to run the local government. Gillies was a local football fan and his influence helped keep the Preston Knights alive.
By 1999 the Preston Knights experiment was clearly failing as the Club could not generate enough revenue to support teams in two competitions. The senior team renamed itself the Northern Bullants and reverted to the club’s famous red and white colours. In 2000 the VFL became a reserves competition for Victorian AFL clubs but the Bullants did not initially align themselves with an AFL club, preferring to stay independent. By 2002, after being approached by Essendon and Carlton, neither of whom could afford to sustain a reserves team of their own in the VFL, the Bullants began an alliance with Carlton which continues today. The Blues were a better fit for the Bullants as they allowed the Club to maintain its colours and traditions, which are over a century in the making. Some of the most famous players to pull on a Preston guernsey include Herby White; William Summers, the 1926 Recorder Cup winner; Bert Deacon, the 1947 Brownlow Medal winner; former Collingwood captain Ray Shaw; goal kicking legend Jamie Shaw; and noted sports scientist and athletics coach Dr. Richard Telford.
Fiddian, Marc. (2004). The VFA: A history of the Victorian Football Association (1877-1995). Melbourne: The Author.
Membrey, Brian. (2004). Where we come from: Celebrating Preston Football Club’s admission to senior VFA ranks in 1903. Preston: Northern Bullants Football Club.
Membrey, Brian. (2003). The pubs, the parks and the Rose. [unpublished manuscript].