In the late 1880s the first incarnation of a club called the ‘Rose of Northcote’ started playing in the ‘second-rate division’, a level below the Victorian Junior Football Association (VJFA). At the time the VJFA was effectively a ‘seconds’ competition of the elite Victorian Football Association (VFA). This club played at Northcote Park and was probably formed by a branch of the International Order of Rechabites, the leading temperance society, as clubs formed by the orders’ branches tended to start their name with ‘Rose of’ or ‘Star of’. Playing alongside Rose of Northcote in the ‘second-rate division’ was a club called Bellevue, formed by Walter Stott. This club eventually decimated the playing stocks of the Rose of Northcote, leading that club to disband. The 1890s were a turbulent time for the football clubs of Northcote, with many struggling to survive more than a few years. There was also a club called Northcote Fire Brigade and a team called Australs who played at Northcote Park. Despite very little press coverage and promotion, the Australs outlived all these other clubs, only disbanding in 1896.
Rose of Northcote’s first life was short, but the name was revived in 1904 at the instigation of the owners of the Croxton Park Hotel. The choice of name was therefore quite ironic, given the link between the name and the temperance movement. Northcote Football Club had been playing its home matches at the ground behind the hotel from 1899, but crowd trouble at the venue, linked undoubtedly to the close proximity of the hotel, prompted the VJFA to ban the use of the ground during the 1903 season. Despite protestations from the Northcote Football Club, and an acknowledgement from the VJFA that the trouble was not caused by members of the home club, the ban stood and Northcote moved to Northcote Park. The Randall family, owners of the Croxton Park, were concerned about the loss of one their great drawcards. They moved quickly to form a new club, under the auspices of having a club to represent the ‘northern’ part of the town.
Initially, a proposal was put forward to create the Croxton Football Club. The club would wear yellow and black and would play arranged matches, both home and away, rather than entering a formal competition. Two weeks later, another meeting, this one at the Friendly Societies Hall, proposed that the new club would lobby for entry into the first division of the VJFA, abandoning the proposal of arranged matches. In keeping with the traditions of Friendly Societies, the new club was named Rose of Northcote. Obviously not all Friendly Societies were also part of the temperance movement, as the new club was acting in direct opposition to the wishes of the increasingly powerful lobby. J. Randall was elected as a club vice-president, with Cr W. Pearl installed as president. It may have been this Randall, or another member of the family who managed to persuade the VJFA to lift their ban on the Croxton Park ground, just 8 months after it had been put in place. How the Randalls were able to be so persuasive is unknown, but a source of intrigue nonetheless.
Rose of Northcote joined Northcote in the VJFA’s first division in 1904, creating a new local derby. The first of these derbies finished in a win for Rose of Northcote in front of 3,000 to 4,000 people at Croxton Park, although Northcote would have the last laugh winning the 1904 Premiership and following it up with another in 1906. Rose of Northcote finished third in their debut season in the VJFA. In 1906 the fifteen-year-old son of local resident Wal Lee made his debut for the Rose of Northcote. Dick Lee quickly established himself and moved to Collingwood in 1907, where his father was head trainer. Lee would become the first superstar forward of the VFL setting numerous goal kicking records while playing over 200 games for the Magpies. Meanwhile Rose of Northcote continued to have the edge over Northcote in their derbies, though they never finished above their more senior rival on the Association ladder. In 1908 Northcote earned a place in the VFA, after Richmond departed for the VFL. This left only Rose of Northcote and new club Northcote Wednesday who had just earned promotion to a senior level after playing in a mid-week competition that played at Croxton Park.
As quickly as it was started, Rose of Northcote wound up. The 1908 season was moderately successful, with the club making the finals only to lose to eventual Premier Yarraville. Despite having been a successful side, and attracting a loyal supporter base, the match against Yarraville would be the last for Rose of Northcote. The Randall family had been lobbying Northcote Football Club to return to Croxton Park, as facilities had been upgraded and the family was keen to have VFA football on its ground. The club’s 1908 debut season in the VFA had been played at Northcote Park, but they were persuaded to return to Croxton Park after the season, and eventually the VFA allowed the move. Rose of Northcote ‘amalgamated’ with Northcote, at the behest of the influential Randalls, and was no more.
Lemon, Andrew. (1983). The Northcote Side of the River, North Melbourne: Hargreen.
Membrey, Brian. (2003). The pubs, the parks and the Rose. [unpublished manuscript].