The famous red-and-white strip of the AFL’s Sydney Swans has its origins in a club that once pursued a switch from Melbourne rules to Rugby to make football in Victoria “as honourable as cricket”.

South Melbourne (hoops) vs Collingwood (stripes) in 1896
South Melbourne (hoops) vs Collingwood (stripes) in 1896

The South Melbourne FC that is now the Swans was founded in 1874, and adopted blue and white as its colours.

However, in 1880 the club almagamated with Albert Park FC, another South Melbourne based club who were formed in 1865. Both clubs were using  Albert Park as their home ground.

While the new entity kept the South Melbourne name, the red (scarlet) and white of Albert Park survived via the retention of its playing strip and gave rise to ‘The Bloods’.

On this basis the Swans club today [link] makes the broad claim that by tracing its lineage back to 1865 via Albert Park it is the oldest football club in the world playing in a red and white kit: 

More significantly, the Albert Park club wore red and white striped uniforms and were known as “those red and white beauties”. These colours now have been worn for almost a century and a half and the South Melbourne/Sydney Swans club has the distinct honour among all clubs of all codes around the world to wear these colours for longer than any other.

In 1877 the Albert Park club had become a founding member of the Victorian Football Association (VFA) alongside Melbourne, Carlton, St Kilda and Hotham (North Melbourne).

A primary purpose in forming the VFA was to formulate uniform playing rules between the clubs and address criticisms of the dangers to the players and diminishing spectacle. The preceding years had seen much debate and on-field disputes, particularly about the extent that players were allowed to run with the ball, a propensity to keep hold of the ball and struggle onwards in tackles, as well as defenders ‘slinging’ opponents to ground or lying down before a runner so as to bring him violently down (‘rabbiting’).

In May 1874 The Record and Emerald Hill and Sandridge Advertiser [South Melbourne] reported:

Albert Park Club are anxious to introduce the Rugby game of football, and by doing so supercede a very objectionable mode of playing hitherto practiced in this colony … we fervently hope that a new era has set in, and that for the future the game of football will be as honorable as that of cricket … We trust that the Albert Park Club will gain for itself the worthy distinction of having, to say the least of it, made the game of football in this colony respectable.

The club’s initiative to adopt Rugby was not met with universal support and soon fell away, however it may be of some noteworthiness to consider that during the following month a well-attended public meeting resolved to form what would become the South Melbourne FC. 

Had the Albert Park players and members pushed on to become a Rugby club the 1880 merger with South Melbourne would never have eventuated.

So with raised voices ‘Cheer, cheer the red and the white’ for the Swans, but let’s not forget they wear the colours of Albert Park, the club that wanted to adopt Rugby to make “the game of football in this colony respectable” .

© Sean Fagan