HISTORY OF QUEENSLAND REDS JERSEYS
written by Sean Fagan
It took more than a decade for the Queenslanders to settle on a colour for their jersey.
The first Queensland teams in 1882 and ’83 played before the Northern Rugby Football Union (later called QRU) was formed in November 1883.
The players all came from QFA Australian rules clubs who on a few Saturdays each year played Rugby matches.
In these first two seasons the Queensland Rugby team wore the red and black hooped jerseys of the Brisbane FC (“the Invincible Reds”) in their games against NSW.
In 1884 Queensland took on the chocolate coloured jersey of the (Brisbane) Wanderers RU club, with “NRU” embroidered as a badge.
Another change came for 1886 as reported by Queensland Figaro “The Northern Rugby Union have altered the Intercolonial uniform this year to navy-blue jerseys and stockings with white knickers, instead of that thick and heavy chocolate uniform of last year.” The jersey included a large ‘N’ and ‘U’ inter-twined over the chest.
At this point the QRU seems to have implemented a system of home and away jerseys.
A dark Oxford blue top was worn against NSW in Sydney in 1886, 1888 and 1890, while for matches in Brisbane the Queenslanders turned out in white jerseys against NSW in 1887 and 1889, as well as vs British Lions in 1888, and New Zealand Maori in 1889.
The Courier stated in 1889: “The team will, as usual, play in the Queensland colours, namely, white jerseys and knickerbockers with maroon stockings and badge”.
The dark blue became the permanent Queensland jersey in 1890, though an exception was made in 1893 for the first visit of the New Zealand team (who wore black), where the locals played “in their white suits with dark red stockings” (The Queenslander).
Interestingly, from 1891-93 the annual NSW-QLD inter-colony matches saw both teams wearing blue jerseys in the manner of the annual Oxbridge Rugby match convention (Queensland as Oxford / NSW as Cambridge).
In the build-up to the 1894 series against NSW in Sydney, the Rugby writer in The Referee wrote: “It has been decided, I believe, that Queensland’s representative colours will be maroon jerseys and white pants.”
Initially worn as the sock colour in 1887, and discarded by NSW after the 1890 series, maroon was now the permanent choice for the Queensland team jerseys.
The first time “the Maroons” were seen in action was in Newcastle, when the Queenslanders broke their long southward train journey to play the combined “Northern Districts” team (the visitors winning 11-3).
In the decades that followed the adopted maroon colour became the established tradition across all Queensland sports and institutions.
Contrary to the information in various history publications, the Queenslanders did not wear white on their 10-match tour of NSW and New Zealand in 1896.*
Brisbane newspapers through the late 1890s continued to refer to the jersey as “Maroons”, but right from that first appearance in 1894, “the Reds” was equally prominent nomenclature to describe the Queenslanders in match reports.
In 1977 the QRU and NSWRU placed advertisements in the lead-up to inter-state games, using tag-lines “Reds on the Run”, “Boo a Blue at Ballymore” and “Turn Back the Red Tide”.
In 1982 a history of Queensland Rugby book titled “The Marauding Maroons” was released.
In the early 1990s the team were most often referred to as “Reds”, but “Maroons” was still far from infrequent in newspaper match reports (similarly, NSW “Waratahs” were still being called “Blues”).
The formation of Super Rugby in 1996, with its prominent use of branded team nicknames in preference to provincial names saw the permanent adoption of “Reds”.
In 1997 the history book “Red! Red! Red! The Story of Queensland Rugby” by Ian Diehm was published.
The jersey remained maroon until in 2010 the Super Rugby Queensland Reds moved to wearing a truly red jersey and playing strip.
© Sean Fagan
* On the 1896 tour of New Zealand the Queenslanders toured with a maroon jersey, confirmed in numerous match reports, including against Wellington and New Zealand teams who both wore black. No information has been found to confirm what colour the teams wore in the Queensland vs Southland game – both had adopted maroon as their representative colour (southland 1887).
Sean Fagan, The Rugby Rebellion
Sean Fagan, The First Lions of Rugby
Ian Diehm, Red! Red! Red! The Story of Queensland Rugby
NSWRU / ARU archives