The North Brunswick Junior Football Club – the Giants – began in 2005. But junior and senior football have been played at Allard Park for much longer than that. The Giants are fortunate to have a historian among its group of parents. Dr Belinda Robson went back in time, and discovered…
In 2016, the North Brunswick Football Club (‘the Seniors’) celebrated its 50th anniversary – but the Club’s roots go back far earlier, deep into a vibrant culture of Australian Rules football in the suburb of Brunswick.
We know that competition football has been played in Brunswick since at least 1865, when a club originally known as the United Brickyards and Potteries proudly wore red and white to represent the colours of the local clay. We also know that a North Brunswick Football Club certainly existed in the 1880s, with its fourth annual meeting, held at Dawson’s Retreat Hotel in 1885, recording 60 members in attendance. Those present heard that the team had won six matches, drew six and lost two (North Melbourne Advertiser, 10 April 1885, p. 3). Players wore a ‘navy blue guernsey with white band across, navy blue knickerbockers and blue and white stockings’. The following decade, a North Brunswick Star Club held its annual meeting at Kenny’s Court House Hotel in Sydney Road. They proudly reported that not one player had been injured that season (The Coburg Leader, 30 March 1892, p. 3).
These are all precursors of the current Senior Club – the NBFC Bulls. The rise and fall of community football clubs represents grassroots responses to the aspirations of local families looking for something to bring people together. Family networks play a critical role in inventing and re-inventing clubs over the generations. Football was intrinsically a part of the working-class suburb of Brunswick, providing a sporting and social outlet for many young men. One local potter, future Prime Minister John Curtin, put in time as a sturdy back man for the Brunswick Football Club from 1905 to 1909.
The Brunswick Club appeared to endure. When a number of teams split from the Victorian Football Association to form the Victorian Football League in 1897, the Brunswick club joined the VFA and went on to win a premiership in 1909. They were not done, and went on to win two more premierships in 1925 and 1938.
With the advent of the First World War, a club known as Brunswick Junior Football Club saw 24 members enlist to fight overseas, the Club hoping to recognise their services via an Honour Role. Thinking of their local supporters, it was also noted that ‘we realise now, more so now than ever, that without the ladies we are done’ (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 20 April 1917, p 1). Ladies, gentlemen, boys (and even girls) all loved football.
The Club Re-born
During the 1960s, Brunswick experienced a period of population growth, largely from immigration. In 1966, two teachers at the North Brunswick Primary School, Ray Trotter and Ian Duncan, noticed that students had no club to play with and felt there was a need for a local team. A parent at the same school, Rob Jewson, offered his support. He saw the value of building a local club to which his own kids could belong. In an area lacking organised activities for young men, a vision for a ‘North Brunswick Youth Club’ drove this triumvirate of local leaders.
The area was still solidly working class, but increasingly multicultural, with a rapid growth in Greek, Italian and Maltese families. In 1966 Italians made up nearly 20% of Brunswick’s population, with many children in the local schools speaking little or no English. Ray, Ian and Rob knocked on doors and spoke to parents, often sitting down to share a grappa or baklava. Slowly, they developed what was to soon become a thriving local club. The first under-12 side of the new North Brunswick Football Club commenced playing in 1966 and, following its success, the Club grew to 10 teams with stars all over the field.
Rob and his wife Joyce opened their home at 20 Rose Street, West Coburg, to provide the nucleus for Club meetings and social events. Joyce Jewson became known as the ‘mother’ of the players and she spearheaded the hard work of many other local families who put their heart and soul into the Club.
The NBFC was at that time the only club in the area and had strong success on the field. As the original players grew older, a Senior Club was established. In 1970, the ‘Green and Gold’ team joined the Victorian Amateur Football Association and had its first premiership success in 1974 led by coach Ray Trotter, defeating the Old Mentonians. At this time, the Club also fielded netball teams. The families of plumbers, milkmen, railway workers, fence builders: all were committed to creating a well-run and innovative team for all.
1980s to today
As the original generation of players moved out of the area, starting their own families, the Club looked for new blood. Danny Demir from the Princes Hill Football Club was brought across to augment the Club and it won its next premiership in 1981, defeating University Reds. The team at Allard Park then grew again, with players like Adrian Tirchett, Peter Dimarco, Joe Boudoloh, the DeMorton brothers and Vinne Grimaldi taking the team to further grand finals in the 1990s. Ian Aitken, Carlton premiership player in 1987, was also to make his footy debut at NBFC.
The Junior and Senior clubs have both survived tough times when the Club faced challenges. The 1980s saw local industries closing down, and at the same time other clubs began investing in attracting players, but the hard work of a small number of individuals enabled the club to adapt. The Junior club fell by the wayside in the late 1980s. Players such as Dino Dimarco, sometimes known as the godfather of the club, displayed resilience in the face of the wider changes in the sporting world.
In 2006, to celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Club inducted 14 members into its ‘Hall of Fame’
The junior club was re-ignited in the early 2000s as new families moved to the area following its gentrification and the growth in medium-density housing that filled many of the suburb’s now vacant industrial sites. With Auskick as a taster, many young boys and girls became hooked on the camaraderie, discipline and fun they experience at Allard Park.
The North Brunswick Junior Football Club was founded by the Papanikolaou family in 2005. The statement of purpose produced at the time still applies today:
“To provide an opportunity for the youth of the area to participate in Australian Rules Football and enhance their health and well-being through organised sport…. To provide a forum to instill the values of discipline, ethics, sportsmanship, commitment and friendship in the players.”
The new junior club borrowed from the senior club in some ways: adopting the same theme song, and wearing the same green and gold colours (although with a distinctly different design). However, they were not known as the Bulls but rather, the Giants. The mascot harkens back to the 1970s, while the colours were green striping on a yellow jumper.
The enduring qualities of the club have been the passion of the players, families and supporters. Hard work and discipline have characterised all aspects of its organisation and administration, right down to the canteen, fundraising and social activities. Leadership and self-belief has been carried through all levels of the Club, with young players being encouraged to be the best they can, on and off the field. The Raptis and Mucilli families featured prominently in all aspects of the club over many years.
Parents find a welcoming and child-centred club that has ties back to the old Brunswick. But, in one of the fastest growing parts of Melbourne, the Club is decidedly looking to the future. This was manifested in late 2017 when the North Brunswick Giants affiliated with the GWS GIANTS: a change of colours to accompany a new outlook.
Dr Belinda Robson
The club is eager to hear more stories from its community of former players and families and hopes to add to this history page over time.