History of cricket in Darebin
The earliest record of an organised cricket club in Northcote originates from 1874. There is evidence of an organised club in Preston from as early as 1869 with a documented match played against South Melbourne. This is surprising, as Northcote was significantly more built up than its northern neighbour and little is otherwise known about Preston prior to the 1880s.
Despite the lack of documented evidence it is highly likely that informal matches had been played in the area for many years. In those days the wide-open spaces and ample paddocks would have provided many opportunities for games between groups of locals. In this era the matches tended to be one-day affairs, but without limited overs. This meant one team could choose to bat for the whole day. However to win, one team would have to dismiss the opposition for fewer runs than they had scored.
By the late 1870s there is documented evidence of two clubs in the Northcote area, the Northcote Cricket Club and the Northcote Park Cricket Club. As the name suggests, Northcote Park played at the ground of the same name in Westgarth St, while Northcote first played at Plant’s Paddock. In 1878 Northcote changed its name to Northcote Star. There is also evidence of several other clubs in the 1870s, which had only short lives. These included the Northcote Zingari club, which was most likely a social team as the word ‘Zingari’ means ‘gypsy’ in Italian and referred to a style of dressing that was popular at the time. There was also a club called Yarra Bend, which played on the grounds of the old Asylum. For a time this club may have been the biggest in the area, as its opponents included South Melbourne, East Melbourne and St Kilda.
In 1884 Northcote Star was vying for a first sporting trophy for Darebin in the final of the Armfield Brothers Cup. The match was against a Collingwood based club ‘Capulet’ and in a sign of the times took a month of Saturdays and two venues to complete due to poor weather. Despite a spirited bowling effort in Capulet’s second innings, Northcote Star narrowly lost the match and would wait until 1890 for its first trophy.
Throughout the 1880s Northcote’s big two clubs, Northcote Star and Northcote Park, competed for local supremacy. A great rivalry was built up with bragging rights at stake. In addition, Preston boasted some accomplished clubs and the inter-suburban rivalry also added to interest in cricket in Darebin.
In 1876 there is evidence of a club called Preston Park playing on in Cramer Street. Preston City Oval is on the site today, still the sporting hub of Preston. A few years later a club called Preston Cricket Club emerged playing at the same venue but it is not known if this club was new or a renamed Preston Park Cricket Club. Its results in the early 1880s were impressive, especially considering the small population of Preston.
In 1881 the Gowerville Cricket Club was formed. Gowerville represented the ‘newer’ area of Preston, i.e. South Preston. The Preston club represented the area around Regent which had been the original settlement in Preston and whose residents considered it to be the ‘true Preston’. The clubs shared Preston Park, and an intense rivalry but it was Gowerville who had the last laugh when Preston Cricket Club was forced to disband in 1886. Then in 1888 Gowerville assumed the name Preston.
Throughout the 1880s the clubs from the two established settlements in Darebin played regular matches, with the Northcote Clubs generally holding sway due to a superior population from which to draw players. Northcote was significantly more developed than Preston at this time, particularly commercially and residentially, but on the cricket field things were a lot more even. The tide really began to turn in the 1890s, a sign of Preston’s growth, when Preston claimed two of the three matches it played against Northcote Star during the 1891 season.
Identifying players from this era is difficult as it was rare for newspaper reports to include first initials, let alone first names. Certain family names appear consistently in teams from Preston and Northcote, including Westmoreland, Paterson, Dredge, Porteous, Harry and Watson. Some of these were the areas earliest settling families.
Just prior to the 1889/1890 season Northcote Star moved its base to Croxton Park, which saw a growth in membership and an improvement in standard due to superior facilities compared to Plant’s Paddock. Shortly afterward, in June of 1890, Northcote Star captured the town’s first trophy by winning the Alliance Trophy, with a convincing 104 runs victory over Fitzroy Imperial. The game was played at Sumner’s Paddock, which was next to the Inebriate Retreat set up by Dr. Charles McCarthy in 1873. The land would later become Northcote High School and Merri Park. The victory was notable as it was achieved without Northcote’s star batsman, H. Brice, who had made 148 in an earlier match against Clifton Hill. This was possibly the first century by a player from Darebin. In 1894 Northcote Cricket Club, having dropped ‘Star’ from its name in 1892, won the Melbourne Sports Depot trophy after a massive victory in the final match over Richmond City. Northcote’s score of 468 was a ‘junior record’ and they only had to bat once in a match that took 4 Saturdays to complete. Such was cricket’s popularity at the time the match was played in May and June, out of the usual season for the game.
For the remainder of the decade Northcote Cricket Club prospered, while many other sporting clubs fell by the wayside during the trying times of the 1890s. In 1903 the Northcote Council appointed a part-time gardener to attend to the long neglected Northcote Park in Westgarth St. The improvements were almost immediate, with the ground well tended to and a fence built. In 1906 the Victorian Cricket Association formed a new two division district competition and with the improvements to Northcote Park and as a testament to the strength of Northcote Cricket, the Northcote Cricket Club gained entry to the second division. Northcote then won the inaugural second division premiership to earn promotion. Northcote has remained in the first division ever since and has been a breeding ground for future Victorian and Australian cricketers.
Preston Cricket Club became a member of the second tier ‘Sub-district’ competition in Melbourne in 1922. They continue to play their matches at Preston City Oval as they have for well over 100 years. The club claims a history that dates back to the 1860s, although there are some breaks in the historical timeline.
Forster, Harley W. (1968). Preston Lands and People. Melbourne: Cheshire.
Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.
Membrey, Brian (2003)? The pubs, the parks and the Rose. Unpublished manuscript.