Black and white
Brunswick joined the VFA in 1897, the same year that the breakaway VFL was formed. The team wore light blue and red jumpers during its predominantly unsuccessful early years,1 and bore the nickname of the Pottery Workers. It later changed its colours to red and white, and finally to black and white, at which point it adopted the Magpie emblem. In its final three years in the VFA the club was known as Brunswick-Broadmeadows.
Brunswick’s most successful era came either side of the first world war. During the eight seasons between 1908 and 1915 the side contested seven finals series, including five premiership deciding matches (either finals or challenge finals). However, only once, in 1909, did it actually win the flag. For all bar the last of these eight seasons the side was captained by Jack ‘Dookie’ McKenzie, who had begun his senior football career at Brunswick, but whose abilities and know-how had been honed by time spent at Essendon and in Western Australia. More than making up for in ability and determination what he lacked in inches, McKenzie was probably the single biggest reason for Brunswick’s rise from impotence to eminence, although ironically he missed the club’s finest hour in 1909 after being concussed the previous week. The 1909 flag was won after Brunswick overcame minor premier Prahran twice, by 3 goals in a semi final, and then by 16 points after a spirited fight back yielded 5.1 to 0.3 in the final quarter of the challenge final. Interspersed between these two matches was a 10 point win over Essendon Association in the final, a game which witnessed a dramatic first quarter clash between the Dreadnoughts’ Claude Dyson and the Magpies’ ‘Dookie’ McKenzie which gave rise to the aforementioned severe case of concussion for the latter, and a two year enforced ‘holiday’ for Dyson.
Brunswick’s ongoing flirtation with success continued on the resumption of football after the war as the side competed unsuccessfully in the finals series of 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921 and 1924 before finally breaking through for a second premiership in 1925. The opposition in the decisive match of the season (which was the final on this occasion) was provided by Port Melbourne, and the Magpies overcame a tentative start to win in the end by the same margin as in 1909, 16 points. The match took place at Melbourne’s Motordrome, the site on which Olympic Park was later constructed, and in an unusual ‘curtain-raiser’ renowned cyclist Richard ‘Fatty’ Lamb put on an exhibition in which he broke a number of Australian and British Empire records. During the early 1930s Brunswick, in common with many other sporting organisations, began to suffer serious financial hardship, and for a time it appeared almost certain that the club would go under. In the end, it survived, but only by the controversial and somewhat controversial means of selling its best players to VFL clubs. In 1934, for example, Frank Anderson, Dave Arnol and Wally Mutimer were all cleared to Carlton in return for a fee reported as being somewhere between a hundred and a hundred and fifty pounds. The following year saw Bervyn Woods and Harold Jones sold to Collingwood. Somewhat unusually for the time, the players involved appear to have had no say in the matter.
As war clouds gathered again in the late 1930s so Brunswick’s fortunes took a turn for the better. A 33 point grand final defeat of Brighton in 1938 was sandwiched between losses to Prahran and Williamstown in the grand finals of 1937 and 1939 respectively. The Magpies won well in a high scoring game in 1938, whereas both the losses were close. Former Williamstown and Footscray player Roy McKay captain-coached Brunswick in all three grand finals.
After the second World War Brunswick’s successes were limited to second division flags in 1975, 1980 and 1985.
Prominent players for Brunswick over the years included Jim Dowling, Brian Bilby, Keith Burns, Keith Greig, Wayne Schimmelbusch and Barry Nolan. In addition, eventual Australian Prime Minister John Curtin represented the club during the early years of this century.
1 The side won only 3 games in total during its first three seasons, and finished last in 1898, 1899 and 1902.