How the Blues became Blue

Perhaps no other team in the AFL has more invested in a colour than the Carlton Football Club. Others have animals, mythical creatures or simply a verb to define them, as well as their specific club colours. Carlton alone has proudly worn and been defined by a rich, dark and powerful colour which is Oxford Blue. Given all that, it may be surprising to know that a great deal of mystery surrounds exactly how it all came about. Until now.

Back in 1871 the fledgling game that was Australian rules was just beginning to take itself seriously. Large crowds were attending, including significant numbers of women to a sport that was taking over the hearts of the public. In April of that year the Carlton Football Club held their annual meeting at the Carlton Club Hotel (now Poynton’s on the corner of Grattan and Cardigan streets). In attendance was Andrew McHarg. Mr McHarg was a pioneer player with Carlton in 1864 and had since joined the committee of the club of which he was a member that night. The following details are Mr McHarg’s recollection of that meeting told to a reporter in 1915 named “Rambler” who wrote for the Referee Sporting Newspaper.

An item of business for the meeting on the 27th of April 1871 was the matter of codifying the official club colours. This suggestion was one of significance and no doubt lead to vigorous discussion amongst those present as it was revealed that at least three suggestions were put to the committee. One suggestion came from “Lanty” O’Brien who was an experienced player at the time and known to be the longest kick in the game as well as the originator of the punt kick. Lanty offered that Carlton should adopt the colours of the uniform of the French Zouave. The Zouave uniform was a flamboyant assortment with the main items a dark blue jacket and crimson red pants. Lanty was on the side of the French at that time who were at war with the Prussian Kingdom.

Another option discussed was the adoption of Cambridge Blue. It was thirty years later in 1901 that the newly formed Sturt Football Club adopted Cambridge Blue as well as Oxford Blue as their colours. Primarily because the club’s oval is situated on the corner of Oxford and Cambridge Terraces. Carlton’s recent light blue alternative guernsey gave some insight into how the club may have looked if this suggestion was taken up.

Finally, it was a suggestion by Theopholis S Marshall that was agreed upon. T.S. Marshall was one of the most renowned names from the early history of the game. He played in the famous first game in 1858 between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar. T.S. Marshall was known as the Godfather of football having played a major part in the codification of many rules and serving as secretary of the VFA for nearly twenty years in the formative years of the competition. During 1871 he was a former committeeman of Carlton and a former player. It was his suggestion that Carlton adopt as their colour Oxford Blue.

Oxford Blue (pantone 282 for any supporter out their wishing to paint their house) has its origin in the second boat race between Cambridge and Oxford in 1836 where Cambridge adopted the light blue and Oxford the dark blue of the Christ Church College boat club (which was part of Oxford University). Christ Church college gained their dark blue colour even earlier in 1817 when simple colours were designated to distinguish the different boat crews, green for Jesus, black for Brasenose, red for Exeter and dark blue for the House.

So next time you are walking past the corner of Cardigan and Grattan streets let your eyes wander over to the old building on the corner that used to be the Carlton Club Hotel and give a little thought to how in 1871 the blues became blue.

This article first published at the Blueseum


  1. Apologies in advance for the errant ‘their’. :facepalm:

  2. Blueseum – your reference to the red and blue uniforms of the French Zouave (north African light infantry) reminded me of a passage in Barbara Tuchman’s wonderful ‘Guns of August’ about the beginning of WW1 (appropriate 100 years on to the week).
    The French Generals believed in the power of ‘elan’ – that the spirit of their troops was what would triumph. When it was suggested that grey or brown uniforms were preferable camouflage for a war in Flanders (instead of the traditional French red and blue) they countered that it would destroy the ‘elan’ of the men.
    The German riflemen were very grateful. Shooting fish in a barrel.
    Any parallels to Mick’s ‘buffalo girls’ game plan, or are the Blues back to Ratts revisited?

  3. Too much glory given to Tom Wills – and Harrison when it was men like T.S. Marshall who really put in the work for the game in this early period.

    Interesting to se that he played in the first-ever game as well!

    Is he honoured in the Blues Museum?
    And by the Carlton Football Club?

  4. John Butler says

    Welcome to the Allmanac Blueseum. I’ve long admired your work and look forward to future contributions. You are undoubtedly a man of taste and distinction.

    You’ll have to pardon Mr Baulderstone. Being West Australian, he got most of his sense of colour from 70’s era RSL’s, as did his footy club.

  5. Thanks guys.

    In answer to Dr Rocket, we have quite a detailed page on Mr Marshall. I will provide a link here but am conscious to not spam the fine Footy Almanac site for which I have the utmost respect.

    We have quite a backlog of articles which are suitable to publish on the Almanac. Might publish one every month or two to spread them out.

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