St Kilda in scarlet, yellow and black – (sort of) setting the record straight

By Tom Briglia

Right, so whether or not you got up at 5am on Monday morning to watch Germany squeak home in the World Cup final, if you’re a St Kilda fan you probably would have seen this pop up on your Facebook feed during the day:

I got really excited about this one because it was extremely rare public exposure for possibly my favourite St Kilda jumper of all time – the 2005 Heritage Round jumper, which, alongside the Kangaroos’ own version for that Round made for a very nice colour contrast on the field.

There’s a couple of ironies (maybe not ironies, but you know) out of this one. Firstly, St Kilda never actually wore that jumper. They certainly wore red, yellow and black, but – here’s the second one – it was a reaction to World War 1, when the enemy in Germany had a red, white and black flag. The accepted story is that the club changed their colours to red, yellow and black to avoid any link with the Germans, and to bolster the Empire pride a little with the new colours the same as those on allies Belgium’s flag – indeed, news reports confirming this can be found on Trove here, here and here. I made a tweet about the slightly misaligned sentiment in the club’s Facebook post but the club account replied and thought I was having a crack – my point was that it’s kind of ironic that the club made this post when the original point of having red, yellow and black jumpers was to get the hell away from Germany.

Further to this, the arrangement might have been one of added convenience as the St Kilda Cricket Club’s colours were (and remain) red, yellow and black, and it was a chance to align the two more so aesthetically.

I must say, what does make the above jumper seem “old-style” are the continuations of the imperfect panels around the jumper, but unpatterned with red on both sides, echoing the lack of PR-influenced design perfection and assembly-line precision designer and manufacturers had at that time. This can be seen in photos of the club’s candy stripe variation worn from 1897, like this shot of the 1909 team.

So this is where some nitpicking comes in. St Kilda wore two red, yellow and black designs – or, as this Punch article from 1915 described St Kilda, “resplendent in their new colours (scarlet, yellow and black)” –┬áthe first from 1915-1918 and the second from 1919-1922. Because the club, like many others, dropped out of the VFL briefly in wartime it only wore the first design for two seasons, 1915 and 1918. This was the design that the club tried to emulate in 2005, but it erred in printing the jumpers before club historian Russell Holmesby and Rob Meredith – creator of the brilliant football resource – provided them with the correct information of what the jumper looked like. There are no photos that I’ve come across – neither colourised nor black and white – that depict this clearly, so like so many of all clubs’ older jumper designs, is our best guide.

In this case, the jumper actually was closer to a red, yellow and black version of the very popular candy stripe clash jumper worn from 2004-2006, after being worn in Heritage Round in 2003 and based on the 1886 jumper (with a shout-out to the 1893-1909 design, with thicker stripes, worn in the 1996 Centenary Round).

I’ve waffled on about this before, but Rob Meredith (“Mero” as he’s known to many) also submitted a design to the club to replace the candy stripe jumper, which had been given the flick by the AFL for being too close to Collingwood’s. This one was essentially the the candy stripe with red, yellow and black – or, the 1915-1918 jumper – steering itself away from the Magpies and design, and at the same time still being a St Kilda jumper and creating an effective contrast between the darker sides, such as Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Melbourne, etc. (Mero also was the creator of the losing design in the possibly rigged clash jumper poll that saw us end up with the much-derided “apron” design. Two years later and we might have had to wear that in a Grand Final.)

The 1919-1922 jumper is particularly unique in St Kilda history. There are only three designs the Saints have worn as home jumpers that haven’t been vertical stripes – which even then you can divide all of those jumpers into just two groups, the candy cane variations and the tri-panel variations. And those three designs have only been the club’s designated jumper for 26 of the club’s 141 years to date.

The exceptions are the first-ever jumper with the thin red and black hoops and white handkerchief, which we wore last year for the 140 Year Anniversary and is a very close contender with the above 2005 Heritage Round jumper for my favourite all-time Saints jumper. This morphed into another jumper, effectively the same except with a rounded white yolk coming down from the shoulders. It would be 34 years until St Kilda introduced the V design, and then another 75 once that was turfed before the “hot cross bun” design.

There is only one colourised photo of a red, yellow and black St Kilda jumper I’m aware of. It’s of Barney Carr in 1921 from Carter’s Price Guide to Antiques, and there’s something particularly interesting about it:


Namely, there’s a huge yellow band running across it. This hasn’t really been documented widely before, but that said, none of these jumpers have. Even the club itself CBF waiting for the right information to come through before they decided to print off a technically incorrect design to actually play a (quite important, as it turned out) game in.

Anyway, there’s a whole lot of originally black and white (or sepia tone, or whatever) images of footballers that have been colourised by an artist at the time or later on with inaccuracies on jumpers and so on – see Richmond wearing blue and black hooped socks earlier last century in 100 Years of Australian Rules Football). So I thought that was the case with this image. The only real documentation of it was done by Mero several years ago, and aficionados will notice that above the V is red, whereas Mero would have black:

This is the kind of thing that without specific written description we can’t entirely discern, and some resources such as images like this and the wealth of amazing information now on Trove are only newly available. They’re important because the difference between black and red in uncoloured photos is negligible. Yellow, however, really stands out. And that’s why these photos are interesting:


Those are pictures of Barney Carr, Ray Harper, Aubrey McKenzie and Bill Tymms, on Boyle’s Football Photos taken for the “1923 Magpie Portraits of Leading Footballers” series, and to varying degrees (see Tymms’ is lower than the others) all show the band that appears in the colourised Barney Carr photo is actually a part of the jumper, rather than an artist’s guesswork. It also means there was a lot of yellow in the red, yellow and black, and the overall design, once taking into account the allocation of colours to different sections, could be a lot more intricate and unique than thought. As an aside, these shots would have been taken in 1922 and used for the 1923 series as the available shots of the players – as the linked page shows, some players in the same set are wearing the 1923 jumper, which is the first variation of the tri-panel and had very busy sleeves (also worth checking out the markedly different South Melbourne and North Melbourne jumpers).

Perhaps the patriotic streak wore off, or there was just enough contentment after winning a World War because even though Germany changed their flag to red, yellow and black in 1919, the Saints stuck with the colour scheme in the new V design until, as mentioned, they changed back to red, white and black in 1923. There’s no clear-cut reason for this reversion in the way that there was for the initial change, unless it was a delayed reaction to Germany as they looked to rise again after their humiliating defeat. Depending on this, it may also dismiss the Cricket Club link angle. Hitler was only in the very early stages of his rise in 1923, but when the Nazis officially took over things at the beginning of 1933 and introduced two official red, white and black flags – one the tricolour, the other the swastika – the Saints didn’t bother changing again.

The yellow did return as a very effective clash jumper, but was in place of red and co-existed with the white on the hot cross bun design for just two years. Interestingly, it was worn in 2003 after the original had been phased out, but before the candy stripe had been introduced. It didn’t look quite right on that particular design (even with the red finishes on the 2003 version) and was embedded in everyone’s mind merely as a convenient hangover of the Pura Lightstart jumper. It can be used much, much more wisely, as the club proved just two seasons later.

So all of that doesn’t really mean anything huge for us now (the colours I mean, not the World Wars). I think the St Kilda Twitter account got a bit stroppy with me and didn’t reply even the second time to my most burning question: can we please have red, yellow and black clash jumper? Sadly, I don’t think they were trying to cover for any grand plans.