Red and black is synonymous with the Essendon Football Club, and the black jersey with the red sash over the left shoulder, adopted in 1875, evokes absolute devotion from its host of loyal supporters whose heart resides at Windy Hill but who now spread across Australia and, with the advent of the Internet, throughout the world.
The Essendon Football Club dates its origins to a meeting held at the McCracken home in Ascot Vale in 1871, and a team began playing on a paddock in Flemington the following year. Alexander McCracken was a major influence in shaping the sport, as president of the Essendon Club from 1887 to 1903, and president of the Victorian Football League from 1897 to 1915.
In 1882, because of links with the powerful East Melbourne Cricket Club, the club moved to the East Melbourne ground located near the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the custodians of the Essendon Recreation Reserve preferring to keep it solely for cricket. In 1922, when the East Melbourne ground was resumed for a railway yard, Essendon, known then as 'The Same Olds', first dallied with an amalgamation with North Melbourne but finally moved to the ground in Napier Street, Essendon. Windy Hill, as it was popularly known, became the home ground for Essendon for the next 70 years. Ensconced at Essendon, the team was first 'The Dons', but after World War II 'The Bombers' gained ground among supporters.
Essendon has been a source of major innovation in Australian football. In 1886, Charles Pearson was credited with introducing overhead marking. In the 1920s, the Mosquito Fleet used the running skills of its small men to win premierships in 1924 and 1925. In 1959, the club initiated a program of physical training for each player, making the club a force throughout the 1960s, with two premierships in 1962 and 1965. Under Kevin Sheedy, who began coaching Essendon in 1981, specialised coaching and strategic planning became a feature, with premierships in 1993 and 2000 exciting outcomes.
Each season has brought its heroes to celebrate: the long kicking of Albert Thurgood at the turn of the 19th century; the evergreen Dick Reynolds with three Brownlow Medals and three premierships as coach; the modest Bill Hutchison with two Brownlows; the wonderful aerial skills of John Coleman; the judgment of Jack Clarke; the strength of Michael Long on the field and as spokesman for indigenous Australian footballers; the accuracy of Matthew Lloyd; and the courage of James Hird.
In 1992, as part of the national league, Essendon moved its home games to the MCG and, in 2000, to the newly completed stadium at Docklands. At the same time Essendon led the way in developing a corporate club structure but, staying close to its traditions, opened its own Hall of Fame at Windy Hill in 1996.