The history of Australian football in Tasmania dates back to the 1860s. In 1867 a committee was established in Launceston to oversee the Victorian code in that city, but initially it would seem that the sport was only played on a social basis.
The Launceston Football Club was formed in 1875, making it the oldest club in Tasmania, but it was not until 1882, and the establishment of the Northern Football Association, that organised football can genuinely be said to have commenced. This inaugural Association only lasted four years before being replaced in 1886 by the Northern Tasmanian Football Association (NTFA), which would endure until the inception of a Tasmanian Statewide competition precisely a hundred years later.
Launceston was one of three senior clubs to participate in the NTFA in its initial year, but one of the other clubs, Longford, was involved in a dispute with the association which eventually led to its withdrawal from the competition in July. This left Launceston to compete – unsuccessfully as it transpired – with City for the inaugural NTFA flag; Launceston thus achieved the rare ‘double’ of a wooden spoon and a runners-up berth in the same year.
In 1887 the competition expanded to four clubs with the admission of South Launceston and Tamar Rowing Club, and the following year Launceston and Tamar Rowing Club combined forces, winning the first of two consecutive premierships.
The 1890s were a depressed period economically, and this inevitably had an inimical effect on football. By the middle of the decade the NTFA was in dire straits, and only two clubs – Launceston and Fitzroy – contested the 1896 season. In 1900 the Northern Tasmanian Cricket Association stepped in and took control of the competition, an arrangement which lasted until 1914.
Launceston provided a number of players for each of Tasmania’s teams at the three pre-World War One Australian Football carnivals, and at Adelaide in 1911 it supplied two of the very best in the shape of George D Challis (shown left), who was awarded the Senator Keating Medal as Tasmania’s outstanding player of the carnival, and A.D. (‘Algy’) Tynan, who was named at full back in an unofficial ‘All Australian’ side selected at the conclusion of championships.
Launceston was intermittently successful during the pre-war period, contesting eight grand finals between 1900 and 1914 for three flags. After winning the 1909 premiership, Launceston was involved in the first ever official play off to determine the Tasmanian state premiers, but lost to Cananore by 30 points in Hobart. Four years later it again qualified to meet Cananore in the state premiership decider but, dissatisfied with the umpire appointed to take charge of the game, refused to take the field. The state title was awarded to Cananore, and the TFL, as the official controlling body for football throughout the state of Tasmania, suspended Launceston. It was not until midway through the 1914 season that this disqualification was finally lifted, by which time Launceston’s fellow NTFA clubs, City and North Launceston, had effectively also undergone suspension (at least as far as the TFL was concerned) for agreeing to play against Launceston in roster matches. The entire affair left something of a bitter after taste, but by the time it was resolved events in Europe had begun to supplant mere sporting considerations in most people’s minds.
During the early post-World War One phase the NTFA comprised three evenly matched clubs, Launceston, City and North Launceston, each of which secured two flags apiece between 1920 and 1925. In 1926 Longford re-entered the association after a forty year break but the other three clubs would continue to dominate for some time yet. Launceston won its thirteenth premiership that year and, in the state premiership play off against Cananore, was desperately unlucky to lose by 2 points after amassing 25 scoring shots to 17.
The Launceston teams of the 1930s were some of the finest ever to grace Tasmanian football ovals. With players like ‘Bill’ Cahill, Roy Cooper, Tom Ryan and Doug Wheeler to the fore, the side won six consecutive flags between 1933 and 1938. Only North Hobart in 1936 prevented what would have been an identical sequence of wins in the Tasmanian State premiership.
Success since the 1930s has proved considerably harder to achieve. The NTFA expanded to six clubs in 1948 with the admission of Cornwall (later East Launceston) and Scottsdale, and the balance of power tended to rest more heavily with the second of these newcomers, together with North Launceston and City/City-South, than it did with Tasmania’s oldest club.
Launceston continued to provide a football home to a large number of accomplished players, such as the club’s only official All Australian, Graeme ‘Gypsy’ Lee (pictured right), Alby Dunn, Paul Vinar, Grant Allford, Paul Ellis and Wim Vaessen.
In 1994 the Blues entered the TFL statewide competition but in four seasons, what was by that stage a declining concern, failed to make much of an impression, finishing last without a win in their debut season, last again with just 1 win in 1995, before improving marginally in 1996 (7th out of 11 clubs) and 1997 (9th out of 11).
From 1998 – 2008 Launceston participated in the NTFL. The appointment of former North Launceston champion Adam Sanders in 2003 immediately brought about improved performances on the field. After a twenty-one year wait, the side finally broke through to record its twenty-seventh senior premiership victory in 2006 after impressively downing Devonport in the grand final. In front of a crowd of 5,192 at Latrobe, the final scoreboard showed Launceston 22.14 (146) defeated Devonport 13.11 (89).
A year later it was Ulverstone on the receiving end as the Blues claimed their first back to back premiership triumphs since the 1930s. Watched by a respectable crowd of almost 5,500 at Latrobe, Launceston had to battle hard for victory, with the Robins getting to within 4 points at one stage during the last term. However, the Blues were able to steady and pull away to record a 15 point triumph, 19.9 (123) to 16.12 (108).
Launceston made it a hat trick of flags in 2008 courtesy of a hard fought 13 point grand final defeat of Burnie Dockers, final scores being 17.18 (120) to 14.23 (107). The Blues seemed wholly in control early but Burnie rallied and late in the final term managed to get within a couple of points. However, Launceston’s professionalism and experience then came to the fore and a couple of quick goals made the game safe.
In 2009, the Launceston Football Club was granted a licence in the re-formed Tasmanian State League, with Adam Sanders continuing as the non-playing coach in the inaugural season of the ‘new’ league. After a tough season resulting in an early exit in the finals, Sanders made the decision to call time on his coaching career at the Launceston Football Club.
Season 2010 saw the appointment of former club captain, Anthony Taylor as Coach (non-playing), and in his first season in charge, the Blues were bundled out in the Preliminary Final, which was seen as a disappointing result given the performances during the roster season. This result seemed to spur on the playing group in 2011, who apart from a loss in the 2nd Semi Final, would have gone through the season undefeated. The grand final result was the Blues first Tasmanian State League Premership, with a 44 point margin over Burnie, with final scores being 12.14 (86) to 6.6 (42),extracting revenge for its only loss for the season.
In 2012, the Blues again had a tough season with injuries to key personnel, and despite a strong finish to the season, were defeated by Burnie in the Grand Final.