Footscray began the 20th century completing a hat-trick of premiership wins, after losing only one game for the season (to arch rival, Williamstown) and winning the 1900 premiership. During their three-year domination (1898–1900), Footscray won 46 of 54 matches. It was in 1901, the time when Australia became a federation of states, that Footscray adopted the blue guernsey with red and white horizontal hoops that has remained in vogue into the 21st century. Tom Evans, Footscray’s premiership secretary, crossed to the VFA in 1902 and began a 33-year term as the Association secretary.
The VFA included Essendon Town in 1900 and Preston in 1903, bringing the number of clubs to 10. In 1903, the VFA decided to follow the VFL’s successful lead and introduced a finals system. Football had become a tribal game in the VFA, pitting suburb against suburb and creating an intense rivalry between not only football teams but also their supporters. This fierce and parochial support gave rise to club ‘pushes’ (gangs of loutish supporters) terrorising opposition teams, umpires and spectators. Williamstown, Port Melbourne and North Melbourne (with their ‘Crutchy’ Push) were teams and venues to avoid. In 1903, the ‘Crutchy’ Push created a scene at the Western Reserve when they defiantly brandished crutches as they paraded around the asphalt bicycle track encircling the ground.
Footscray went into decline after their premiership hat-trick, with the loss of many of the stars of those years, before a brief rise in 1903–04. In 1906, the ‘Tricolours’ scraped into the top four and, led by Arthur ‘Nance’ Williams, fought their way through to the final – only to go down by 11 points after injuries beset the team. In those days, there was no interchange and players could not be replaced if injured.
In 1908, the VFA was forced to admit Brighton and Northcote after the loss of West Melbourne and the defection of Richmond to the VFL. Team numbers were also reduced to 17 players.
The decade provided two outstanding goalkicking performances. Ted Stevenson kicked 10 out of 12 goals against Essendon Town in 1903 and, in 1908, Jack Hutchinson, recruited from Richmond, kicked an amazing club and VFA record of 16 goals, in a record score of 28-20 (188), resulting in a 160 point drubbing of North Melbourne. Hutchinson’s 68 goals for the year was also a VFA record.
In 1908, the appointment of Jim Cassidy as the club’s first coach led to a stunning year for the ‘Tricolours’. The recruitment of Hutchinson and ruckman Art Gregory complemented stars like Roy Cotton, William ‘Ching’ Harris, Archie Clark, Tom Sevior, Joe Marmo and captain Tom McKinley – the side was bursting with champions on every line. Footscray dominated the season and were to meet Brunswick in the grand final on the Saturday but the VFA switched the game to the public holiday Monday in a bid to cash in on the visit of the American fleet to Melbourne. Thousands flocked to see the marines march through the city streets in the morning, before a record crowd, estimated to be 41,000 or more, watched Footscray win the premiership at the MCG in the afternoon.