The club was established in 1873 and its name originates from the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda. St Kilda were a foundation team of the Victorian Football Association (VFA) in 1877 and later, in 1897, became a foundation team in the Victorian Football League (VFL), which was renamed the Australian Football League (AFL) prior to the start of the 1990 season.
Despite being a foundation team in the league, St Kilda have only won a single premiership, a famous one-point win in the 1966 VFL Grand Final. St Kilda have, however, had various other achievements including, most recently, being the minor premiers of the 2009 AFL season and 2009 and 2010 grand finalists.
St Kilda developed a reputation as perennial underachievers, much of this attributed to their record of finishing last more often than any other club in the league, as well as having the third lowest all-time win percentage of any team still playing in the league.
1873—1915: Early years
The St Kilda Football Club was formed on 2 April 1873, containing many elements of the previous South Yarra Football Club which had disbanded a year earlier. Soon after a decision was made to amalgamate St Kilda FC with nearby Prahran Football Club. St Kilda retained their colours, name and ground, as well as picking up a number of Prahran players. St Kilda competed as a senior club in the VFA from 1877 to 1879, 1881–1882 and 1886–1896 before moving into the breakaway competition – The Victorian Football League – from 1897 onwards.
1897: Joining the VFL
St Kilda were one of the eight clubs that took part in the inaugural VFL season in 1897. They made their debut in an away game against Collingwood on 8 May 1897, which they lost 2.4. (16) to 5.11. (41).
The club's home ground in the new league was the Junction Oval ( until 1964 ) in the suburb of St Kilda in Melbourne and the club's first home game was against Fitzroy. The score was St Kilda 3.8. (26) to 10.6. (66).
St Kilda's early years in the VFL were not successful and, in 1899, they had the lowest score ever recorded in a VFL/AFL match, one point against Geelong (who scored 162).
In 1902, Charlie Baker became the first St Kilda player to be the league's leading goalkicker in a home and away season with 30 goals.
1907: First finals series
Six successive wins at the start of the 1907 season saw St Kilda make the finals for the first time, qualifying third with nine wins and eight losses.
St Kilda were beaten by Carlton in their first VFL final by 56 points. They qualified in third position again in 1908 and were once again eliminated by Carlton in the semi-finals, this time by 58 points.
1913: First grand final
The 1913 season saw major improvement in which the team qualified fourth, but were eventually beaten in the 1913 grand final by Fitzroy. At the time a challenge system was in place, which allowed the team that qualified in first position as minor premiers to challenge any team that won through to be the top ranked team in the finals series if it was not the minor premiers. St Kilda won its semi-final against South Melbourne and then defeated Fitzroy two weeks later 10.10. (70) to 6.9. (45) in what was a match between the two teams that won the semi-finals. Fitzroy as minor premiers were allowed to challenge St Kilda – the number one ranked team in the finals series at that point – and the two teams played again the following week in the grand final which Fitzroy won 7.14.(56) to 5.13.(43).
Due to World War I the St Kilda Football Club was in recess in 1916 and 1917 but resumed in 1918 and fared well, making the finals in fourth position but were eliminated by Collingwood in a semi final by nine points, 58 to 49.