Ever since the club was formed in 1873, right through joining the seven other breakaway clubs to form the VFL in 1897, through the ignominy of recording a record low score of one point against Geelong in 1899 to the need to protest against Melbourne in 1900 to win its first VFL game, St Kilda – and their loyal fans – have held firm.
After its win on protest in 1900, the Saints had to wait until 1901 for their second win and slipped back to a doughnut in 1902. But the club was building, and in 1903 finished just outside the final four. In 1907 the club made the finals for the first time and followed up again in 1908. Four more years in the wilderness followed, until the club won its first final in 1913, making it all the way through to the grand final, which they lost to Fitzroy.
It would be 52 years before St Kilda made it to another decider, beating Collingwood by a solitary point in the second semi-final. Again, the club finished as runner up, losing to Essendon by nearly six goals. However, 1966 was to be the Saints’ moment, again beating Collingwood by a solitary point, but this time in the grand final to end the then-longest premiership drought in VFL history.
Since then the Saints have been thereabouts, although a run of poor seasons in the 1980s again tested the patience of their loyal supporters. A grand final in the 1990s and two more this century have not yielded the glory they deserved.
After a loss to Sydney in an elimination final in 2011, the Saints disappeared again for nearly a decade, but in 2020 they were back and showing signs of another resurgence. With a high-quality coach in Brett Ratten who took over with six games of the 2019 season remaining and some canny recruiting, St Kilda were able to field a team with enough talent and a strong enough game plan to finish sixth on the ladder.
In the finals, they managed a tight win over Western Bulldogs by three points before succumbing to eventual premiers Richmond by just over five goals in the semi-final. At the draft, the Saints appeared to again be winners and appear likely to have strengthened their team even further for a tilt at the 2021 premiership.
One surprising aspect of the club’s history is that over the journey they have had more players represent the club than any other, with only Sydney within 200 players of matching them. This high turnover of recruits means that to obtain status as a top 100 game player at the club, fewer games were required to qualify for membership of this elite group at the Saints than not only the original clubs, but any other club that had competed in the VFL/AFL for over 96 years.
At the end of 2019, St Kilda had only four players on their list who’d climbed above the low bar for admission to the elite top 100 game players list. By the time the 2020 season came around, this had been reduced to two due to the ill-fated departure of Jack Steven to Geelong and the more successful transfer of Jack Newnes to Carlton which included a winning goal after the siren scenario.
The two remaining top 100 game players – the lowest number of any club in the league – were captain Jarryn Geary and stand-in captain and dual best and fairest winner Sebastian Ross. They were joined during the year by Jack Billings, who now sits in equal 85th place with such notables as Vic Cumberland (the oldest man to ever play league football), Barry Lawrence (the man who played on Peter Hudson in the 1971 grand final) and James Gwilt (who played in a final in his second game).
In a sign of the maturing of their list, the three current players could be joined in the Saints’ top 100 game players list by as many as four players in 2021: Shane Savage, Tim Membrey, Luke Dunstan and Jack Sinclair. The Saints currently have four top 100 goal kickers on their list: Membrey (19th), Billings (65th), Jake Gresham (equal 57th) and Jack Lonie (equal 90th).