Challenge Cup (Australia)
The Challenge Cup was a football competition played in Melbourne, Australia between 1862 and the 1870s under a number of different club rules including the Melbourne Rules (later known as Australian rules football).
The Cup is notable as it is the earliest known senior football championship and trophy in the world.
The Cup has a history that continued through to the 1870s, however the informal format was blamed for increasing bitterness between clubs. It was this resentment and expansion of the game outside of its suburban roots into regional areas that eventually led to the first governing body and competition, the Victorian Football Association in 1877.
The inaugural Caledonian Challenge Cup was donated by the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne in 1861 for a "grand football-match" advertised in The Argus, however the football match did not proceed that year due to the unavailability of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
In 1862, however, the match did go ahead. Invited to compete were two early clubs - Melbourne Football Club and Melbourne University Football Club. University won with a solitary goal by James Smith to take the first ever trophy in front of a crowd of 6,000. Melbourne's captain was Thomas H. Smith and Tom Wills was notably absent from the side.
In 1863, Geelong's George Reynolds Rippon kicked the winning goal to defeat Melbourne to take the cup. Melbourne exacted revenge in 1864, taking the title over both Geelong and the Ballarat Football Club
In 1865, the Caledonian Society and the Athletic Sports Society took naming rights to the trophy, becoming the Athletic Sports Society Challenge Cup. It is likely that Tom Wills played for Geelong Football Club in the match against Melbourne.
1866 was the first season in which the participants accepted the Melbourne Football Club's rules (also known as the Victorian Rules). Many of the Challenge Cup matches of the time were played at Royal Park.
The South Yarra Football Club won the trophy in 1867.
The Challenge Cup trophy may have been dormant for a time before re-appearing as the South Yarra Challenge Cup in 1870. Four now defunct clubs contributed to the purchase of the trophy - Richmond (not related to the present Richmond Football Club), Collingwood (not related to the current Collingwood Football Club), East Melbourne and Southern. The rules had changed from a tournament format to award the cup to any team that wins three consecutive matches.
Carlton won the 1871 cup in the club's first appearance in their now traditional dark navy blue colours.
During the 1870s, the Cup became a two horse race, with two main competitors - Melbourne and Carlton - dominating the competition. Matches between these two clubs were blockbusters, attracting crowds in the tens of thousands.
Despite the dominance of Melbourne and Carlton, an explosion of new clubs occurred in 1873. However few of the new suburban clubs were competitive against the traditional powerhouses and another competition, the Second Twenties was set up allowing a more even playing field.
At the end of the 1876 season, focus of the then much larger number of clubs was on the newly formed Victorian Football Association providing a more formal structure for football in the state and the much-maligned Challenge Cup was consigned to the history books.
|Year||Premiers||Runner-up||3rd Place||Other Teams that participated|
|1865||South Yarra||Melbourne||University||Carlton, Geelong, Royal Park|
|1866||South Yarra||Melbourne||Carlton||University or Royal Park|
|1871||Carlton||Melbourne||Albert Park||South Yarra|
|1873||Carlton||Melbourne||Geelong||Albert Park, Collingwood, East Melbourne, Essendon, Hawthorn, Richmond, St Kilda, Southern, South Yarra, Studley Park|
|1874||Carlton||Melbourne||Albert-park||North Melbourne, St Kilda|
- Roy Hay: Wills not the only one entitled to stand honour
- Fairplay (21 November 1874). "Football – review of the season". The Australasian (Melbourne, VIC). p. 652.