Challenge Cup (Australia)

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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.[1]

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 a new trophy presented by the South Yarra Football Club in 1870. It is sometimes known as the South Yarra Challenge Cup to distinguish it from the previous cups. The cup could be won by defeating the club which held it in any game, and was to be awarded permanently to the first club to win it four times in a row.[2] Late in the 1870 season, Albert-park claimed permanent ownership of the cup; but South Yarra and other clubs disputed the claim, arguing that the club's second victory, a walk-over against Railway which forfeited when only fourteen of its players arrived,[3] should not have counted.[4] Albert-park ultimately gave the Cup back to South Yarra at the end of the year, but maintained its position that it had won it outright.[5] Despite Albert-park's claims on the Challenge Cup, Melbourne was the premier club for the season.[6]

When the South Yarra Challenge Cup was put up for competition again in 1871, Albert-park refused to contest it – although it continued to play senior games against the other clubs. The remaining clubs – Carlton, Melbourne and South Yarra – decided that each club would play the others three times during the season, and the top two would play a single playoff match for the cup.[7] Carlton won the 1871 cup in the club's first appearance in their now traditional dark navy blue colours.[8]

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.


Victorian football premiers and place-getters
Year Premiers Runner-up 3rd Place Other Teams that participated
1862 University Melbourne
1863 Geelong Melbourne
1864 Melbourne Ballarat Geelong
1865 South Yarra Melbourne University Carlton, Geelong, Royal Park
1866 South Yarra Melbourne Carlton University or Royal Park
1867 South Yarra Geelong Carlton Melbourne
1868 Melbourne Carlton Geelong Regiment, University
1869 Carlton Geelong University Melbourne
1870 Melbourne Albert-park Carlton Hobson's Bay Railway, South Yarra
1871 Carlton Melbourne Albert-park South Yarra
1872 Melbourne Carlton Albert-park
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[9]
1875 Carlton Melbourne Carlton Imperial
1876 Melbourne Carlton Albert-park


  1. ^ Roy Hay: Wills not the only one entitled to stand honour
  2. ^ "The South Yarra Presentation Challenge Cup". The Australasian VIII (216) (Melbourne, VIC). 21 May 1870. p. 652. 
  3. ^ J. Hacker (honorary secretary of the Hobson's Bay Railway Football Club) (10 September 1870). "The "walk-over" and the Challenge Cup". The Australasian IX (232) (Melbourne, VIC). p. 332. 
  4. ^ Fair Play (13 August 1870). "Football chatter". The Australasian IX (228) (Melbourne, VIC). p. 204. 
  5. ^ Fair Play (15 October 1870). "Football – retrospect of the season". The Australasian IX (237) (Melbourne, VIC). p. 492. 
  6. ^ Fair Play (23 October 1870). "Football – retrospect of the season". The Australasian IX (238) (Melbourne, VIC). p. 524. 
  7. ^ "The Challenge Cup". The Australasian X (270) (Melbourne, VIC). 3 June 1871. p. 684. 
  8. ^ Fair Play (21 October 1871). "Football – retrospect of the season". The Australasian XI (290) (Melbourne, VIC). p. 524. 
  9. ^ Fairplay (21 November 1874). "Football – review of the season". The Australasian (Melbourne, VIC). p. 652.