1870 Victorian football season
|1870 Victorian football season|
|Challenge Cup||Albert-park (disputed)|
The 1870 Victorian football season was an Australian rules football competition played during the winter of 1870, consisting of matches between metropolitan football clubs in Melbourne in the colony of Victoria. The premier club was Melbourne.
By convention, the 1870 season is considered the first season of senior football competition in Victoria's history, or at least the first for which a premiership can be officially allocated. The reasons for this are somewhat arbitrary, since the competing clubs, organizational structure of football, and standard of play in 1870 were not materially different from 1869.
The view of 1870 as being the inaugural premiership has existed since at least 1889, when The Argus newspaper first published a table of historical premiers and second and third place-getters dating back to 1870 and no earlier. In the article which adjoined the publication of the 1889 table, the reporter commented that the haphazard nature of scheduling, frequency of cancelled matches, and overall lesser standard of play made it difficult to assign a premiership to the seasons played in the 1860s.
The VFL's official publication, the Football Record, also showed this same list from its inception in 1912 until 1918. In 1919, this was replaced with a new table that showed club placings since 1897, and two supplementary tables showing cumulated placings for the periods 1897 to 1918 and 1870 to 1918. These supplementary tables remained in the Record until 1923, but were omitted from the 1924 editions of the Record, and did not reappear after that. 
Since June 2016, the AFL Commission has formally recognised the top level of Victorian football back to 1870 as senior, which applies to both the unaffiliated period from 1870–1876 and the Victorian Football Association from 1877–1896. However, it maintains a distinction between the 1870–1896 competitions and the history of the VFL/AFL from 1897 onwards, and requires statistics and achievements from these periods to be delineated  while at the same time allowing clubs to recognise these achievements in their own histories. 
Five clubs participated in senior football during the 1870 season: Albert-park, Carlton, Hobson's Bay Railway, Melbourne and South Yarra. They competed in specific matches for the Challenge Cup, and a premier team was selected based on all matches during the season, including Challenge Cup matches.
In 1870, the South Yarra Football Club purchased and put up a new trophy, known as the Challenge Cup (or sometimes as the South Yarra Presentation Challenge Cup, to differentiate it from other challenge cups donated by different organisations), for competition. South Yarra was the permanent holder of the previous Challenge Cup, and decided it would be appropriate to provide a new trophy for competition. The rules relating to the presentation of the new Challenge Cup were as follows:
- South Yarra would be the initial holder of the cup.
- Any match between the holder of the cup and another senior team would be played for the cup.
- In a cup match, the winner of the match would take possession of the cup, and the incumbent holder would retain the cup in the event of a draw.
- A club would become the permanent holder of the cup if it won the cup four times in a row without a loss (but with no limit on the number of drawn games during that streak); until that time, the cup would remain a perpetual award.
Other stipulations relating to Challenge Cup games were that they were required to be controlled by central umpires, rather than by the team captains, and that no player was allowed to play for more than one club in Challenge Cup games during the year.
Albert-park took possession of the Cup in the first game against South Yarra, and never relinquished it. However, the fate of the Cup became controversial when Hobson's Bay Railway forfeited its 11 June match against Albert-park due to lack of players. Railway declined to play when only fourteen of its selected twenty turned up on the day of the game, and Albert-park took to the field and scored two goals against no opposition as a walk-over formality. Albert-park claimed the walk-over as its second Cup victory, and consequently claimed permanent possession of the Cup with its fourth win of the year on 20 August, but South Yarra, as cup donors, and several other clubs argued that the walk-over should have counted as a cancelled match rather than an Albert-park victory, and that another win was needed to claim permanent ownership of the Cup. Albert-park argued that enough procedural requirements, such as the appointment of umpires and the pre-game coin toss, had been carried out for the game to be considered official – Railway denied that these procedures had been carried out – and Albert-park argued that it was entitled to claim victory because Railway had declined the options of playing short or fielding other club officials or members who were present. Albert-park's position in claiming victory on a technicality was considered to be against the spirit of competition. There was no specific rule regarding walk-overs written into the rules which could be used to resolve the dispute.
Ultimately, the dispute was unresolved. There was no central body which could make a binding ruling on whether or not the walk-over counted as a victory, and neither side conceded its opponent's point. Albert-park played only one further game for the season, a draw against Melbourne, but it refused to put the Cup up for contest in the match. It is also noted that Albert-park was denied the chance to become the undisputed permanent holder of the Cup on 6 August, when its return match with the weak Railway club was cancelled due to inclement weather.
Albert-park ultimately gave the Cup back to South Yarra at the end of the year, but maintained its position that it had won the Cup outright and was donating it in its capacity as the Cup's owner. South Yarra maintained its position that Albert-park had not won the Cup, and had forfeited its position as incumbent holder.
The following table lists the final results of all Challenge Cup games.
|1870 Challenge Cup games|
|Saturday, 28 May||South Yarra 1||def. by||Albert-park 3||St Kilda Cricket Ground|||
|Saturday, 4 June||Albert-park 0Note||drew with||Melbourne 0||Emerald Hill Ground (crowd: 1,500)|||
|Saturday, 11 June (walk-over, disputed)||Albert-park||def.||Hobson's Bay Railway||Emerald Hill Ground|||
|Saturday, 18 June||Carlton 0||drew with||Albert-park 0||Royal Park|||
|Saturday, 9 July||Albert-park 2||def.||South Yarra 1||Emerald Hill Ground (crowd: 450)|||
|Saturday, 16 July||Melbourne 0||drew with||Albert-park 0||Melbourne Ground (crowd: 2,500)|||
|Saturday, 23 July||Albert-park 0||drew with||Carlton 0||Emerald Hill Ground (crowd: 3,000)|||
|Saturday, 6 August (cancelled due to rain)||Hobson's Bay Railway||vs.||Albert-park||Lonsdale Ground|||
|Saturday, 13 August||Albert-park 1||drew with||Carlton 1||Emerald Hill Ground|||
|Saturday, 20 August||South Yarra 0||def. by||Albert-park 2||Melbourne Ground (crowd: 2,500)|||
Although it had claimed the Challenge Cup and was undefeated during the season, Albert-park was not recognised as the premier team of the 1870 season: instead, Melbourne, which was also undefeated, was named as the premier. Melbourne had recorded more wins than Albert-park during the year and had played four games against Carlton for two wins and two draws, while Albert-park's three matches against Carlton had been drawn and their on-field wins had come against the weak South Yarra club, giving Melbourne a better claim to the premier position.
It is noteworthy that Albert-park's claim to the Challenge Cup was helped in large part by the fact that it was the first team to play against South Yarra during the year. Had South Yarra played its first game against Melbourne, Melbourne would have been in a strong position to win the Challenge Cup as well as the premiership.
The following table shows the five clubs' senior results during the year: all matches played amongst the five Challenge Cup teams, plus matches that Melbourne played against the Police and against the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. Albert-park's disputed walk-over victory against Railway is not included in the table.
|Hobson's Bay Railway||3||0||3||0|
|Key: P = Played, W = Won, L = Lost, D = Drawn, (P) = Premiers||Source:|
- ^ In its Challenge Cup game against Melbourne on 4 June, Albert-park scored a goal in the first half, but it was later annulled after a head count discovered that Albert-park had 22 men instead of 20 on the field. The game ended in a 0–0 draw.
- The practice of stopping play at half-time and changing ends was first introduced in the game between Melbourne and Carlton on 11 June; prior to this, teams had changed ends after each goal was scored.
- "The Football Premiership". The Argus. Melbourne, VIC. 23 September 1889. p. 5.
- Caroline Wilson (20 June 2014). "History of the AFL could be turned on its head". The Age. Melbourne, VIC. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
- Rethinking the historical record
- Travis King. "AFL knocks back Cats' bid for extra flags". Australian Football League. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
- AFL Commission will allow clubs to recognise their history outside the VFL/AFL
- "The South Yarra Presentation Challenge Cup". The Australasian. VIII (216). Melbourne, VIC. 21 May 1870. p. 652.
- 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.
- Fair Play (18 June 1870). "Football". The Australasian. VIII (220). Melbourne, VIC. p. 779.
- Fair Play (13 August 1870). "Football chatter". The Australasian. IX (228). Melbourne, VIC. p. 204.
- C. Crooke (treasurer of Albert-park Football Club) (3 September 1870). "Albert-park v. Railway". The Australasian. IX (231). Melbourne, VIC. p. 300.
- Fair Play (15 October 1870). "Football – retrospect of the season". The Australasian. IX (237). Melbourne, VIC. p. 492.
- "The Challenge Cup". The Australasian. X (270). Melbourne, VIC. 3 June 1871. p. 684.
- Fair Play (4 June 1870). "Football". The Australasian. VIII (218). Melbourne, VIC. p. 716.
- Fair Play (11 June 1870). "Football". The Australasian. VIII (219). Melbourne, VIC. p. 748.
- Fair Play (25 June 1870). "Football". The Australasian. VIII (221). Melbourne, VIC. p. 812.
- "Football". The Australasian. IX (224). Melbourne, VIC. 16 July 1870. p. 43.
- "Football". The Australasian. IX (225). Melbourne, VIC. 23 July 1870. p. 108.
- Fair Play (30 July 1870). "Football". The Australasian. IX (226). Melbourne, VIC. p. 140.
- "Football". The Australasian. IX (227). Melbourne, VIC. 6 August 1870. p. 173.
- Fair Play (20 August 1870). "Football chatter". The Australasian. IX (226). Melbourne, VIC. p. 236.
- Fair Play (27 August 1870). "Football chatter". The Australasian. IX (230). Melbourne, VIC. p. 267.
- Fair Play (23 October 1870). "Football – retrospect of the season". The Australasian. IX (238). Melbourne, VIC. p. 524.