1898 VFL Grand Final

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1898 VFL Grand Final
Fitzroy fc icon1898.jpg
5.8 (38) 3.5 (23)
1 2 3 4
FIT 2.5 (17) 4.5 (29) 5.6 (36) 5.8 (38)
ESS 1.0 (6) 3.1 (19) 3.2 (20) 3.5 (23)
Date24 September 1898
StadiumSt Kilda Cricket Ground
VFL Grand Final 1899 →

The 1898 VFL Grand Final was an Australian rules football game contested between the Essendon Football Club and Fitzroy Football Club, held in Melbourne on 24 September 1898. The match was played to determine the premiers for the 1898 VFL season. Fitzroy won the match by 15 points. The game was played under atrocious ground conditions, in front of 16,538 people, at the St Kilda Cricket Ground.

The match is recognised as the first VFL Grand Final, although the term "Grand Final" was not in wide use until 1931. It was the first time that Victorian Football League premiership was decided in a final match, after the 1897 premiership was won under a different finals system by Essendon, when they finished above three other clubs in the finals series ladder.

Both the Fitzroy back-pocket Stan Reid and the Essendon full-forward Charlie Moore would later die in South Africa in active service during the Anglo-Boer War; Moore on 5 May 1901, and Reid on 23 June 1901.[1]


During the 1898 home-and-away season, all teams played each other twice. The final end-of season ladder was:

Team Won Lost Draw Points
1 Essendon 11 3 0 44
2 Collingwood 10 4 0 40
3 Fitzroy 10 4 0 40
4 Geelong 9 5 0 36
5 South Melbourne 7 7 0 28
6 Melbourne 5 8 1 22
7 Carlton 3 10 1 14
8 St Kilda 0 14 0 0


According to the 1898 premiership system the eight teams in the VFL competition were divided into two sections based on their positions on the ladder: the first group were the teams that finished first, third, fifth, and seventh, and the second group were the teams that finished second, fourth, sixth, and eighth.

The teams in the two sections played three rounds of four round-robin matches on three consecutive Saturdays:

  • Round One: (1) v (3), (2) v (4), (5) v (7), and (6) v (8).
  • Round Two: (1) v (5), (2) v (6), (3) v (7), and (4) v (8).
  • Round Three: (1) v (7), (2) v (8), (3) v (5), and (4) v (6).[2]

The winners of the two sections were Fitzroy and Collingwood respectively (for results of all of the round-robin matches[3] and, a week later (17 September 1898), the two teams played each other at the Brunswick Street Oval,[4] with Fitzroy winning the match 2.10 (22) to 1.5 (11).[5][6][7]

The "Grand Final"[edit]

The 1898 rules stipulated that, if the team at the top of the ladder at the end of the home-and-away season (the "minor premiers") had not won the "Sectional Final" match between the two sectional winners, the "minor premier" had the right to "challenge" the winner; and, having done so, the winner of that grand finale match was declared the season's premiership team.

Venue selection[edit]

The VFL had not anticipated a challenge final in the schedule of match fixtures that it had determined before the home-and-away season began, nor had it made any sort of a tentative venue booking to provide for such a possible eventuality. It was certainly a significant omission, given that each of the grounds were to be top-dressed and otherwise "cultivated" in preparation for the oncoming cricket season, immediately after the scheduled football season was over.

Although Essendon and Fitzroy could not agree on the choice of a single venue, they suggested three mutually acceptable venues for the match:[8]

They referred the decision to the VFL's Match Arrangement Committee;[8] and upon the express instructions of that Committee, the suggestions of the two teams were rejected outright, and the match was controversially scheduled to be played at the St Kilda Cricket Ground.[9]

The St Kilda Cricket Ground was in an appalling condition.[8] The ground had not been used since the second Saturday of the Sectional round-robin match three weeks earlier (3 September) and, since then, it had been thoroughly topdressed and "cultivated" in anticipation of the coming cricket season.[8] Also, the cricket ground's asphalt cycling track that lay between the boundary line and the fence presented a considerable danger to the footballers.[8]

Despite being the "challenger", the Essendon Football Club flatly refused to play in the scheduled match,[10] declaring that it would rather forfeit the match and the premiership than play on such a dangerous surface.[8] This view was also strongly supported by the Fitzroy Football Club, whose captain had taken the extraordinary step of signing a declaration to the effect that, in his opinion, the ground was entirely unfit to play upon.[11]

Essendon lodged an appeal with the VFL against the Match Arrangement Committee's decision, partly on the basis of the condition of the ground, and partly because the Committee, asked to decide on one of three mutually acceptable venues, had chosen a fourth that was acceptable to neither participant.[8]

The VFL, perhaps somewhat driven by the fact that the attraction of a finals system was one of the major reasons that the eight teams left the VFA and formed the VFL in the first place, had a special meeting to hear Essendon's appeal. It chose to endorse the Committee's decision, and did everything it could to coerce the Essendon Club into playing the match.[8]

Essendon did not actually agree to play the match until the night before the game;[8] and, ultimately, this "in doubt until the last minute match" was still attended by 16,538 paying spectators (it certainly would have been a much larger crowd otherwise).

The ground had been in such a dreadful condition that in the week prior to the match over 40 dray-loads of rubbish, soil and street-sweepings had been taken from the ground.[8]

Despite all this last minute work, the condition of the playing surface at the St Kilda Cricket Ground was still atrocious on the day of the final. Players kept skating over the grass-less slippery ground for want of some sort of grip,[12] and play was often obscured from the spectators by clouds of dust from the patched areas where the topsoil had not bound.[8]


In 1898, all VFL teams had 20 on-the-field players, and no "reserves".[13]

However, although there were no "reserves", any player who had left the playing field for any reason at all could resume his place on the field at any time.

Fitzroy selected two sets of brothers in its "Grand Final" team: Bill and Jack Dalton; and Jim and Mick Grace.[14]

The Fitzroy[15][16] and the Essendon teams[17][18] teams were:

Full-back Stan Reid Johnny Power Jerry Nolan
Half-back Alec Sloan (c) Pat Hickey Jack Dalton
Centre Eddie Drohan Harry Clarke Kelly Robinson
Half-forward Chris Kiernan Bert Sharpe Bill Dalton
Full-forward Fred Fontaine Jim Grace Alf McDougall
Followers Mick Grace Bill McSpeerin Bill Potter
Pat Descrimes Paddy Noonan
Full-back Ted Kinnear Ned Officer Hugh Gavin
Half-back George Stuckey (c) Jim Anderson George Vautin
Centre Joe Groves Harry Wright Alf Gray
Half-forward Tod Collins Colin Campbell George Hastings
Full-forward Conrad ten Brink Charlie Moore Gus Kearney
Followers Charlie Forbes Arthur Cleghorn Pat O'Loughlin
Bill Jackson Son Barry


Fitzroy, winning team.[19]

Essendon had beaten Fitzroy in their round 1 and round 8 matches by 53 and 43 points respectively. Fitzroy had beaten Essendon by 29 points in the third match of their round-robin Sectional matches.[20]

Both teams had great difficulty playing football in the appalling ground conditions — as can be seen by the low scores — and the tough, bustling Fitzroy team handled the conditions far better than the Essendon team that had hoped to spread the game out as far as possible.[12] Fitzroy took the lead in the first few minutes of the match, and Essendon were never able to catch up.[21]

Essendon were further demoralized when Fitzroy champion forward and follower, Mick Grace, renowned for his marking skill and kicking prowess, flew high over a pack to take a spectacular high mark and kicked a long range goal.[12]

In a very tight, defensive second half, as the playing conditions deteriorated even further, only one goal was scored.[12] Fitzroy went on to beat Essendon 5.8 (38) to 3.5 (23).


1898 VFL Grand Final
Saturday 24 September 1898 2:50pm Fitzroy def. Essendon St Kilda Cricket Ground (crowd: 16,538) Report
2.5 (17)
4.5 (29)
5.6 (36)
 5.8 (38)
1.0 (6)
3.1 (19)
3.2 (20)
 3.5 (23)
Umpires: Henry "Ivo" Crapp[22]
J. Grace 2
M. Grace, McDougall, McSpeerin 1
Goals 2 Collins
1 Moore
M. Grace, Reid, Sloan, Drohan, Potter, Descrimes, McSpeerin, J. Grace Best Forbes, Stuckey, Bill Jackson, Cleghorn, Hastings, Gavin, Officer, Kearney
  • Fitzroy won the first VFL Grand Final (there was no "Grand Final" in 1897), and its first premiership, by 15 points against minor premiers Essendon.

Fitzroy led by ten points at half-time before keeping Essendon to one goal in the second half.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See Main, & Allen, "Moore, Charles", and "Reid, Stanley", pp.3-6 and pp.7-10 in Main & Allen, (2002).
  2. ^ The Major Premiership, The Argus, (Monday, 22 August 1898), p.7.
  3. ^ "1898 Rounds". stats league.com. Archived from the original on 15 April 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  4. ^ The match's venue had been decided by lot (Ross, (1996), p.42.)
  5. ^ Football: The Semi-Final Match, The Argus, (Saturday, 17 September 1898), p.14.
  6. ^ Observer, "The Football Premiership", The Argus, (Monday, 19 September 1898), p.6.
  7. ^ "Semi-Final - AFL Tables". stats league.com. Archived from the original on 15 April 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Maplestone, (1996), p.53.
  9. ^ One of the VFL's Match Arrangement Committee was a member of the St Kilda Club (Maplestone, (1996), p.53).
  10. ^ The Football Premiership: An Important Development: The St. Kilda Ground Dispute: Essendon Abandons the Match, The Age, (Friday, 23 September 1898),p.6.
  11. ^ The Football Premiership: A Disagreement, The Argus, No.16294, (Friday, 23 September 1898), p.6, col.E.
  12. ^ a b c d Ross, (1966), p.42.
  13. ^ Fitzroy selected two sets of brothers in its "Grand Final" team: Bill and Jack Dalton; and Jim and Mick Grace (see "Fitzroy Firsts: Etched in History". Brisbane Lions. 1 May 2006. Archived from the original on 5 April 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2008.)
  14. ^ See "Fitzroy Firsts: Etched in History" (Brisbane Lions Website, 1 May 2006).
  15. ^ ""1898" (Brisbane Lions Website, 1 May 2006)". Archived from the original on 30 December 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  16. ^ AFL Player Statistics (Round by Round): Fitzroy Football Club 1898 Archived 6 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ AFL Player Statistics (Round by Round): Essendon Football Club 1898 Archived 6 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Maplestone, (1996), p.54.
  19. ^ Stan Reid is at the far right of the group.
  20. ^ "Sectional Round 3 - AFL Tables". stats league.com. Archived from the original on 15 April 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  21. ^ Maplestone, (1966), p.53-54.
  22. ^ AFL Umpires Association 2016 Yearbook, p.52.


External links[edit]