Australian football at the 1956 Summer Olympics

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Australian football was one of two demonstration sports at the 1956 Summer Olympics held in Melbourne. The rules stated that the hosts must organize both a native game and a sport foreign to the organizing country as "demonstration sports".[1] Australian rules football was chosen as the "native" sport;[2] and baseball, an American sport, was chosen as the "foreign" sport.[3]

In March 1956 both the Victorian Football League and the Victorian Football Association were invited to select a combined team to play an exhibition match against a representative Victorian Amateur Football Association team at the Olympic Games.[4]

Australian rules football[edit]

To an outsider, the game features elements of soccer, gaelic football, and rugby. It is played on a grass surface with an oval ball, in four 20-minute quarters.

Also, at the time of the Olympic Games, a team consisted of eighteen players and two reserve players (each of whom could substitute for a player on the field, with the substituted player being unable to resume their place on the field under any circumstances).

Like today, the goals consisted of an inner and outer pair of posts, where the scoring was six points for a goal (between the middle, taller two posts) and one point for a behind (between the left point post and the left goalpost or the right goalpost and the right point post).

Demonstration match[edit]

The single demonstration match was played on the Main Stadium of the Olympic Games (the Melbourne Cricket Ground).[5]

It started at 4:10 pm on Friday, 7 December 1956, immediately after the "bronze medal" soccer match between Bulgaria and India had finished (Bulgaria won 3–0).

One of the competing teams represented the Victorian Amateur Football Association; the other team was a combined team composed of amateur players from both the Victorian Football League and the Victorian Football Association; professional players from these leagues were unable to compete due to the policies of amateurism of the Olympic Games at the time.[6][7]

Throughout the entire game, at which the Duke of Edinburgh was an interested spectator,[8] a running commentary attempted to explain the umpires' decisions to the audience; and those who were not used to the game found it extremely useful.[9]

VAFA team[edit]

White shorts. white socks. Guernsey: White, with emerald green trim, and large olympic rings across diaphragm.[10]

VFL and VFA combined team[edit]

Ray Gabelich in white shorts modelling the combined VFL & VFA team's uniform.

Black shorts. Socks emerald green with white tops. Guernsey: Emerald green with white trim, and large olympic rings across diaphragm.[12]


The following are the teams, as listed in the programme, in their selected positions, and their allocated guernsey numbers.

Backs R. Collins (6) L. J. Wakeling (19) G. W. Hibbins (1) (c)
H/Backs L. E. Williams(20) A. G. Capes (5) P. Rochow (16)
Centre Line C. W. Empey (7) L. Merrick (14) W. B. THomas (17)
H/Forwards W. M. Mitchell (2) (v-c) J. N. Hannan (10) G. J. Gill (8)
Forwards R. F. Pettigrove (15) J. D. Anderson (3) R. C. Fenton-Smith (4)
Rucks/Rover P. K. Harkness (11) J. R. Hayes (13) M. Keogh (12)
Reserves L. Grant (9) R. W. Tindale (18)
Coach J. W. Kelly
Combined VFL & VFA
Backs R. A. Gabelich (8) V. H. Naismith (13) B. J. Walsh (19)
H/Backs J. S. Sassella (18) J. B. Westacott (20) B. T. Collopy (4)
Centre Line L. J. Dwyer B. J. Gaze (9) B. C. Edwards (7)
H/Forwards K. E. Turner (17) N. McNeill (11) B. J. Gray (10)
Forwards F. X. Dunin (5) D. J. Plunkett (14) D. T. Tobin (16)
Rucks/Rover D. Cordner (1) (c) Woolnough (2) (v-c) R. A. Allsop (3)
Reserves K. C. Marshall (12) T. J. Hussey (15)
Coach C. B. Andrew


The match ended with a convincing win for the amateur team, which had led the League and Association combined team for the entire match, finally winning 12.9 (81) to 8.7 (55), although the VFL/VFA team outscored the amateur team in the second and the last quarter.[13]


Team 1 Qtr 2 Qtr 3 Qtr Final
 VAFA    6.1 (37)     9.4 (58)     11.8 (74)     12.9 (81)  
 Comb. VFL & VFA    1.0 (6)     6.0 (36)     6.2 (38)     8.7 (55)  

Best players and goal-kickers[edit]

The best players for the VAFA were Hibbins, Fenton-Smith, Anderson, Thomas, and Pettigrove; whilst those for the combined VFL & VFA team were Edwards, Allsop, Westacott, Woolnough, Collopy and Sassella.

The goal-kickers for the VAFA were Fenton-Smith (4), Pettigrove (4); Anderson (3), and Rochow (1); whilst those for the combined VFL & VFA team were Dunin (3), Turner (1), Woolnough (1), Plunkett (1), Tobin (1), and Allsop (1).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Football Urged for Games, The Argus, (Friday, 11 November 1949), p.20
  2. ^ Rules to be seen at Games, The Argus, (Saturday, 17 July 1954), p.1
  3. ^ 'Rules at Games', The (Sydney) Sun-Herald, (Sunday, 24 October 1954), p.33
  4. ^ "Football at Games plan", The Argus, (Thursday, 29 March 1956), p22
  5. ^ Players were forced to negotiate a number of obstacles: Taylor, P. "We will see Games footy", The Argus, (Saturday, 29 September 1956), p.20; "Flagpole Hazard For Footballers", The Canberra Times, (Monday, 3 December 1956), p.8
  6. ^ "Be ready For A Shock In Olympic Footy". The Argus. Melbourne. 7 December 1956. p. 14. Retrieved 15 November 2011 – via National Library of Australia. 
  7. ^ "Football plan for Olympics". The Argus. Melbourne. 19 January 1956. p. 20. Retrieved 15 November 2011 – via National Library of Australia. 
  8. ^ "Duke sees National Football", The Canberra Times, (Saturday, 8 December 1956), p.1
  9. ^ "Demonstrations" (1958), p.714.
  10. ^ Taylor, P., "They'll play for Amateurs", The Argus, (Monday, 3 December 1956), p.17; Selection of Amateur Side, The Age, (Monday, 3 December 1956), p.9
  11. ^ Andersen, D., "He's a footy Games hope", The Argus, (Friday, 19 October 1956), p.12
  12. ^ Andersen, D., "Demon star in Olympic squad", The Argus, (Tuesday, 16 October 1956), p.18; "V.F.L. – V.F.A. Combined 18", The Age, (Wednesday, 5 December 1956), p.9
  13. ^ Taylor, P., "Yes, They saw OUR Football", The Argus, (Saturday, 8 December 1956), p.13