Brisbane Australian Football Club
|Full name||Brisbane Australian Football Club|
|Ground(s)||Brisbane, Queensland, Australia|
The club commenced playing according to what was then known as the 'Melbourne rules' (which would later become known as 'Victorian rules' and then Australian rules football). However, in 1876 the club adopted rugby rules, to fit in with two newly formed football clubs, before reverting to Australian rules football (with occasional rugby matches) in 1879.
The club was to last around only 20 years, disappearing from the public record in the late 1880s, when rugby football was in the ascendancy in Brisbane and Australian rules football was in decline.
Mid-1800s: first football games in Brisbane
Football has been played in Brisbane from very early times, as evidenced by this notice in The Moreton Bay Courier in 1849 (a mere 25 years after the arrival of the first white settlers in the Brisbane region, at which time the population was around 2000 people, many of whom were former convicts and poor Irish immigrants):
- TO the SPORTING BLADES of BRISBANE.
- BEING determined that the Anniversary [now called Australia Day] shall not pass over without a little fun, in addition to the usual English Sports, the Lads of Kangaroo Point
- all comers to a Game of Foot Ball – preliminaries to be settled at the Commercial Inn, Kangaroo Point, on the evening of the 24th.
Given the inchoate nature of the various types of football at that time, they may have been playing simple mob football. Alternatively, they could have been playing in accordance with the recently published Rugby school rules (1845) or the Cambridge Rules (1848), the latter being the forerunner of association football rules. The game that was to become Australian rules football was not to be codified for another 10 years.
1866: club formed
The Brisbane Football Club was formed at a meeting on 22 May 1866: the Brisbane Courier reported that "A meeting of gentlemen favorable to the formation of a Football Club in Brisbane was held on Tuesday, at Braysher's Metropolitan Hotel [formerly in Edward Street near Mary Street] ... a committee was appointed to prepare a code of rules ... The prospects of the club must be certainly very encouraging to the promoters, as already more than twenty gentlemen have joined, and a large number of others have signified their wish to do so."
At a subsequent meeting on 31 May "About 20 members were present; and the first business transacted was the election of twelve new members ... The annual subscription was fixed at 5s ... The uniform chosen was a scarlet shirt, with a distinguishing color for the captain ... A resolution was passed authorising the printing of the rules, as well as the laws of football passed at a meeting of delegates of clubs held in Melbourne on the 8th ult., which latter, it was decided, should be the laws recognised by the Brisbane Club."
It is not recorded why the club chose to adopt the contemporary Melbourne, rather than the Sydney, version of football (the latter being based on Rugby School rules – rugby football was not formally codified until 1871). It may have been simply the influence of the club chairman, David Watterston who, whilst born in Scotland, came to Victoria with his parents in 1853, where he was schooled before moving to Ipswich in 1860 then Brisbane in 1865, to work as a journalist with the Brisbane Courier. It may be significant that Watterston's adolescent years spent in Melbourne coincided with the period when the Melbourne game was being codified.
The club had its first game on Saturday 9 June 1866, as reported in the Brisbane Courier a week later:
- About thirty members of the Brisbane Foot-ball Club mustered in the Queen's Park [now part of the City Botanic Gardens – see image at right] on Saturday afternoon, and played a scratch match. This was the first general turn out of the new club.
The club also played matches on the 'cricket ground', located in the area then known as 'Green Hills' (beside Countess Street Petrie Terrace opposite the Victoria Barracks – now occupied by the Northern Busway), where cricket matches were also played since at least the early 1860s.
The Brisbane Courier reported in July 1866:
- THE members of the Brisbane Football Club had a turn out on Saturday afternoon, and played several games. The place of meeting was the cricket ground. Though the muster was not large, the play was conducted in a spirited manner; and there were many good struggles before a goal was kicked. The ground was slippery in many places, and, as a matter of course, several "spills" occurred. There will be a practice at the Queen's Park this afternoon, the cricket ground being rather too far from the centre of the city.
The club initially played intra-club matches, with teams selected arbitrarily. A newspaper report listed the players for a 'Civil Service' team (Messrs. Boyce, French, J. Bourne, Scarr, Perse, Hill, T. B. Watterston, Mills, Coley, Stewart, Bunton, Gill, Burrowes, Ryder, King, Pugh, Darvall, Costello, Pounden, Somerset, Bourne, Kellett, and Miles) to play the 'All Comers' team (Messrs. Munce, Cowlishaw, Garbut, Horsley, Sheridan, Board, Faunce, Highfield, Watterston, Sheehan, Hart, Tregurtha, Zillman, G. Smith, E. Webb, H. Webb, Fowles, Kelly, Macquarie, Cotham, Millar, Miskin, and Everest).
The Brisbane Courier further reported in late 1866: "ON the football ground [Queen's Park], on Saturday afternoon, there was no match; but two sides were chosen, and a very lively game was played ...Five goals were kicked ... The football season will end in a few weeks and the committee of the club contemplate getting up some athletic sports as an appropriate finale."
By early 1868, it appears the club was struggling somewhat – at its second annual meeting, Chairman Watterston reported that "Your committee ... though not able, in speaking of the operations of the past season, to refer to them as a perfect success ... can yet congratulate the members upon the satisfactory manner in which the game was carried on during the greater part of the season ... The number of paying members on the list at the beginning of last season was 68, and 15 new members joined the club in 1867. The total number, however, was reduced by 31 who resigned or left the city, and by 7 who were struck off in consequence of their subscriptions being unpaid. The total number of paid members to begin the present season with is 45."
It was also noted that "Your committee have still to regret the absence of a rival club ... Perhaps, considering the number of names on the books last year, the formation of a second club would rather retard than advance the game in Brisbane just now."
However, it appears the 1868 season was more successful – at the annual general meeting held at Lenneberg's Café, Queen Street, on 28 May 1869, chairman Watterston reported "Your committee ... feel that they have cause to congratulate the members on the continued interest manifested in the game during the past season, as will be seen from the large attendance at all the practices ... Three first-class matches have, however, been played – two with the Police ... and the other by the club, and one with the 50th Regiment (Queen's Own), in which the club proved victorious."
The club competed against four ad hoc teams in the Brisbane area between 1868 and 1869, including Volunteer Artillery, the newly formed Brisbane Grammar School (then located on land which is now the Roma Street railway station) a Civil Service team and a police team, playing eight games in its inaugural 'inter-club' season.
1870s: Opposition clubs formed
By 1870, the Ipswich Football Club had formed and became the only other organised club in the region and hence the Brisbane club's only competition. Brisbane won the first three games of that season.
It also appears that the club played at least one game of what was then referred to as "London Association rules" (now 'soccer'): The Queenslander of 14 August 1875 reported that on Saturday 7 August 1875, Brisbane FC played a game against the inmates and warders of the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum: "… play commenced at half-past 2 ... One rule provided that the ball should not be handled nor carried." Moreover, the Victorian publication The Footballer reported in 1875 in its section on "Football in Queensland" that the “match was played without handling the ball under any circumstances whatever (Association rules)." This is the earliest known game of 'soccer' played in the Brisbane region (and possibly in Australia).
In 1876, two new Brisbane clubs (Rangers FC and Bonnet Rouge FC) were formed. The Brisbane Courier of 10 May 1876 reported: "At a meeting of the newly-formed football club at Petrie-terrace, held yesterday evening, it was decided to call the club the "Bonnet Rouge Football Club;" the uniform to be a red cap, of any shape whatever. The rugby union football rules were finally adopted, as it was understood that these had been decided upon by other Brisbane clubs." These three clubs commenced playing according to rugby union rules, but modified by local customary rules.
Unfortunately, the Bonnet Rouge and Rangers clubs disappear from the public record after the 1877 season. However, the Excelsior club was formed in 1877 and the Wallaroos in 1880, with both clubs apparently playing according to 'Victorian rules'.
In 1879 the Brisbane Courier reported that the Brisbane FC had reverted to what had become known as the 'Victorian rules', "in place of the Rugby Union Rules played by the club during the last three seasons".
1880: Queensland Football Association
In 1880, the club became a foundation member of the Queensland Football Association (QFA), along with Wallaroo, Excelsiors and Athenians (Ipswich). The new association decided to recognise and play both Victorian and rugby rules.
However, in 1882, a Brisbane FC representative (Pring Roberts) arranged a rugby match against the Sydney Wallaroos Rugby Club, after the NSWRU (rugby union) offered to pay all costs associated with the match. Brisbane advocates of the Victorian rules game reacted angrily and declared that no QFA player would be permitted to play under rugby rules (which subsequently led to the formation of the Northern Rugby Union (now the Queensland Rugby Union) in 1884).
At the Brisbane club's annual general meeting in 1882, the club secretary, Thomas Welsby, reminded members that, according to their constitution, the club should only play Victorian rules and urged them to decide whether to adhere to this rule or introduce the rugby rules. The club ultimately decided to follow the Australian game.
Whilst a newspaper report in late 1886 describes Brisbane FC as "the premier club", the AFL Queensland official history asserts that the club folded that year. However, the last known reference to the club is in the Brisbane Courier of 15 March 1887, where it was reported it competed in the "Combined Football Sports" against Rovers, Excelsiors, Fireflies, Wallaroos, South Brisbanes, Wanderers, Ipswich, Sandgate and Wasps (Fireflies and Wanderers clubs were foundation members of the Northern Rugby Union in 1884). Curiously, it appears that none of the several soccer clubs in the region was invited (unless 'Rovers' refers to the Bundamba Rovers).
It is not recorded, but the demise of the club may have been the result the rapidly increasing popularity of rugby, with some Brisbane FC players possibly electing to join the newly formed rugby clubs, Fireflies and Wanderers (followed by the creation of four more rugby clubs by 1885–86). As rugby historian Sean Fagan noted:
- The defining moment in the code battle came with the 1886 Queensland [rugby] side, who defeated NSW for the first time in Sydney. “The success of this team undoubtedly won the day for rugby game in Queensland. The Victorian game supporters were struggling hard to uphold the premier position they had gained but after the brilliant performance of the 1886 team, who lost only one match through their tour, the rugby game became very popular and the next season several new clubs were formed and the Victorian game began to wane” (QRU Annual, 1902).
Fagan further noted:
- As the decade [1880s] came to a close, The Queensland Figaro summed up the state of play in the colony as “Rugby, an unbounded success; Melbourne rules very sick indeed, in fact on their last legs; British Association Rules [soccer], also in a sickly state but if anything showing more life than the Victorian game.”
Later Brisbane Australian football clubs
Since this time, several Australian Football clubs have borne the Brisbane name, including "Brisbanes" in the 1920s, the Brisbane Bears in the 1980s and 1990s and more recently, the Brisbane Lions. However, these clubs are not connected with the original Brisbane Football Club.
- This image, from the John Oxley Library at the State Library of Queensland, if correctly dated, is more likely a photograph of a Brisbane 'Melbourne rules' team and possibly the Rangers FC, rather than Brisbane FC, which played in scarlet, as noted above (note also that Melbourne rules was played with a near-spherical ball at that time). Alternatively, given the number of players in the photograph, it may be an association football team from a later date.
- Other Comps
- Queensland Places website
- Moreton Bay Courier – 20 January 1849
- Brisbane Courier 25 May 1866
- Brisbane Courier 2 June 1866
- Australian Dictionary of Biography – David Watterston
- Brisbane Courier 16 June 1866
- Website 'Pictorial Brisbane 1860–1875 See centre bottom of map – click on blue link to view 1868 photograph
- QCA Archive/Grounds (website)
- Brisbane Courier 2 July 1866
- Brisbane Courier 21 July 1866
- Toowoomba, Brisbane Courier, 13 August 1866
-  The Queenslander 30 May 1868
-  The Queenslander 5 June 1869
-  Brisbane Courier 11 July 1868
-  The Queenslander 28 May 1870
- Syson, Ian: 'The genesis of soccer in Australia' 25 July 2011
-  Brisbane Courier – 10 May 1876
- Rugby in the Colony of Queensland (website)
-  Brisbane Courier 5 May 1883
- Thomas Welsby biography
-  Brisbane Courier 7 August 1886
- Brisbane Football Club 1866-1886 on AFLQ website
-  Brisbane Courier 15 March 1887
- Full Points Footy website