History of Australian rules football in Victoria (1859–1900)

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Early years of Australian Rules Football in Victoria
19th century records
Champion clubs

Challenge Cups for Senior clubs.

  • 1862 University[1]
  • 1863 Melbourne,[2] Geelong[3]
  • 1864 Geelong[4]
  • 1865 Melbourne,[5] University,[6] South Yarra[7]
  • 1866 South Yarra[8]
  • 1870 Albert Park[9] (disputed)[10]
  • 1871 Carlton[11]


  • 1870 Melbourne
  • 1871 Carlton
  • 1872 Melbourne
  • 1873 Carlton
  • 1874 Carlton
  • 1875 Carlton
  • 1876 Melbourne

Following the establishment of the Victorian Football Association in 1877, the VFA announced a Premier team. This was usually the club with the highest number of wins but this was not always the case; if a high proportion of wins were against Junior clubs, this would count against the team. The following list shows the teams recognised as the top four VFA clubs 1877–96 (in consecutive order). From 1888, the VFA published a list of the final four clubs at the end of what are now called home-and-away matches. However, the listings for 1877 to 1887 are based on various newspaper reports.[12][page needed] Between 1897 and 1900, the top teams for both the VFA and VFL are listed:

  • 1877
  • Carlton
  • Melbourne
  • Hotham
  • Albert Park
  • 1878
  • Geelong
  • Melbourne
  • Carlton
  • Hotham
  • 1879
  • Geelong
  • Carlton
  • South Melbourne
  • Melbourne
  • 1880
  • Geelong
  • South Melbourne
  • Carlton
  • Melbourne
  • 1881
  • South Melbourne
  • Geelong
  • Carlton
  • Melbourne
  • 1882
  • Geelong
  • Essendon
  • South Melbourne
  • Carlton
  • 1883
  • Geelong
  • South Melbourne
  • Carlton
  • Melbourne
  • 1884
  • Geelong
  • Essendon
  • Hotham
  • South Melbourne
  • 1885
  • South Melbourne
  • Essendon
  • Geelong
  • Carlton
  • 1886
  • Geelong
  • South Melbourne
  • Carlton
  • Port Melbourne
  • 1887
  • Carlton
  • Geelong
  • South Melbourne
  • Fitzroy
  • 1888
  • South Melbourne
  • Geelong
  • Williamstown
  • Carlton
  • 1889
  • South Melbourne
  • Carlton
  • Port Melbourne
  • Essendon
  • 1890
  • South Melbourne
  • Carlton
  • Essendon
  • Fitzroy
  • 1891
  • Essendon
  • Carlton
  • Fitzroy
  • South Melbourne
  • 1892
  • Essendon
  • Fitzroy
  • Geelong
  • Melbourne
  • 1893
  • Essendon
  • Melbourne
  • Geelong
  • South Melbourne
  • 1894
  • Essendon
  • Melbourne
  • South Melbourne
  • Fitzroy
  • 1895
  • Fitzroy
  • Geelong
  • Melbourne
  • Collingwood
  • 1896
  • Collingwood
  • South Melbourne
  • Essendon
  • Melbourne
  • 1897
  • Port Melbourne (VFA); Essendon (VFL)
  • North Melbourne (VFA); Geelong (VFL)
  • Footscray (VFA); Collingwood (VFL)
  • Williamstown (VFA); Melbourne (VFL)
  • 1898
  • Footscray (VFA); Fitzroy (VFL)
  • North Melbourne (VFA); Essendon (VFL)
  • Port Melbourne (VFA); Collingwood (VFL)
  • Richmond (VFA); Geelong (VFL)
  • 1899
  • Footscray (VFA); Fitzroy (VFL)
  • North Melbourne (VFA); Essendon (VFL)
  • Port Melbourne (VFA); Geelong (VFL)
  • Williamstown (VFA); Collingwood (VFL)
  • 1900
  • Footscray (VFA); Melbourne (VFL)
  • Williamstown (VFA); Fitzroy (VFL)
  • Richmond (VFA); Essendon (VFL)
  • Prahran (VFA); Collingwood (VFL)

Leading goalkickers[12][page needed]

1858–66 ?
1867 12: L. N. Bell (Melbourne)
1868–71 ?
1872 6: J. Donovan (Carlton); C. Loughnan (Melbourne)
1873 ?
1874 10: W. Dedman (Carlton)
1875 13: W. Dedman (Carlton)
1876 18: W. Dedman (Carlton)
1877 12: C. Baker (Melbourne)
1878 ?
1879 19: George Coulthard (Carlton)
1880 33 (some scored on tour & interstate)
Percy Douglass (Geelong); 21: George Coulthard (Carlton)
1881 25: E. Brooks (Carlton)
1882 29: Hugh McLean (Geelong)
1883 29: Phil McShane (Geelong)
1884 33: Phil McShane (Geelong)
1885 38: G. Houston (Hotham)
1886 51: Phil McShane (Geelong)
1887 36: Tom McShane (Geelong)
1888 50: "Dinny" McKay (South Melbourne)
1889 40: Jack Barrett (South Melbourne)
1890 49: Jim Grace (Fitzroy)
1891 37: Jim Grace (Fitzroy)
1892 56: Albert Thurgood (Essendon)
1893 64: Albert Thurgood (Essendon)
1894 63: Albert Thurgood (Essendon)
1895 42: Dave de Coite (Geelong)
1896 ?
1897 – VFA 38: Daly (Port Melbourne)
1897 – VFL 27: E. James (Geelong)
1898 – VFA ?
1898 – VFL 31: Archie Smith (Collingwood)
1899 – VFA 39: Daly (Footscray)
1899 – VFL 32: E. James (Geelong)
1900 – VFA 32: Daly (Footscray)
1900 – VFL 26: Albert Thurgood (Essendon)

Australian rules football was first organised in Victoria in 1859 when its rules were codified by the Melbourne Football Club.

The first rules – 1859[edit]

Tom Wills

On 17 May 1859, the first rules for a local code of football were written during a meeting of four members of the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC): Tom Wills, William Hammersley, J. B. Thompson and Thomas Smith.[13] The meeting was held at the Parade Hotel on the site of the present MCG Hotel. Wills, a renowned cricketer, was secretary of the MCC at the time. He had attended Rugby School and was familiar with the argument between the proponents of allowing players to handle the ball (i.e., Rugby football) and those who wanted players to use their feet only, the style later adopted by The Football Association.

1859 – Geelong rules[edit]

Below are the rules for Australian Rules Football, alleged to have been used by the Geelong Football Club in 1859. They were originally written down by hand.[12][page needed] Graeme Atkinson, writing in Everything You Wanted Know About Australian Rules Football ... considers it likely that these Geelong rules were drawn up prior to the first rules of the Melbourne Football Club which were drafted on 17 May 1859.:[12][page needed]

1. Distance between goals and the goal posts to be decided by captains.

2. Teams of 25 in grand matches, but up to 30 against odds.

3. Matches to be played in 2 halves of 50 minutes. At the end of first 50 teams may leave ground for 20 minutes for refreshments but must be ready to resume on time otherwise rival captain can call game off or (if his side has scored) claim it as a win.

4. Game played with 200 yard [sic.] [182.9 metre] space, same to be measured equally on each side of a line drawn through the centre of the two goals, and two posts to be called "kick off" posts shall be erected at a distance of 20 yards [18.3 metres] on each side of the goal posts at both ends and in a straight line between them.

5. When kicked behind goal, ball may be brought 20 yards in front of any portion of the space between the kick off and kicked as nearly as possibly [sic.] in line with opposite goal.

6. Ball must be bounced every 10 or 20 yards if carried.

7. Tripping, holding, hacking prohibited. Pushing with hands or body is allowed when any player is in rapid motion or in possession of ball, except in the case of a mark.

8. Mark is when a player catches the ball before it hits the ground and has been clearly kicked by another player.

9. Handball only allowed if ball held clearly in one hand and punched or hit out with other. If caught, no mark. Throwing prohibited.

10. Before game captains toss for ends.

11. In case of infringements, captain may claim free from where breach occurred. Except where umpires appointed, opposing captain to adjudicate.

12. In all grand matches two umpires – one from each side – will take up position as near as possible between the goal posts and centre. When breach is made appeal to go to nearest umpire.

It is usually agreed that it was Rule 8, which covers marking, is the one that differentiated the Australian game from any other set of football rules. Rule 9, which covers handballing, also defines a major feature of the Australian game. The lack of any offside rule is also considered a vital differentiation from other forms of football.

Reference to "the 'kick off' posts" in Rule 4 is important. These are obviously what are now known as behind posts and which have always been an important feature of the game. Until 1878, kicks between the goal-post and kick off posts were not recorded. However, after that date, behinds were noted but did not count towards the score.

Despite the fact that Tom Wills had helped referee the Melbourne Grammar v Scotch College game in 1858, Field Umpires did not become a regular feature of the game until 1872. Under Rule 11 the captains were usually responsible for adjudicating on infringements and disputations. Rule 12 does make provision for the appointment of two Umpires but these are really only goal umpires.[12][page needed]

Of course, rules continued (and still continue) to evolve. More information on the features that make Australian Rules distinctive, is found under the heading: "Features of the Game" (below).

1860 rules[edit]

Below are the rules as refined in 1860 by a meeting of the Melbourne Football Club but with some input from other existing clubs.[12][page needed]

1. The distance between the goals and the goal posts shall be decided upon by the captains of the sides playing.

2. The captains on each side toss for choice of goal; the side losing the toss has the kick-off from the centre point between the goals.

3. A goal must be kicked fairly between the posts without touching either of them or any portion of the person of one of the opposite side. In case of the ball being forced between the goal posts in a scrimmage, a goal shall be awarded.

A game at the Richmond Paddock in the 1860s. A pavilion at the MCG is on the left in the background. (A wood engraving made by Robert Bruce on July 27, 1866.)

4. The game shall be played within a space of not more than 200 yds [182.9 metres] wide, the same to be measured equally on either side of a line drawn through the centre of the two goals; and the two posts, to be called kick-off posts, shall be erected at a distance of twenty yards [18.3 metres] on each side of the goal posts at both ends, and in a straight line with them.

5. In case the ball is kicked behind the goal, any one of the side behind whose goal it is kicked, may bring it twenty yards in front of any portion of the space between the "kick-off" posts, and shall kick it nearly as possible in line with the opposite goal.

6. Any player catching the ball directly from the foot may call "mark". He then has a free kick; no player from the opposite side being allowed to come inside the spot marked.

7. Tripping, holding and hacking are strictly prohibited. Pushing with the hands or body is allowed when any player is in rapid motion or in possession of the ball, except in the case provided for in Rule 6.

8. The ball may not be lifted from the ground in any circumstances, or taken in hand, except as provided for in Rule 6 (catch from the foot) or when on the pick-up. It shall not be run with in any case.

9. When a ball goes out of bounds (same being indicated by a row of posts) it shall be brought back to the point where it crossed the boundary line, and thrown in at right angles with that line.

10. The ball, while still in play, must under no circumstances, be thrown.

11. In case of a deliberate infringement of any of the above rules, by either side, the captain of the opposite side may claim that any one of his party may have a free kick from the place where the breach of the rules was made; the two captains in all cases, save where umpires are appointed, to be the sole judges of "infringements".

Until the 1980s, the earliest known rules were a printed set that came out of a meeting of delegates of the various clubs, held at the Freemason's Hotel, Melbourne on 8 May 1866. Copies [made at unknown date] of the 1859 set of rules and the 1860 rules, referred to above, both hand-written, have been unearthed in recent years.

Features of the game[edit]


It appears that when the game was first played the types of kicks used were the punt kick, the place kick and the drop kick.

The punt kick is still an important part of the game.

The place kick, usually associated with rugby league, rugby union and gridiron was used in Aussie Rules for many years,[14] particularly for kicking for goal. It was mainly favoured because of the distance the ball would travel after being place kicked. It was rarely used after the 1920s.

The drop kick was an important feature of the game for many decades mainly because of its accuracy, but it fell into disuse as the pace of the game speeded up and it was rarely used after the 1960s.

The stab kick (or stab pass) was devised in the early days of the 20th century, probably by Collingwood players during a 1902 tour of Tasmania, where weak opposition teams led Collingwood players to experiment. The stab's discovery is usually attributed to Dick Condon but Eddie Drohan, Charlie Pannam and Bob Rush would have also contributed.[15] (Some writers suggest that the Stab Pass was used even earlier and cite the Rev. A Brown who played for South Melbourne in the early 1880s. Nevertheless, it did not become a feature of the game until after Collingwood's 1902 Tasmanian tour.) The concentration on Collingwood and its players is not accidental, because the original Sherrin football, initially only used by Collingwood, was specifically designed to facilitate the stab-kick. Prior to the especially designed Sherrin football, the standard football was, essentially, a rugby ball.[16] The stab pass also fell into disuse after the 1970s.

Bouncing the ball[edit]

Rule 6 of the rules drawn up in 1859 state that the ball should be bounced every 10 or 20 yards (9.14 to 18.29 metres). However, in the first few seasons there appears to have been an agreement between the clubs not to allow any running with the ball. This was mainly an attempt to curb H.C.A. Harrison who ran with great speed, carrying the ball Rugby style. Nevertheless, it is known that the agreement was sometimes ignored, such as during the Melbourne v Richmond game on 5 June 1860 and a Royal Park v Melbourne game in 1863. The latter led to the rule about bouncing being more strictly observed. When the rules were redrawn in 1866, the distance between bounces was reduced to a flat 10 yards.


The 1859 rules made provision for marking but they were usually taken on the chest or, sometimes, on the shoulder or with the hands outstretched but with the feet still firmly on the ground.

Probably the first player to make the spectacular leaps that are now a feature of the game, was Charles "Commotion" Pearson who played for Essendon in the mid-1880s.[a] It is said that ladies in the crowd screamed for fear that Pearson may injure himself or others. The Argus prophetically said: While Mr Pearson takes risks with his rocket-like leaps into the air, who knows but that this may be a new revolution in high marking. What a thrill the game would become as a spectacle if all players tried out this new idea. Perhaps in years to come we will see players all over the field sailing up in the air in this 'Pearson-like' fashion.[18] While Pearson is usually attributed with first devising the high mark, contemporaries such as Harry Todd (Hotham/North Melbourne) and Jack Kerley (Geelong) were also making similar high leaps.[12][page needed]

Tagging the opposition[edit]

Tagging is not as new as many people may imagine. In 1885, a newspaper reporter objected to the tactics of both clubs during a Fitzroy v Carlton game. Fitzroy instructed "Dummy" Muir to watch Carlton's Baker, and Carlton had a player watching Paddy McShane.[19][20][b]

The following report of a South Melbourne v Melbourne game appeared in The Australasian of 14 July 1894: Someone told them (Melbourne) that McKnight, Windley and Waugh were the backbone of the Southern team and they immediately conceived the idea of telling men off to block these players. Moysey was directed to shadow McKnight, young Wardill had to prevent Windley getting possession ... and Lewis was appointed to control the movements of Waugh. Their instructions were very definite. They were all three told that it did not matter whether they got a kick themselves at all in the match, if they only succeeded in spoiling the play of the three South cracks. Those who were present at the match can say how well these instructions were carried out. There was nothing in the tactics adopted that infringed a solitary rule of the game and the plan was singularly effective, but I own to feeling a shade of doubt concerning the manliness of the whole proceeding. I would certainly have preferred to see the representatives of the grand old Melbourne win ... purely upon their superior prowess as players.[12][page needed]


The present situation in which each club has a Senior Coach and, usually, a number of other coaches, evolved over many years. In the formative years of the game, the captain of each team was also the de facto coach, in much the same way as the captain of a cricket team still has most of the responsibility for the team.

In the 1880s, there were a number of examples of people who were coaches in everything but name:

  1. In 1886, Charles Brownlow, then both a Geelong player and the club's Secretary, virtually became the coach. Geelong was undefeated in that year.[19]
  2. In 1888, Fitzroy finished the season in 10th place, its worst ever VFA result. The committee responded by employing a professional trainer (whose name is not recorded). This move was deemed to be successful.[19]
  3. St Kilda's William "Billy" Plummer was at the club in the late 1880s and early 1890s and was officially described as a trainer. St Kilda's first successful run in senior ranks is usually attributed to Plummer's training methods; in 1890 the club finished the season by winning five and drawing three of its last nine games. Although Plummer was responsible for training the team, it is suspected that he had little or no control over the players once a game commenced.

Most football histories show that the first VFL coach was Carlton's John "Jack" Worrall who was appointed in 1902. Worrall was a former Fitzroy champion. In the first five VFL seasons (1897–1901) Carlton perennially finished second last (7th), just ahead of lowly St Kilda. In Worrall's first season, Carlton finished 6th; in 1903 they were 3rd; 2nd in 1904; 3rd in 1905; Worrall then helped the team win three consecutive Premierships (1906–08); and they finished 2nd during Worrall's last two years with the club (1909–10). Although Worrall was the first person to really take on the full role of a coach, he was never actually given that title; officially he was the Club's Secretary-Manager.

Many histories of the Collingwood Football Club suggest that Jock McHale was that club's first coach, appointed in 1914. Until 2015, McHale took his place in the record books as the VFL's longest serving coach, coaching 714 games (he retired in 1949) and he is also one of the most successful, helping Collingwood to eight Premierships. However, other histories indicate that McHale was actually Collingwood's fifth coach. The actual situation is that McHale was the first person to be given the official title of Coach. This was after he retired as a player at the end of the 1913 season. However he had actually been the captain-coach for two seasons prior to his official appointment (and his total of coaching 714 games does take the 1912 and 1913 seasons into account). Between 1905 and 1911, Dick Condon, Edward "Ted" Rowell and George Angus had also taken on the coaching role as well as being captains. In 1904, retired player Bill Strickland was Collingwood's non-playing coach in everything but name.[19]

1860s and 1870s[edit]

A Geelong junior team. Note the variety of jumpers. Nevertheless, there a good number of players wearing horizontal stripes, presumably in the Geelong colours of blue and white.

Within a few years of the drafting of the early rules, there were no fewer than 19 football clubs using the rules drafted at the Parade Hotel. The following clubs are known to have existed by the mid-1860s:

Albert-park (originally South Melbourne, then Emerald-hill)[21]
Collingwood (no association with the present club, formed in 1892)
Melbourne Grammar School
Richmond (no association with the present club, formed in 1885)
Royal Park
Scotch College

Amongst clubs formed in the late-1860s/early 1870s were Regiment and Studley Park. Most of the other clubs formed during this era are mentioned, below.

In 1861 the first moves towards the establishment of a roof body were seen when the Athletic Sports Committee presented a Challenge Cup for the champion Senior team, which was donated by the Royal Caledionian Society of Melbourne. The result was disputed in 1869 with both Carlton and Melbourne claiming the Cup. In the following year, Melbourne and South Yarra both claimed champion status. In 1870, South Yarra put up a new Challenge Cup for competition. A few years after the Challenge Cup was first presented, Junior teams were able to compete for a Junior Challenge Cup.[19]

Prior to the actual establishment of an official football-only roof body in 1877, there was still a great degree of organisation and cooperation between the various clubs. Regular meetings were held between the secretaries of the clubs at which, inter alia, the following matters were discussed:
- changes and refinements to the rules;
- fixtures for each season;
- the naming of the Champion club at the end of each season.

These meetings would have also discussed the ratings of each club, which were by the early 1870s listed in the following categories:
* Senior clubs
* Junior clubs
* Minor clubs
* Country clubs
* School clubs.[22]

Fixtures did not necessarily confine clubs to playing other teams with a similar rating but if, for example, a Senior club played a Junior club, the Junior club would be allowed to have a greater number of players on the field. Clubs did not only play against other Victorian clubs and games between interstate teams were surprisingly frequent, particularly for the days before the establishment of interstate railway links, when the most common way of travelling from Melbourne to, say, Sydney or Adelaide, was by sea.[12][page needed]

In the mid/late-1870s an annual called The Footballer was published.[23] The Footballer provides readers with an insight into the early days of the game. It includes the results of all matches and a full and comprehensive listing of all contemporary teams, Senior, Public School, Junior, Minor, Country and School Clubs. The listing for most clubs includes details of its uniform, officials, playground (sic), year of formation, number of members and, importantly, potted biographies of most players.[c]

By the time of the publishing of its first edition in 1875, there were already believed to be 143 football clubs in Victoria. The following eight clubs as Senior Clubs:Albert Park, Carlton, Carlton Imperials, East Melbourne, Hotham, Melbourne, St Kilda, and University.[24]

The following four clubs were listed as "Principal School Clubs": Church of England Grammar School, Hofwyl-House School,[25] Scotch College, and Wesley.[26]

There were as many as 33 junior clubs listed in the 1875 The Footballer, viz: Adeplhian, Abbotsford United, Albion Union, Alma, Brunswick, Carlton Rifles, Cambridge Union, Clifton, East St. Kilda (late Alpaca), Elwood, Esplanade, Essendon, Excelsior, Fawkner Park, Hawthorn, Hotham United, Jolimont, Richmond (no relation to the present club), Richmond Standard, Sands and McDougall,[d] St. Kilda Alma, South Melbourne, South Melbourne Imperial (late Stanley), South Park, Southern Rifles, Southern, Star of Richmond, Vaucluse, Victoria Parade, West Melbourne, West Melbourne, Williamstown, Windsor.[27]

A list of 14 minor clubs then followed, proceeded by the names (but no details) of 51 clubs who "also play under the Victorian Rules of Football".[28]

Thirteen Provincial clubs were then listed, followed by the names and details of six Geelong clubs.[29][e] Apart from Geelong Football Club, the following provincial clubs that were later to be regarded by the VFA as Senior Clubs, were listed by The Footballer: Ballarat, Ballarat Imperial, Beechworth, Castlemaine, Inglewood, Rochester and South Ballarat.[12][page needed]

The final club list in The Footballer was 20 country clubs in the process of forming.[31]

Events during the early- and mid-1870s rightly appeared to be leading towards the establishment of a roof body for football in Victoria. The need for an organisation with some control over clubs is illustrated by an anecdote from 1875: the East Melbourne v Williamstown game was cancelled when the East Melbourne players decided that they would rather watch the Carlton v Melbourne game.[22]

Formation of the VFA[edit]

The Victorian Football Association (VFA) was formed on Monday 7 May 1877 in Oliver's Cafe in Melbourne, which was just seven days after the SAFA (later SANFL), which formed on 30 April 1877. The VFA also formed and controlled the Victorian Junior Football Association (VJFA), although the VJFA had its own administration. It had an initial membership of 10 senior clubs and a number of junior clubs, seven of which are listed below:[12][page needed][19]

Albert Park Ballarat out of VFA within a few years but rejoined at a later date
Carlton Hawthorn out of VFA within a few years but rejoined at a later date
East Melbourne out of VFA within a few years but rejoined at a later date Northcote out of VFA within a few years but rejoined at a later date
Essendon Standard out of VFA within a few years and did not rejoin
Geelong Victoria United out of VFA within a few years and did not rejoin
Hotham Victorian Railways out of VFA within a few years and did not rejoin
Melbourne Williamstown out of VFA within a few years but rejoined at a later date
St Kilda out of VFA within a few years but rejoined at a later date
South Melbourne
West Melbourne out of VFA within a few years but rejoined at a later date
Carlton, VFA first premiers in 1877

In the early days, any club was eligible to join the VFA upon payment of an annual subscription. However, Senior clubs were mainly selected on merit but there were other criteria. For example, Senior clubs were required to have a minimum membership of 80.[12][page needed]

George Coulthard (1856–83) – Carlton

During the first decades, the VFA was not responsible for the setting of fixtures, which continued to be the province of meetings between the secretaries of the various clubs.[22] However, by the late 1880s, a rule had been introduced that made any club that didn't play at least 18 games in a season, ineligible for the Premiership. As an example, in 1889 bottom club Footscray had only played 16 games. Finally, in 1891, the Association set up a sub-committee under North Melbourne's W. R. Mullins which took on the responsibility of setting fixtures.[32]

However, a lot of the other organisational work was now done by the VFA, from its inception, including the setting of rules and the naming of the Premiers (or champion team). The number of players continued to vary according to the strength of the opposition, but if two equally ranked teams were pitted against each other, there were usually 20 players on each team.[19]

From 1878, points were listed but only goals counted towards the score and, therefore, there were a great number of drawn games. Even though behinds did not count towards a result, in 1893 the VFA awarded the Stars and Stripes Trophy to the team kicking the least number of behinds in ratio to the number of goals scored in premiership matches. This was done to encourage accurate kicking for goal. Melbourne won the trophy with a percentage of 78.6, barely ahead of Williamstown at 78.5.[32] The unusual Trophy name comes from the fact that the Trophy was awarded by Messrs Jacobs, Hart & Co., manufacturers of Stars and Stripes cigarettes.[33]

Between 1873 and 1893 no fewer than six teams went through a season undefeated:[12][page needed]

1873 Carlton 13 6 7
1874 Carlton 17 12 5
1879 Geelong 17 16 1
1885 South Melbourne 25 22 3
1886 Geelong 27 24 3
1893 Essendon 18 16 2

South Melbourne was undefeated in 1886 until playing the undefeated Geelong in a special game to determine the Premiership (see below: "The Game of the Century").

In 1877, Carlton became the first Victorian football team to play in NSW. They played two games against Waratah, winning one under Victorian rules and losing a rugby game.[32]

In 1886 there were as many as 18 VFA Clubs. The VFA decided to reduce the numbers and in 1888 they merged the Williamstown Football Club with the South Williamstown Football Club, merged the St Kilda Football Club with the original Prahran Football Club, and dumped the three Ballarat clubs (Ballarat, Ballarat Imperials, South Ballarat) [these clubs then became the base of a local Ballarat League]. In 1889, the Melbourne Football Club and the original University Football Club were also merged.[19]

John "Jack" Worrall (1861–1937) – Fitzroy

By 1896, there were 13 teams in the VFA Senior competition. The ladder in that year was:[32]

Collingwood 14 3 1
South Melbourne 14 3 1
Essendon 14 4 -
Melbourne 12 6 -
Fitzroy 12 6 -
North Melbourne 8 9 1
Port Melbourne 7 8 3
Williamstown 7 8 3
St Kilda 6 11 1
Footscray 5 10 3
Geelong 4 11 3
Carlton 2 14 2
Richmond 3 15 -
Albert Thurgood (1874–1927) – Essendon

A play-off was held at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground to determine the premiership: Collingwood 6.9 d. South Melbourne 5.10.

The VFA did not have regular finals during this period and the above table represents the situation at the end of what is now called the home-and-away matches.

1886 saw a rule change, with the two halves being replaced by four quarters of football, that is, three breaks of varying lengths.[19]

Until 1886, the ball was thrown into the air to start a quarter but in 1887 the bounce, now a traditional part of Australian Football, was introduced.[32]

The supposed unpopularity of interstate games in the late 20th and early 21st Century is reminiscent of the situation in the 1880s. The first intercolonial game was played in 1879 but similar games were hard to organise during the next few years. The following appeared in The Australasian on 22 July 1882: Victoria versus South Australia. On account of a sufficient number of players not having intimated their desire to take part in the intercolonial matches against South Australia in Adelaide on the 5th, 7 and 12 August next, the match committee of the VFA had to postpone the selection of the team until 4.45 p.m. on Tuesday next. Players desirous of playing are requested to send their names to Messrs. Boyle and Scott before that time, and those selected will leave by steamer on the 29th inst. ..." None of the games took place![12][page needed]

VFA's top 19th century teams[edit]

During the VFA's first 24 years, four teams showed sustained periods of greatness:

South Melbourne 1879–91

South finished in the top four teams for 13 consecutive years and were Premiers in 1881 and 1885. The VFA awarded the 1881 Premiership to South even though second-placed Geelong had a superior record: Geelong played 18, won 15, lost 1, drawn 2; South Melbourne played 21, won 14, lost 4, drawn 3, as South had beaten Geelong the last time the two teams met, the other match in 1881 being drawn.

Amongst South's finest players were Peter Burns 1885 & 1891, and Dinny McKay 1888. Peter Burns (who was Vice-Captain from 1888 to 1890) is considered to be one of the champions of any era. Another good player in this era was Arch McMurray.[f] See below for more of South's top players.

The club also headed the list of top goalkickers twice during this period: 1888 D. D. McKay (50), and 1889 J. E. Barrett (40).

Geelong 1878–88

Geelong were also amongst the top four teams for 11 consecutive years during a similar era to South Melbourne. Geelong won the 1878, 1879, 1880, 1882, 1883, 1884 and 1886 Premierships, which, of course, includes two hat-tricks of three consecutive Premierships. (Had they won the 1881 Premiership [rather than it going to South Melbourne] they would have ended up with seven consecutive Premierships.) During these 11 years, Geelong played 236, won 190, drew 27 and lost only 19 games (and this doesn't include games on tour or against inter-colonial teams – which they rarely lost). They were undefeated in 1879 & 1886, and they provided the top goalkicker six times (1880 H. P. Douglass [33 – tied with Carlton's George Coulthard], 1882 H. McLean [29], 1883 Phil McShane [29], 1884 Phil McShane [33], 1886 Phil McShane [51], 1887 Tom McShane [36]). In 1886 their players took the top five places on the leading goallkickers list.

The following are amongst the top Geelong players of the era: H. H. Austin, S. Bloomfield, J. Boyd, Charles Brownlow, H. Curdie, H. P. Douglass, L. A. Fairburn, H. Furnell, W. Hall, Dave Hickenbotham, J. Julien (who also played with Essendon during their golden era [see below]), G. Kearney, J. T. Kerley, H. McLean, Harry McShane, Jack McShane, Joe McShane, Phil McShane, Tom McShane, Tom Mullen, E. Pike, W. Reid, G. Steedman, R. Talbot, G. Watson and James Wilson.

Essendon 1891–94

Essendon is the only VFA team to have won four consecutive Premierships; 1891–94.[g] They played 77, won 66, drew 8 and lost 3 premiership games during this period. They also played 18 intercolonial games, winning them all. They won 57 consecutive games. During these four years they scored 552 goals, with only 258 being kicked against them.

Albert Thurgood topped the goalkicking three times – 1892 (56), 1893 (64) & 1894 (63).

The following played starring roles for Essendon during this golden era: J. Anderson, S. Angwin, W. Ball,[h] Colin Campbell, Alf Carter, W. E. Chadwick, A. Christian, L. Clarke, Don Coleman, Bill Crebin, Alec Dick (captain), Bill Finlay, Bill Fleming, Charlie "Tracker" Forbes, H. Furrell, Barney Grecian, Alex "Joker" Hall, Rev. B. S. B. Hammond, J. J. Julien (who also played with South Melbourne during their golden era [see above]), Gus Kearney, Dr J. R. Mouritz, H. Nixon, T. Parsons, J. B. Pearson, Dr Ned Officer, George Stuckey, J. A. Sykes, Albert Thurgood, George Vautin, P. Watson, W. B. Welch, H. W. Webb, Reginald Wilmot, Mat Wilson, W. Young and Rev. C. H. Zercho.

Footscray 1898–1900

During the last three years of the 19th century, Footscray won a hat-trick of Premierships, as well as winning 46 out of their 54 games. Their only loss in 1900 was by 5 points to Williamstown.

Champion players in that period included: "Skeeter" Armstrong, Charlie Brockwell, Lou Daily, Dave de Coite, Dickens, Davey Drew, R. Dick, Art Gregory, Grunden, W. "Ching" Harris, "Paddy" Hinch, James, Kruse, McCance, Billy McCarthy, Joe Marmo, Mitchell, Molyneux, William Robinson, Todd, Arthur Williams and Wilson.[12][page needed]

The game of the century[edit]

Jim McShane, one of the six McShane brothers to play for Geelong

Geelong v South Melbourne played on 4 September 1886 is, arguably, the most important Aussie Rules game to be played in the 19th century. Although regular final games had not yet been instituted, the VFA arranged this game so as to determine the Premiers for 1886; both teams had gone through the season undefeated. The strong contemporary records of both teams is shown above (The VFA's Top 19th Century Teams).

The game was held at South's Emerald Hill ground and a then-record crowd of 34,121 paid 6d[i] per head for a total revenue of £747/7/-.[12][page needed] It was said that many more crowded into the ground without paying.

Two special trains brought the local team and two thousand supporters from Geelong. An attempt was made to wreck one of these trains by removing a section of rail, near Newport – luckily the attempt was aborted. There were long lines of people and overcrowded Hansom cabs taking people from Melbourne to South Melbourne, prior to the game. After the game, thousands of people lined Clarendon Street, South Melbourne, to cheer the victorious Geelong on their way.

Geelong 4.19 defeated South Melbourne 1.5.[j] At half-time Geelong were leading 1.12 to 0.3.

Geelong captain Dave Hickinbotham was one of the best players on the ground, even though he was up against Alf Bushby, reputed to be one of the finest players in Australia, and imported by South Melbourne from South Adelaide just for this game.[k] Other outstanding players were: Geelong – A. Boyd, Sam Boyd, J .J. Julien, Kearney, Kerley, Mc Lean and Phil McShane;[l] South – Docherty, "Sonny" Elms, Greaves, Harper, Hill, M. Minchin and H. Smith.[12][page needed]

East Melbourne Cricket Ground[edit]

Until as late as 1921, the area formerly known as the Police Paddocks or, earlier, Captain Lonsdale's Cow Paddock, and now Yarra Park, contained no less than three grounds used for senior standard football and cricket; from east to west they were: Richmond Cricket Ground; MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) and East Melbourne Cricket Ground. The first two are still extant, however after the end of the 1921 VFA finals which were held at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground,[m] the land on which the ground was sited was compulsorily acquired by the Victorian Government as an extension to the Jolimont Railway Yards. The East Melbourne Ground had seen senior cricket and football matches since 1860. The East Melbourne Football Club played there until the club disbanded in 1881.

The Essendon Football Club had been playing its games in its local area since it had been formed in 1873, firstly at the back of the Robert McCracken's Ascot Vale property,[n] and then at Flemington Hill. When the East Melbourne Football Club disbanded, the East Melbourne Cricket Club enticed the Essendon Football Club over to the East Melbourne ground. Although this oval was many kilometres from Essendon, the club played there for 40 years, 1882–1921. When the East Melbourne ground was no longer available, Essendon moved back to the Essendon region by making the Essendon Recreation Reserve their new home ground, after its preferred move to the North Melbourne Recreation Reserve was blocked by the State Government.[35] The Essendon Association Football Club had been using the Essendon Recreation Reserve but when this ground was no longer available to them, they were forced to disband, as from December 1921.[36]

Celebrated English cricket all-rounder W. G. Grace once said that he would like to carry the East Melbourne pitch around with him. The East Melbourne Cricket Club was formed by former Scotch College boys in about 1857 as the Abbotsford Cricket Club, but changed its name to East Melbourne Cricket Club a few years later as part of a successful bid to play at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground. Prior to 1921, the EMCG was, without doubt, the most successful cricket club in the colony/state, winning more than half the premierships competed for during that time. When their ground was resumed, they amalgamated with the Hawthorn Cricket Club to form the Hawthorn-East Melbourne Cricket Club and matches were played at the Glenferrie Oval. One of the stands from the EMCG was moved to HEMCC's new home where it stood until as late as 1965, when it was replaced by the present Dr A. S. Ferguson Stand.

In the late 1990s, the land that was formerly the site of the EMCG was resumed for housing. An unusual, semi-circular apartment block has been designed by an architect who appears to know the history of the area and has built the apartments to look like an ersartz football pavilion.[37]

Formation of the VFL[edit]

Edward M. "Ted" Rowell, c1877–c1967 – Collingwood 1902–14, 1915

From as early as the mid-1880s, a number of the Senior VFA clubs showed discontent with the unevenness of the competition, its unwieldiness and the VFA's perceived lack of desire to try and solve the problems. Geelong and Essendon, both of which were among the most successful teams, were at the forefront of the moves towards reform. In 1889 Geelong proposed a more streamlined break-away competition. In 1894, Geelong, Essendon, Melbourne and Fitzroy again planned a new organisation that would consist of the aforementioned four clubs, along with teams from Ballarat and Bendigo. Ironically, Collingwood also wanted to see reforms, even though it was, itself, a new club that had only been formed in 1892, mainly out of the Junior club, Britannia. The Collingwood plan was to reduce the number of teams by amalgamation (as had been done in 1888/89 [see above]). They proposed the following mergers which were basically geographically-based: Footscray and Williamstown; Carlton and Fitzroy; South Melbourne and Port Melbourne.[32]

In 1896, Markwell the football writer for The Age noted that the VFA had not moved to try and stop the downfall of the game. He suggested that many of the rules would have to be changed and that boundary umpires should be introduced to help field umpires control on-field discipline. "Reform is urgently called for", he wrote. "Otherwise respectable young fellows will retire from the sport and leave it entirely in the hands of blackguards."[12][page needed]

This unruliness amongst the players of certain teams and, more particularly, the thuggery of the supporters of some clubs, had been noted for a number of years and was certainly another reason that some clubs saw a break-away from the VFA as the only solution. Another contemporary writer called the Collingwood v North Melbourne game in July 1896: "the greatest disgrace of all time in Australian football". The game itself was a cleanly played affair, which was narrowly won by Collingwood. However, at half-time spectators attacked Umpire Roberts and did so again after the game. During the second attack, the players of both sides tried to protect the umpire only to have the crowd turn on them. Female spectators slashed away with long hat pins and one male supporter even produced an iron bar, which he used. Players McDougall (North Melbourne) and Bill Proudfoot (Collingwood) were knocked unconscious and most of their teammates suffered some injuries, albeit some minor. It is often claimed that this incident led to North Melbourne not being invited to join the VFL when it was formed later that year.[12][page needed]

A few weeks later, on 22 August 1896, during a Footscray v Williamstown game, Williamstown walked off at three-quarter time, allegedly because of the rough play of Footscray. This was not the first time that such a thing had happened; in 1887, Richmond also left the ground at three-quarter time alleging rough play by Port Melbourne. This led to sustained rivalry between Port Melbourne and Richmond, which continued until Richmond's last VFA season, 1907.[12][page needed]

On 2 October 1896, just after the end of the 1896 season, representatives from six clubs held a meeting at Buxton's Art Gallery in Collins Street, at which it was decided to form the VFL Victorian Football League, which would represent the stronger clubs and begin playing in the 1897 football season. The clubs with delegtates at that meeting were: Collingwood; Essendon; Fitzroy; Geelong; Melbourne; South Melbourne. Although Geelong had finished 11th in a 13 team competition, they had consistently been calling for change. Their record as a top team in past years would have also ensured their place at the table.[19][38]

Carlton and St Kilda were also invited to join the VFL, initially making it an eight team competition. St Kilda had never been a strength in the VFA but their excellent home ground was seen as being a bonus for the new VFL. Not only did the Junction Oval have a good playing surface, but it was easily accessible by public transport.[12][page needed]

Carlton had not been a top team for a number of years but their dominance in the 1860s and 1870s meant that they still had one of the largest supporter bases. However, Carlton's admission to the VFL was contingent on them obtaining a suitable home ground. Since their formation in 1864 they had played at: Royal Park; Madeline Street oval (where Newman College, University of Melbourne now stands); the southern end of Princes Park; an area then known as the triangle (where University Women's College was later built). Carlton obtained permission to fence-in an area at the northern end of Princes Park and work commenced on clearing a rubbish tip from part of the site.[19][o]

The VFL inaugural meeting was held just seven weeks after a special meeting of the VFA held at Young and Jackson Hotel on 6 August 1896 to discuss the 25 July affair (see above). This meeting closed the North Melbourne ground for four weeks, and insisted on better protection for umpires in the future.[19]

In its first season the VFL introduced three important reforms to the game:[32]
1. behinds were counted towards the score;
2. a finals system was introduced;
3. the 'little mark' was abolished.

The new scoring system saw six points given for a goal and one point for a behind. This system is still used. (Between 1878 and 1896, kicks between the kick off posts [behind posts] were recorded but did not count towards the score). The main advantage in the now long-established, present system is that it cuts down the number of draws [e.g. a score of 12.15 (87) against 12.9 (81) would have been a draw under the old system but a win to the first team under the current system]. However, the current system does reward inaccurate kicking [e.g. a score of 16.24 (120) against 18.10 (118) would see a win to the team that kicked the lesser number of goals]. The first game that would have been a draw under the old scoring method, but achieved a result under the new system was in Round 4 of 1897: South Melbourne 5.11 (41) d. Collingwood 5.3 (33). Later in that same season there were two games where the new system completely reversed the results, the first of these was in Round 12: Collingwood 3.17 (35) d. Fitzroy 4.4. (28). The advantage in the new system is highlighted by the fact that in 1896 the VFA had nine drawn games in one season, but there was only one draw in the VFL's 1897 season. (The greatest number of draws in any VFL/AFL season was five in 1921.)[12][page needed]

In 1897, VFL finals were held after 14 home-and-away games in which each of the eight clubs had played each other twice.[p] Those first finals consisted of six round-robin matches over three weeks, between the top four clubs. A finals ladder was drawn up which saw Essendon, which had finished in second place at the end of the home-and-away matches, clearly in first place with 3 wins, 0 losses. Had there not been a clear points winner to the finals ladder, a Grand Final would have been played between the two top-placed clubs.[38][q]

After experimenting with another rather complicated finals system between 1898 and 1900, the VFL used what was later to be known as the "original Argus system" in 1901, and converting that into what became known as the "amended Argus system" 1902. Except for 1924 (see above), the "amended Argus system" operated continuously from 1902 to 1930 (the VFL adopted the Page–McIntyre system, a.k.a. the McIntyre Final Four System, in 1931).

Under the amended Argus system, the team that was first at the end of the home-and-away matches played third, and second played fourth, with the two winners meeting in a Final. However, the team heading the ladder at the end of home-and-away matches was given an advantage in that if it lost either its semi-final or the Final, it could challenge the Final winner in a Grand Final.[r] (Initially, the right to challenge only applied if the minor premiers had won more games than the winner of the final. This stipulation was always controversial and was dropped for the 1907 season.) The original Argus system was identical to the amended Argus system, except that with the original system, the minor premiers had no right of challenge whatsoever.

The importance of cricket over football is highlighted by the fact that between 1898 and 1901, the most prestigious ground, the MCG, was not used for finals because cricket wickets were being prepared.[38]

A 'little mark' was taken when a player passed the ball by foot at least two yards (1.83 metres), generally from a pack of players. It was difficult for umpires to pick out 'little marks' in scrimmages. It was abolished in 1874[39] to help open up play.[32]

The New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) was formed in Sydney in 1907/08 and the game was seen as being halfway between rugby union and Australian rules football. In 1908, there were serious talks between the NSWRL and the VFL which, it was hoped, would lead to some form of amalgamation or affiliation. Of course, this didn't happen and Rugby League's offside rule was seen as the major reason why the talks broke down.[40]

The VFL continued to go from strength to strength. In the late 20th century it evolved into a national competition and is now known as the AFL Australian Football League.

Reforms to the VFA[edit]

Richmond (VFA) centreman, Charlie Backhouse, who played over 200 games in a 15-year career 1891–1905; captain 1905.

Despite predictions of the demise of the VFA after the formation of the VFL, the earlier-formed competition continued for another 99 years, although the VFL immediately took its place as the senior Victorian competition. Nevertheless, under the wise presidency of Theodore Fink, the VFA continued to play a significant role.[32]

In 1897, the VFA followed the VFL and also introduced two of their reforms: the counting of behinds towards the score; and the abolition of the 'little mark'. The VFA didn't introduce a finals system until 1903 when the Argus system was used. (The Page–McIntyre system was introduced in 1933, two years after the VFL had first used it.)[12][page needed]

The following year, 1898, saw two more reforms to the VFA's rules: the number of players was reduced from 20 to 18; an order-off rule was introduced. The first change worked well as it gave players more freedom of movement around the field and also cut down the number of packs. The VFL also adopted this change a season later and has had 18 players on the field ever since 1899. However, the number of VFA on-field players has changed over the years: 1908 – to 17; 1912 – to 16; 1918 – reverted to 18; 1959 – to 16; 1992 – reverted to 18.[12][page needed]

The order-off rule was not popular with players or umpires. Umpires were never sure how rough things had to get before they could order a player off, rather than awarding a free kick to an opponent. The order-off rule was dispensed with after two seasons. Even so, the order-off rule must be seen as an attempt by the VFA to curb the rough play that was cited as one of the reasons for the formation of the VFL.[12][page needed]

Brunswick during the early 20th century. The highlighted section in the bottom right-hand corner shows the future Australian Prime Minister John Curtin

In 1897, Brunswick was admitted to the Association bringing the number of teams up to six (Brunswick, Footscray, North Melbourne, Port Melbourne, Richmond and Williamstown) who each played each other three times for a total of 15 rounds. As in previous seasons the club at the top of the ladder at the end of these home-and-away rounds was declared the Premier.[12][page needed][41]

During that 1898 season another change was made in that after 15 home-and-away matches, the four teams at the top of the ladder played an extra two games prior to the Premiership being awarded. This was not really a finals system and was only tried for one season.[32]

The VFA continued to increase the number of teams: 1899 – eight teams through the addition of West Melbourne and a re-formed Prahran; 1900 – nine teams through the addition of Essendon Town (later Essendon Association); 1903 – 10 teams through the addition of Preston.[12][page needed][41]

In the 20th century, the VFA was always Victoria's second most important football competition. However, it had a few golden eras, particularly the 1930s/40s and the 1970s.[12][page needed]

Some stories from individual clubs[edit]

North Melbourne/Hotham/Albert Park[edit]

The North Melbourne Football Club was formed in 1869 but before the start of the 1876 season the club amalgamated with Albert Park, one of the first non-geographical amalgamations. It played during that season as Albert Park cum North Melbourne. Most of the team's players had come from North Melbourne, including the captain, Harry Fuhrhop. Games were played at Albert Park. However, the next season, 1877 (the first year of the VFA), saw the club re-formed in the North Melbourne region but as the Hotham Football Club, Hotham then being the name of the municipality. However, when the town changed its name to North Melbourne in August 1887, the football club soon reverted to its original name. The club is currently playing in the AFL. Albert Park appears to have folded after its one season as Albert Park cum North Melbourne.[41]

South Melbourne/Albert Park[edit]

On the surface it may seem like a contradiction to record that a club alternatively known as Albert Park and South Melbourne was formed in about 1868. However, records are not clear and it appears that this club folded and that the Albert Park club that amalgamated with North Melbourne was a later club. The name, South Melbourne, was certainly used later; on 19 June 1874 the Cecil Football Club was formed but, on 15 July of the same year, Cecil changed its name to South Melbourne. This club has now evolved into the Sydney Swans.


A Hawthorn Football Club was founded in 1873 but its early history is rather sketchy. In 1875 it was rated as a Junior club[22] and by 1877 it appears to have been one of the original VFA Junior clubs but seems to have folded a few years after that. A number of local, junior clubs sprung up in the Hawthorn/Boroondara region including: Glenburn, Glenferrie, Hawthorn Rovers, Hawthorn Trades Club and Riversdale. In 1889 Riversdale changed its name to Hawthorn. However, in 1889 there was apparently a local Hawthorn/Boroondara junior league made up of clubs like Arlington, Camberwell, Edlington, Hawthorn (late Riversdale), Kew, Richmond and Wakefield. Arlington, Edlington and Wakefield were named after mansions in the area. By 1890 this Hawthorn/Boroondara junior competition appears to have expanded to include a much broader geographical region. Clubs competing against each other in 1890 were: Albert Park Imperial, Burwood, Camberwell, Crescent, Cromwell, Edlington, Hanover, Kew Juniors, Lewisham, Lyndhurst, Moray Juniors, Moonee Ponds 2nds, North Melbourne, Pembrooke, South Park, South Yarra Grosvenor, Star of Camberwell, Wakefield, Weinberg and Woodstock.

The Hawthorn club formed in 1889 by Riversdale changing its name, lasted only one season. There was no Hawthorn club competing anywhere between 1890 and 1892, but yet another Hawthorn was competing in the Victorian Junior Football Association in 1893. Even this club disbanded in 1899. However, in 1902 there was an amalgamation of the many junior clubs in the region to form probably the fourth club to use the name, Hawthorn, and this is the club that exists to this day, now competing in the AFL. In 1902, this club had teams playing in the Metropolitan Junior Association and the Eastern Suburbs Association, the latter a Wednesday afternoon competition. In 1905, Hawthorn was in the Victorian Amateur Football Association and it became a VFA member again in 1913.

Williamstown & district[edit]

As in Hawthorn/Boroondara, Junior clubs were springing up in virtually every community. As just one example, the following clubs are all known to have existed in Williamstown as early as the 1870s and/or 1880s: Battery United, Osborne, South Williamstown, Williamstown, Williamstown Rowing Club Football Club.[32]


It is worth noting a tragic accident that occurred to the Mornington Football Club in the second year of its existence, on 21 June 1892. The fishing boat Process, owned by a member of the team, was used to transport the team for a football match in Mordialloc, located further north towards Melbourne on the eastern side of Victoria's Port Phillip bay. Tragedy struck after-dark on the return voyage when the boat overturned in squally waters off Mount Eliza, resulting in 15 members of the team drowning. The VFA organised a special benefit match. A fund was set up for the relatives of those drowned, with the VFA donating £50 and The Argus newspaper £200;[s] money was also raised through the sale of copies of a poem entitled The Football Accident at 1d[12][page needed] per copy.

Home grounds of senior clubs[edit]

The grandstand at the Brunswick Street oval (now the W. T. Peterson Community Oval) home of the Fitzroy Football Club from its inception in 1883 until 1966. The grandstand was built in 1888 and is still exant.

In general, this list covers 19th century football grounds only but the final year of use is usually included, even if this was in the 20th or 21st century:[19][42]

Albert Park
early 1870s–1876 Albert Park played its last season as "Albert Park cum North Melbourne"
1865–1896 near the corner of Sydney & Glenlyon Rds
1897–1907 Parkville land now occupied by the Ransford & McAlister ovals
1864– Madeleine Street oval where Newman College now stands in Swanston Street North
? southern end of Princes Park
? The Triangle now the site of University Women's College
1897–2003 Princes Park (northern end) first games not played until Round 6 of the 1897 season
Carlton Imperials
late 1860s–1876 Royal Park
1892–1999 Victoria Park Britannia had used the ground prior to Collingwood
2000–2003: known as Jock McHale Stadium
East Melbourne
early 1870s–1881 East Melbourne Cricket Ground (see above)
1873–74? McCracken's Paddock at the McCracken's family home[n]
1875?–81 near Newmarket railway station
1882–1921 East Melbourne Cricket Ground (see above)
Essendon Association
1900–1921 Essendon Recreation Reserve [t]
1883–1966 Brunswick Street oval formerly the home of the Normanby Football club
1875-early 1880s Cowper Street paddock
early 1880s–1885 Market Reserve Barkly Street
1885–1997 Western Oval 1885 was also Footscray's first VFA season
now known as Whitten Oval
Corio Oval At least one game is recorded as being played at Corio Cricket Ground in 1859
became Geelong's home ground in 1878[u]
1860–77 Argyle Square 1860 was the first year in which Geelong is recorded as playing inter-club games
The MCG in 1878, a year after the first Test cricket match had been played there. By this time permission was being granted for the occasional football match to be played at the ground.
1859–84 Jolimont
outside the MCG
Football was not permitted on the MCG in the early days because it was felt that it would damage the Cricket Club's turf wickets
1876–1941 &
& continuing
Melbourne Cricket Ground The first football match permitted at the MGC was in 1876 (Melbourne Football Club v Metropolitan Police Force) but most games were still played outside the MGC itself.[v][w]
1884 Friendly Societies Ground later known as the Motordrome, now Olympic Park
[12][page needed]
North Melbourne/
1869–75 & 1877–84 Royal Park[x]
1884–1964 & 1966–1985 Arden Street Oval[y] North Melbourne played at Coburg for one season (1965) before returning to Arden Street.
Port Melbourne
1880–1941 &
& continuing
North Port oval [z]
1945 Amateur Sports Ground now Olympic Park
most games played there but, later in the season, a few were played at North Port oval[12][page needed]
1886–1887 Warehousemen's Ground
St Kilda Road
now known as the Albert Ground
in 1887, the VFA forced Prahran to amalgamate with St Kilda
Toorak Park Hawksburn changed its name to Prahran immediately prior to moving to this ground[ab]
1885–1964 Punt Road Oval [ac]
St Kilda
1873–1885 Alpaca Paddock [ad]
1886–1965 Junction Oval
South Melbourne
1864–? St Vincent Gardens[ae] near the former Three Chain Road between Albert Park and Middle Park railway stations
1874–1943 & 1946–1981 Lakeside Oval Now known as Bob Jane Stadium and configured for soccer
Lakeside Oval was used by the Military during 1944 & 1945.
South Williamstown
1886–87 Port Gellibrand Oval/
Williamstown Cricket Ground
South Williamstown played two seasons in the VFA before merging with Williamstown[32]
1870s Warehousemen's Cricket Ground Warehousemen's Cricket Club used this ground but its use by the Warehousemen's Football Club needs confirmation
Ground still exists as the Albert Ground (St Kilda Road)
West Melbourne
1900–1907 Arden Street Oval ground shared with North Melbourne, with whom West Melbourne amalgamated in 1907 in an unsuccessful attempt to join the VFL[19][43]
1864?–1872 Market Place Reserve on the site of the present Robertson Reserve
1872–87 Gardens Reserve now known as Fearon Reserve
& continuing
Port Gellibrand Oval/
Williamstown Cricket Ground
began using the ground when the club amalgamated with South Williamstown[32]


From the earliest days of white settlement in Australia, the concept of using nicknames for people and organisations was widely adopted. Many of the 19th century football players had nicknames and most of the earliest clubs also quickly adopted a nickname; often based on the colour of the uniform, sometimes from the geographical location, or for a variety of other reasons. In earlier days, clubs often had more than one nickname, sometimes consecitively, but by the turn of the 20th century there was usually a greater stability with most clubs adopting one nickname by which they were known by both their own supporters and by the fans of opposing teams. By this time, many club followers were wearing badges, etc., which had a logo based on the nickname of their particular team.

Brunswick The Pottery Workers [44]
Carlton The Butchers name coined in the early 1870s because of their tight-fitting blue dungaree jackets
also ...
" The Blues still used – from the mid-1870s, players wore blue stockings imported from America (also attributed to 1871 captain, Jack Donovan, who wore a dark blue cap)
Collingwood The Magpies still used
Essendon The Same Olds after the last line in the chorus of an early club song, penned by a supporter: "We're always the same old Essendon" (used until as late as the 1920s)
also ...
" The Dons still sometimes used – appears to have first been used in the 1900s (decade)
Essendon Town The Dreadnoughts a VFA club from 1900; later known as Essendon Association
Fitzroy The Maroons because of their distinctive Maroon canvas jerseys
Footscray Prince Imperials not really a nickname but the official name of the club that was to change its name to Footscray preparatory to joining the VFA in 1883
also ...
" The Tricolours still sometimes used
also ...
" 'Scray
Geelong The Pivotonians the port of Geelong was the pivot between the capital of Melbourne and the Ballarat goldfields
also ...
" The Seagulls also ...
" The All Whites from 1872 to 1875, they wore an all-white uniform
Hawthorn The Yellow and Blacks after changing its name from Riversdale in 1889, this was the colour of the uniforms
also ...
" The Redlegs from 1892 to 1901, they wore a red & blue jumper and red stockings
also ...
" The Mayblooms the Hawthorn bush (also known as Crataegus) blooms in May
Melbourne The Invincible Whites from 1861, they wore an all-white uniform
also ...
" The Redlegs still sometimes used – from the mid-1870s, players wore red stockings imported from America
also ...
" The Fuscias a red cap worn concurrently with the red stockings gave birth to this name
Port Melbourne The 'Boroughs still used
Richmond Richmondites probably used in the late 1880s – appears not to have been popular
also ...
" The Wasps presumably inspired by the black & yellow colours
also ...
" The Tigers still used
St Kilda The Seasiders also ...
" The Seagulls also ...
" The Saints still used – appears to have been coined immediately after their readmission to the VFA in 1886.
South Melbourne The Bloods still occasionally used by successor club Sydney Swans, particularly when the club wants to highlight its Melbourne roots – then as now, their jersey featured red on white
University The Students an obvious nickname, even used in VFA days[45]
also ...
" The Professors ditto
Williamstown The Villagers also ...
" 'Town

See also[edit]


  • Atkinson, Graeme (1982). Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Australian Rules Football ... The Five Mile Press, Melbourne. ISBN 0-86788-009-0.
  • Blainey, Geoffrey (1990): A Game Of Our Own, Information Australia, Melbourne. ISBN 0-949338-78-8.
  • Caruso, Santo; Fiddian, Marc; Main, Jim: Football Grounds of Melbourne, 2002, Pennon Publishing, Melbourne. ISBN 1-877029-02-5.
  • Fiddian, Marc (2003). Seagulls Over Williamstown. Williamstown Football Club, Melbourne.
  • Hutchison, Garrie; Ross, John (1998). The Clubs. The Complete History of Every Club in the AFL/VFL. Penguin Books, Melbourne. ISBN 0-85550-482-X.
  • Mancini, Anne; Hibbins, Gillian (1987). Running With the Ball. Melbourne: Lynedoch Publications. ISBN 0-7316-0481-4.
  • Murray, John (editor) [various authors]: Melbourne Football Club – Since 1858 – An Illustrated History, 2008, GSP Books, Melbourne.
  • Power, Thomas P. (1875). The Footballer. Melbourne: Henriques and Co.
  • Rodgers, Stephen (1983). Tooheys Guide to Every Game Ever Played. Melbourne: Lloyd O'Neil Pty Ltd. ISBN 0-670-87858-8.


  1. ^ Pearson's nickname, Commotion, may well have come about because, between 1881 and 1885, The Hon. W. Pearson had a champion racehorse with that same name.[17]
  2. ^ Although this would now be considered to be politically incorrect, the nickname, Dummy, came about because Muir was a mute.
  3. ^ A copy of the 2nd edition (1876) was sold for AUD$4,000by Charles Leski Auctions on 19 September 2013 [refer to Charles Leski Auctions' catalogue of their public auction No.430 and Charles Leski Auctions' list of prices realised.]
  4. ^ This would appear to have been Victoria's first works-based team, consisting of the employees of the well-known directory of the era(http://www.findmypast.com.au/content/melbourne-directory-sands)
  5. ^ On 13 December 2007, Charles Leski Auctions, Melbourne, sold an 1864 Geelong membership ticket for A$3,000. This is one of the earliest extant football artifacts, from any code, that is still in private hands.[30]
  6. ^ Arch McMurray was the father and grandfather of Jack McMurray, Sr. and Jack McMurray, Jr. who were VFL and VFA umpires from 1918 to 1935 and 1939 to 1955 respectively, and were both extremely renowned. They were both inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame. Jack McMurray, Sr. umpired 423 games, more than any other Victorian umpire; his son's record of 209 games.
  7. ^ Williamstown won five out six Premierships between 1954 & 1959, finishing third in 1957. VFL club, Collingwood, won four consecutive Premierships 1927–30, and Melbourne (VFL) won five out of six between 1955 & 1960, being runners-up in 1958. The contemporary WAFA club, Unions (who changed their name to Fremantle in 1890) won 4 consecutive premierships between 1887 and 1890, as well as 5 consecutive premiership between 1892 and 1896. Fremantle has a connection with the 1891-94 Essendon teams in that Albert Thurgood played for both clubs during their golden eras.
  8. ^ W. Ball and W. B. Welch later founded Ball & Welch which was a landmark department store in Flinders Street, Melbourne, until as late as the 1960s.
  9. ^ In a straight conversion to decimal currency the admission was 5¢ for a total of $1,494.70. However, using the FitzHerbert Converter one is able to get a good estimate of the recent value. (The FitzHerbert Converter aims to convert the currency from all years from 1860 into 1988 Australian dollar values)[34]
  10. ^ In those days, points were recorded but did not count toward the score. However, whichever scoring method had been used, the result would have been the same.
  11. ^ There was no real system of registration of players in those days. There were also no transfer fees.
  12. ^ Phil McShane was one of six McShane brothers playing for Geelong at that time. The McShane's still equal the record in senior football for the greatest number from a single family in the one team. (Six Tyson brothers played for Kalgoorlie in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Two other Tyson relatives also played.)
  13. ^ A severe hailstorm shortly before three-quarter time of the 1921 VFA Final at East Melbourne caused the Final to be abandoned with Williamstown leading Footscray 10.5 to 9.7. A replay was held at East Melbourne during the following weekend, with a final score of: Williamstown 9.14 d. Footscray 10.5. Under the Argus system, Footscray as Minor Premiers (the side heading the ladder at the end of the home-and-away matches) had the right to challenge for the Premiership in a Grand Final. The day on which the replay was held was actually reserved for a possible Grand Final. However, work commenced on the railway yards two days after the replay and, therefore, the Grand Final was held the next week at Fitzroy's Brunswick Street Oval which was available because Fitzroy Cricket Club had a bye in the Victorian Cricket Association competition on that day – Williamstown was again the winner.
  14. ^ a b McCracken was the owner of several city hotels, the founder and first President of the Essendon club, and his 17-year-old son, Alex, who would later be the first president of the VFL, was the first Secretary.
  15. ^ Bringing Princes Park up to VFL standards took longer than expected and the first game was not played there until Round 7, on the public holiday for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee (Tuesday 22 June). Later in the season, Carlton had a run of six home games when they played all the clubs that had earlier hosted Carlton's first six games.
  16. ^ For a detailed history of the evolution and development of the finals system used by the Victorian Football League (VFL) and, later, by the Australian Football League (AFL) see AFL finals series and McIntyre System.
  17. ^ In 1924, a slightly modified version of the 1897 finals system was played because of dissatisfaction with the then-existing Argus system. The difference between the 1897 and 1924 finals was that in 1924 the team at the end of home-and-away matches had the right, if necessary, to challenge the winner of the finals ladder. The 1924 system was not successful but Essendon again won the Premiership, thus winning under similar systems in 1897 and 1924.
  18. ^ The VFL used the Argus system until it was replaced by the Page-McIntryre system in 1931. The main advantage of this latter system is that it guarantees a Grand Final and ensures four weeks of finals. This system remained in use until the Final Four was replaced by a Final Five in 1972. Since then, variations on this system have been drawn up to cater for a Final Five, a Final Six and a Final Eight. The Page–McIntyre system was devised by K. G. McIntyre and sponsored through the VFL by Percy Page. Under the system, the following games were played: 1st SEMI-FINAL – 3rd v 4th – loser omitted; 2nd SEMI-FINAL – 1st v 2nd; PRELIMINARY FINAL – loser of 2nd Semi-final v winner of 1st Semi-final – loser omitted; GRAND FINAL – winner of 2nd Semi-final v winner of Preliminary Final. In other words, the advantage given to the top team under the Argus system is here given to both the 1st and 2nd teams at the end of the home-and-away games.
  19. ^ In a straight conversion to decimal currency the VFA donation was $100, The Argus donation $400, and the cost of the poem 0.8¢. However, using the FitzHerbert Converter one is able to get a good estimate of the recent value. (The FitzHerbert Converter aims to convert the currency from all years from 1860 into 1988 Australian Dollar values[34])
  20. ^ The club disbanded in 1921 after their ground was taken over by VFL club, Essendon
  21. ^ Corio Oval was taken over by the Australian Army in 1940 and they stayed there until the end of World War II. Geelong Football Club moved to Kardinia Park for the 1941 season and are still playing there. The Corio Oval site is now the Geelong Conference Centre.
  22. ^ The US Airforce was given use of the MGC during World War II and Melbourne home games were played at the adjacent Punt Road Oval.
  23. ^ The MCG had a reversible stand which accommodated people facing inside to watch cricket or facing outside to watch football. It was burnt down in 1884, forcing Melbourne Football Club to play at the Friendly Societies Ground. However, by 1884, a few football games were being played on the MGC proper.
  24. ^ The area of Royal Park where North Melbourne/Hotham games were played is near where Burke & Wills set off on their disastrous south-north exploration of Australia. It is believed that this is near to an area where junior football is still played. See above for a full history of the reasons for North Melbourne becoming Hotham and then becoming North Melbourne again.
  25. ^ Arden Street Oval was known colloquially as The Gasometer Oval because the adjoining gasworks dominated the skyline. Boxing, cricket, cycling, football and greyhound racing were all accommodated at Arden Street Oval at some stage. The greyhound betting ring was in a large tin shed behind the pavilion.
  26. ^ The VFA was in recess 1942–44 due to World War II and North Port oval was taken over by the US Army who, among other uses, used the Ingles Street wing to grow vegetables. The ground had to be top-dressed before football could again be played at North Port and, therefore, Port Melbourne played most of its 1945 home games at the Amateur Sports Ground (now Olympic Park).
  27. ^ When the Prahran City Council tried to force Prahran to share Toorak Park with a Rugby Union team, they were expelled from the VFA for the 1959 season but were readmitted in the following year.
  28. ^ Toorak Park was originally of a poor standard but ground improvements led to Prahran being invited to rejoin the VFA for the 1899 season.
  29. ^ An earlier Richmond club was formed in 1860 with H. C. A. Harrison as one of its players. The present club dates from 1885.
  30. ^ An earlier St Kilda club was formed in 1858 but not much is known about it. The present club dates from 1873. Alpaca Paddock was the area later used by the Prince Alfred Bowling Club and the St Kilda Primary School (ie. near the railway station). South American alpacas were bred in this area in the 1860s but the experiment was not economically viable.
  31. ^ In 1868 the club was referred to as "South Melbourne or Albert Park"


  1. ^ "Monday, June 9, 1862". The Argus. Melbourne. 9 June 1862. p. 5.
  2. ^ "Monday, August 24, 1863". The Argus. Melbourne. 24 August 1863. p. 5.
  3. ^ "News of the Day". The Age. Melbourne. 14 September 1863. p. 5.
  4. ^ "Geelong v. South Yarra for the Challenge Cup". Bell's Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle. Melbourne. 3 September 1864. p. 2.
  5. ^ "The Football Match". The Age. Melbourne. 25 May 1865. p. 5.
  6. ^ "Football – Melbourne v. University for the Challenge Cup". Bell's Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle. Melbourne. 12 August 1865. p. 2.
  7. ^ "Football – University v. South Yarra for the Challenge Cup". Bell's Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle. Melbourne. 2 September 1865. p. 4.
  8. ^ "Football – the Challenge Cup". Bell's Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle. Melbourne. 9 June 1866. p. 2.
  9. ^ Fair Play (4 June 1870). "Football". The Australasian. VIII (218). Melbourne. p. 716.
  10. ^ Fair Play (13 August 1870). "Football chatter". The Australasian. IX (228). Melbourne. p. 204.
  11. ^ Fair Play (14 October 1871). "Match for the Challenge Cup". The Australasian. XI (289). Melbourne. p. 492.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Atkinson (1982)
  13. ^ Mancini & Hibbins (1987), p. 23
  14. ^ Football: The Place Kick, The Age, (Tuesday, 8 August 1944), p.4; Beames, P., "Place Kick Out-Moded, The Age, (Thursday, 8 July 1948), p.8; Graham Succeeds with Place Kicks, The Argus, (Tuesday, 9 May 1944), p.9; Tony Sharpens up his Shock "Place", The Argus, (Wednesday, 11 May 1955), p.32; De Bolfo, Tony, "Placekick or drop punt? Den states his case", Carlton Football Club, 10 May 2012.
  15. ^ "'The Stab Kick' — A Football Development", The Argus, (Monday 27 June 1910), p.6.
  16. ^ Sygall, D. & MacSmith, J., "Fitzroy ball of 1895 goes up for auction", The (Sydney) Sun-Herald, 5 December 2004.
  17. ^ "The Hon. W. Pearson's Race-Horse Commotion". The Argus. 14 October 1885. Retrieved 23 November 2015. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  18. ^ https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1300&dat=19830906&id=kRhVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=XZQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4468,2918349&hl=en,
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Hutchison & Ross (1998)
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 March 2015. Retrieved 1 October 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ a b c d Power (1875), p. 10
  22. ^ a b c d Power (1875)
  23. ^ http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/20995522?versionId=24962771
  24. ^ Power (1875), pp. 14, 19
  25. ^ James Bonwick established the St Kilda Boys School at 188 Barkly St, St Kilda, in 1862. The name was later changed to Hofwyl House Academy, and then to Queen's College. The school closed in 1875, suggesting that either the name, Queen's College was short-lived (The Footballer refers to Hofwyl House in its 1875 edition), or some of the facts on the Department of the Environment website listing registered buildings, is incorrect (http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/ahdb/search.pl?mode=place_detail;place_id=14204). The building still exists albeit subdivided into units, and now known as Carmel Court.
  26. ^ Power (1875), p. 20
  27. ^ Power (1875), pp. 20–23
  28. ^ Power (1875), pp. 23–24
  29. ^ Power (1875), pp. 24–25
  30. ^ Charles Leski Auctions' catalogue of their public auction No.316 (conducted on 12/13 December 2007); Charles Leski Auctions' list of prices realised.
  31. ^ Power (1875), p. 25
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Fiddian, Marc (2003). Seagulls Over Williamstown. Williamstown Football Club, Melbourne.
  33. ^ "The Argus", Melbourne, 20 May 1893
  34. ^ a b Pearn, John (1998). "A loaf of bread: Price and value" (PDF). Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr. 7: 8–14. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  35. ^ "North Melbourne ground". The Argus. Melbourne. 12 August 1921. p. 6.
  36. ^ "Football movements". The Essendon Gazette. Essendon, VIC. 15 December 1921. p. 5.
  37. ^ Football Grounds of Melbourne (this reference refers to the whole of this section)
  38. ^ a b c Rodgers (1983)
  39. ^ Power (1875), p. 12
  40. ^ Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National, The Sports Factor, broadcast of 23 May 2008.
  41. ^ a b c Victorian Football League
  42. ^ Football Grounds of Melbourne
  43. ^ West Melbourne Football Club
  44. ^ Brunswick Football Club
  45. ^ In VFL days (1908-1914), the minimum qualification needed to play for University was the Matriculation Certificate (which was then the standard university qualification and the equivalent of today's HSC).