Sports Industry AU

What happens off the field in Australian Sport

A Historical Timeline of Australian Football: the Beginning

Source material for this series comes from

  • The Australian Game of Football (since 1858)
  • 100 Years of Australian Football 1896-1996 – the Complete Story of the AFL
  • The South Australian Football Story by Bernhard Whimpress
  • Behind the Play – A History of Western Australian Football by AJ Barker
  • Various works by John Daveney
  • Original material sourced from the National Library at and various State collections.

Having done an expansion of the VFL timeline, I wanted to go back and have a look at the games origins and spread across the country. Please note that on the subject of Marngrook, the Australian Game of Football – an official AFL publication – utterly dismisses the idea that the game was in any part aboriginal in nature. (pg 45. A Seductive Myth)

  • 1856, December. Tom Wills returns to Melbourne from England where he studied at Rugby School between 1850 and 1855.
  • 1858, June 5. Melbourne Grammar School plays St Kilda Grammar School in a game of football
  • 1858, July 10. Tom Wills writes his famous letter to Bells Life, advocating the creation of a football club and a committee to draw up a code of laws – saying they should either form a football club or a rifle club in order to maintain fitness over the winter.
  • 1858,  July 31. Melbourne Grammar boys play a game of football against grown men from St KIlda at Yarra Park. The game reportedly came to a bad end, and was called off after an hour and a half when “fisticuffs broke out”. .
  • 1858, August 7. Melbourne Grammar School plays Scotch College. One goal was at the Jolimont end of Richmond Park, the other at the Punt Road end. The teams were 40-a-side, the match went for three hours with only one goal scored each (it was best of three), and despite being resumed over two following two saturdays, no further goals were kicked, and the result was declared a draw.
  • 1858, August 14. James Bryant advises in Bells life that a ball was available on the MCG and that “all good kicks were expected tp put their boots on and show”. An impromptu game of football was then held between members of the MCC and others who turned up.
  • 1858, August 23. A set of rules are drawn up, but these seem to have been a modification of existing Rugby School rules.
  • 1858, September 27. A game between 27 men from South Yarra and an equal number of players from Melbourne was held on the Richmond Paddock. South Yarra wore “light blue and white continuations”, while Melbourne wore whatever suited their players fancy. South Yarra was captained by Reginald Bright and Melbourne by Tom Wills.
  • 1859, March 26. An article appeared in Bells Life advising that an attempt was to be made to combine the various laws of English public school games, but also said it was unlikely to be successful.
  • 1859, May 9. Several clubs have already commenced playing. The South Yarra were to have had a practice match on the Saturday, and the ranks of the Melbourne Football Club were reportedly assuming respectable proportions, “owing, probably, to its being no longer confined to members of the Melbourne Cricket Club”.
  • 1859, May 14. With no official rules yet, the Melbourne Football Club announces its intent to play its first game of the year, and “code of regulations” was to be submitted for approval. The club is officially formed in a meeting after this game.
  • 1859, May 17. A meeting is held at the Parade Hotel to formally note the rules of the game. Present at this meeting were Thomas Henry Smith, Thomas Wentworth Wills, William Josiah Hammersly and James Bogue Thompson.
  • 1859, May 21. The first trial of the new rules is held. It was reportedly wet and windy. There was no score kicked.  It was reported that “Some little unpleasantness was occasioned owing to the vague wording of the rule which makes “tripping”an institution, and after the match a meeting of the committee was held, at which most of the existing rules underwent revision, and some new ones were added”. The article is the first mention of a St Kilda club being organised.
  • 1859, May 28. The St Kilda club played the University Football Club at a ground in St Kilda in what was seen as the first football match recorded between two different suburban clubs. This is the first mention of a football club from Melbourne University.
  • 1859, June 15. Castlemaine Football Club is formed.
  • 1859, July 1. A meeting is held to modfy the rules – a goal would not be a goal if it hit the post, but it would count if it was forced through in a scrimmage. Tripping, holding and hacking were all specifically prohibited. The new rules were printed in the Argus on July 2.
  • 1859, July 9. Melbourne and South Yarra clubs, tired of spectators wandering onto the ground during play, decide to apply to use the MCG itself. The match was reported to have attracted 2000 spectators. Only one goal was kicked – two being needed for Victory – and the match was later continued on July 23rd.
  • 1859, July 18. At a meeting in the Victoria Hotel, the Geelong football club is formed.
  • 1859, July 23rd. Melbourne reportedly played in cricket whites, while South Yarra played in blue.The MCG was roped into a rectangular shape. Melbourne kicked two goals after just an hour, so they played a second game, but time prevented a win for either side.
  • 1859, July 30. Melbourne play St Kilda on the Richmond Paddock, the MCG not being available to preserve the turf for cricket, due to the wet weather. Geelong was reported to have formed a club and played their first match on the same day, but under their own Geelong Rules.
  • 1859, August 6. Melbourne plays a combined Emerald Hill and Prahran team.
  • 1859, August 13. Melbourne played St Kilda on the Richmond Paddock
  • 1859, September 3. Melbourne plays the 40th Regiment.
  • 1860, April 27. FIrst mention of a Richmond football club.
  • 1860, May 20. Ballarat Football Club is formed.
  • 1860, May 28. All existing clubs meet at the Argus Hotel to revise the rules. Changes were made to Rule 8, now preventing players from running with the ball, or picking it up off the ground.
  • 1861, June. Sandhurst Football Club is formed
  • 1861, July 18. Modbury Football Club is formed.
  • 1864, July. The present Carlton Football Club is formed.
  • 1864. Williamstown Football Club is formed.
  • 1866, April 16. Kapunda Football Club is formed.
  • 1869. North Melbourne Football Club is formed.
  • 1879. TW Sherrin sets up a factory for football manufacture in Wellington St, Collingwood.