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A Short History of Australian Rules Football

Origins of the game

A traditional Indigenous Australian football game, Marn Grook, has been claimed to have had a role in the formation of Australian rules football. Tom Wills, one of the football's pioneers, may have seen the game played when he was a child. The first rules of Australian football were drawn up on 17 May 1859 at a meeting chaired by Wills.

The first game

A match between Scotch and Melbourne Grammar schools was held on August 7, 1858. This is generally considered the first game of what we now call AFL (Australian Rules Football), though the rules for this match would have been rather crude. There may have been earlier games of 'football' as the colonial Australians meshed their knowledge of mob football, plus early versions of Gaelic football, rugby and soccer. The AFL rules evolved gradually over the early matches, probably over a few beers at the local.

Victorian Football Association (VFA)

The game developed rapidly in Victoria, drawing large crowds and taking up pages in the paper with discussions of upcoming games and results. The Victorian Football Association (VFA) was formed in 1877. The original clubs were Hotham (North Melbourne), Melbourne, Geelong, Carlton, Albert Park (South Melbourne), St Kilda, Essendon and East Melbourne.

The first International

An English team toured Australia in 1888. After some coaching in England, and more after they arrived, they went on to play 25 matches in which they won 14. A return tour by Australian players was planned but did not eventuate. Thus the international expansion of the game died out and the sport went on to become a unique game to Australia.

Victorian Football League (VFL)

The game continued to develop and new teams were included in the VFA. In 1897, some of the stronger teams from the VFA formed a breakaway league, which became known as the Victorian Football League (VFL). The original clubs of the newly formed VFL were Collingwood, South Melbourne, Essendon, Melbourne, Fitzroy, Geelong, St. Kilda and Carlton. They played their first matches on May 18, 1897.

Dick Reynolds (Essendon, 1939–1960) kickingDick Reynolds (Essendon, 1939–1960) kicking

Australian Football League (AFL)

Australian Rules Football is a national sport. With the inclusion of interstate clubs in the VFL such as the West Coast Eagles, Adelaide, Fremantle, Sydney, Port Adelaide and Brisbane, the league could not continue to be called the VFL and the name was changed to the AFL (Australian Football League) starting from the 1990 season.

National Women's League

A new women's AFL competition was announced in 2016, with the inaugural season starting in 2017. There were originally eight teams, four from Victoria, and four from other states, playing over eight weeks in early 2017, expanding up to 18 teams in 2022, matching the teams in the men's competition. See more.

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