The Australian rules foot-ball match played on August 7, 1858 must have been a scrappy affair.
There were 40 players a side from Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar School, a field a quarter of a mile long, and the rules of the game not yet written. The game was continued over two more days and finally ended in a 1-all draw.
The sculpture outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground marks the spot where the game was played, and depicts umpire and eventual rules codifier Tom Wills getting a close look at a contest for the round ball. Louis Laumen’s work sparked my interest in the history of the game, at least enough to consult Wikipedia.
I always thought Aussie Rules was derived from Gaelic football. There are enough similarities between the codes for Australia and Ireland to play an occasional farcical game of ‘international rules’, but I see that the rules of Gaelic football came later, in 1885. It’s more probably that rugby formed the basis of the early ‘Melbourne Rules’ as it was originally known.
Not that there were many rules in the early game. Tom could only think up ten.
Wills was a fine cricketer, coach of an Aboriginal cricket team, some of whose players formed the basis of the first Australian team to tour England in 1868. Wills reputedly invented Australian rules footy as a way for cricketers to keep fit during the winter.
I’ve heard that the reason the game took off in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth rather than in Sydney had to do with geography. Early matches were played on huge areas (the original rules specify a ground not more than 200 yards across) and it was hard to find large flat bits among Sydney’s sandstone hills.
It’s well and truly made it to Sydney now, with the Sydney Swans one of the best supported and more competitive teams in the AFL, and the Greater Western Sydney Giants (what a clumsy name) team under super coach Kevin Sheedy about to debut in 2012. They’re unlikely to win many matches in their first season, and time will tell whether they’ll have much local support. ‘Carn Greater Western Sydney!’ ‘Grea-ter West-ern Syd-ney – Oi oi oi!’ Nah, doesn’t work for me.
Anyway, thanks Tom for codifying the game, I’m glad I met you and I’m pleased to see they’re giving you some credit.