Australian Football is the only major sport we play today that was actually developed in Australia.Simple forms of football were played as early as the 1840s, and included rugby-like scrimmaging and kicking off the ground as in soccer. These games were brought here by the early settlers. Several Aboriginal tribes played a game called Marngrook, where a ball made of animal skin stuffed with feathers or charcoal was kicked high into the air. As time passed, new and unique skills like high marking, long kicking, handpassing, running and bouncing were invented.
Australian Football was first played in the parklands near the Melbourne Cricket Ground on a very large rectangular field three or four times as big as the grounds of today. It quickly became the 'game of the people'. Right from the beginning big crowds turned up to watch these games, and by the 1870s crowds of several thousand were common. This was quite remarkable when you consider Melbourne's small population at the time. People loved the spectacular long runs, high marks, dodging and physical clashes.
The Australian game became the first form of football to be codified when, in 1858, a set of rules was written on several sheets of paper. Over time new skills and tactics were developed, rules were changed and new ones added.
The most important person in the early days of footy was Thomas Wills. He played games which were forerunners to rugby and soccer while at school in England and, when in Australia, he suggested that football would be a good recreational sport for cricketers in the off-season.
Although he worked with others to invent the game, as a player, captain, umpire and administrator, Wills did as much as anybody to make the new game popular and to shape the new rules.
Australian Football is now played in at least 32 countries outside Australia and is recognised as one of the greatest games in the world. Its popularity shows no sign of fading. The Grand Final held at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground in September each year is one of the world's biggest sporting events and is watched by millions on television.
Australian Football initiated by Thomas Wills. First set of rules formulated.
May: Melbourne Football Club rules formulated.
May 28: Rules revised.
July: Carlton Football Club formed.
May 8: Rules revised.
North Melbourne Football Club formed.
Revision of rules.
April 3: St Kilda Football Club formed.
May 12: New code of rules drawn up.
All senior matches required to be started on time.
Australian game established in New Zealand.
May 7: Victorian Football Association (VFA) established.
MCC finally allowed football to be played regularly on the MCG.
Oct: Fitzroy and Footscray Football Clubs formed.
Feb 20: Richmond Football Club formed.
Game first played with four quarters instead of two halves.
Central umpire required to bounce ball at start of each quarter instead of throwing it up into the air.
Players on both sides required to take up their allotted positions on the field.
March 11: Collingwood Football Club formed.
Essendon claimed championship by winning all its matches.
Oct 2: Delegates from Geelong, Essendon, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Melbourne and South Melbourne met to form the Victorian Football League (VFL) as a breakaway competition.
Feb 5: League headquarters established at Port Phillip Club Hotel, Flinders St.
League reduced teams from 20 to 18 players.
Ban placed on players wearing hats or caps not in club colours.
April: Hawthorn Football Club formed. Carlton appointed Jack Worrall as first ever VFL coach.
May 23/Aug 3: Two premiership matches played in Sydney. Fitzroy defeated Collingwood & Geelong defeated Carlton.
Boundary umpires first appointed to League matches.
Nov: Australasian Football Council formed.
Nov: Inaugural Meeting of the Australasian Football Council. Laws of the 'Australasian Game of Football' adopted.
Richmond and University Football Clubs admitted to the competition.
June 5: Geelong won protest against St Kilda for playing a disqualified player.
Goal umpires first given power to report players.
League approved official player payments. Second Australian Football Carnival held in Adelaide, won by SA.
League players first wore guernsey numbers in all matches.
League Independent Tribunal instituted.
Metropolitan zoning introduced.
Only four League clubs: Carlton, Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond competed.
Geelong and South Melbourne rejoined the competition.
Essendon and St Kilda rejoined the competition.
Melbourne returned to the competition.
Fourth Australian Football Carnival held at Perth, won by WA.
League appointed Mr Jack Elder, former field umpire, as the first umpires' instructor.
Footscray, Hawthorn and North Melbourne Football
Radio descriptions introduced during the finals.
Club membership ticket holders no longer freely admitted to finals matches.
Goal umpires first required to compare scores at the end of each quarter.
Aug 16: League officially moved into Spring St headquarters and named it Harrison House.
'Coulter Law' adopted, restricting payments to players.
Brownlow Medal 3-2-1 voting system introduced.
System of determining percentage altered.
South Melbourne's Bob Pratt booted a record 150 goals in 21 matches.
July 4: Round 10 matches postponed seven days because of flooded grounds.
Ninth Australian Football Carnival held in Perth, won by Victoria.
Aug 26: Round 18 matches postponed seven days because of flooded grounds.
Payments to players and staff cut in half because of the war.
Geelong did not compete due to World War Two restrictions.
Bottom club St Kilda ceased competition after Round 11 due to League ruling.
Geelong rejoined the competition.
Law changed to allow two substitutes, creating 20th man position.
Players' advocates first permitted to defend players at Tribunal hearings.
Eleventh Australian Football Championships in Brisbane, won by Victoria.
McClelland Trophy introduced for the club recording the most senior, reserves and under-19s match points.
June 14–16: Nineteen home and away rounds played to include extra round in interstate and country centres.
Geelong won a League record 23 consecutive matches spread over two seasons.
Clubs allowed to use on-field coach's runner for the first time.
Thirteenth Australian Football Championships in Perth, won by Victoria.
Last quarters of League matches televised live.
Centenary of Australian Football.
Reserve Grade matches first played as 'curtain raisers' to seniors.
April 23: Round two postponed due to torrential rain. Two of the matches played Anzac Day and remainder the next Saturday.
TV stations no longer permitted to show live telecasts or replays. Replay of Grand Final allowed
TV stations now permitted to show replays of League matches.
July 13: Round 10 matches postponed seven days because of flooded grounds.
Coaches first permitted to enter arena at quarter time to address players.
Sixteenth Australian Football Championships played in Hobart, won by Victoria.
Brownlow Medal vote-reading system changed to third being read first and first votes read last.
Zoning introduced whereby Victoria and Riverina divided into areas and allocated to League clubs.
Seventeenth Australian Football Championships played in Adelaide, won by Victoria.
April 5: Fitzroy defeated Richmond in the first League match played on a Sunday.
Night Series competition based at the Lake Oval played for the last time.
Feb 23: New League headquarters opened in Jolimont Street.
Ten-year automatic clearance rule introduced. In May it was rescinded.
Clubs permitted to adopt coloured shorts for introduced colour television coverage.
Two field umpires first used in League matches.
Night Series competition reintroduced.
Oct 1: Presentation of premiership medallions to players immediately after the Grand Final introduced.
Clubs permitted to interchange players for the first time in premiership matches.
Two VFL matches for premiership points played in Sydney and telecast directly in Victoria.
July 28: Fitzroy defeated Melbourne at Waverley Park by a League record 190 points.
Four VFL matches played in Sydney.
Three VFL home and away rounds played interstate, two in Sydney, one in Brisbane.
South Melbourne relocated to Sydney.
VFL forced to redraft regulations following successful court challenge by Silvio Foschini to be granted a clearance.
VFL Commission formed.
Independent VFL Commission became the decision-making body.
Introduction of 50-metre arc ground markings.
West Coast FC and Brisbane FC admitted to the competition.
Emergency umpires empowered to report players.
Abolition of Victorian Metropolitan Country Zoning.
Jan 1: The VFL renamed as the AFL (Australian Football League).
Adelaide FC admitted to the competition.
Sept 28: Michael Tuck (Hawthorn) made his farewell appearance in his League record 426th match.
MCG colour video scoreboard first used for AFL matches.
Introduction of three field umpire system.
Third interchange player permitted in AFL matches.
Fremantle FC admitted to the competition.
Sept 1: Fitzroy played its last AFL match.
Port Adelaide FC admitted to the competition.
Fourth interchange player permitted in AFL matches.
North Melbourne renamed the Kangaroos.
March 9: Docklands Stadium hosted its first AFL match – Essendon defeated Port Adelaide.
April 12: Essendon's League record of 31 consecutive rounds on top of ladder finally ended.
May 25: Stadium Australia hosted its first AFL match, Sydney v Essendon attracting 54,129 spectators (first match attendance of 50,000 or more outside Victoria).
June 13–15: AFL matches played in six different states/territories in the same round for the first time.
August 14: Western Bulldogs played a home match against Port Adelaide at Marrara Oval, Darwin. Matches were played in seven different States/Territories for the first time.
A revamped Tribunal system, including a Match Review Panel, was implemented.
Carrara resurrected as an AFL venue.
AFL record aggregate attendance record for a Premiership season was established: 7,049,945 for 185 matches.
Did you know?
The first football fields were rectangular, large and often had trees spotted around the ground. Sometimes the trees were the goals.
The game was called footy in the 1850s. It became known as Victorian Rules when it spread to the other states in the 1870s. In the early twentieth century, with the formation of the Australasian Football Council as the national governing body, which at the time included New Zealand, it was officially called the Australasian Game of Football which evolved to Australian Football.
For several years the captains acted as umpires. Players wore caps and kicked a round ball. There was no set playing time. The first team to score two goals was declared the winner. Many early games ended when it got dark or because of quarrels. Sometimes the game stopped because the footy burst – footballs were way too expensive for spares to be kept on hand.
One of the first games to be reported was played on and after 7 August 1858 between Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College. It was played in the park outside where the Melbourne Cricket Ground is today, on a ground about 600 metres long. After four hours it grew dark, with the scores level at one goal each. The teams played for a total of a further eight hours over another two Saturdays, but no further goals were scored and the game was declared a draw.
Until organised competition began in the 1860s, players wore any form of clothing which identified them as team members. Proper uniforms were adopted during the 1870s.
At first, lace-up canvas guernseys, long trousers with socks and high leather boots were common. Gradually, the trousers became shorter and woollen guernseys complete with roll necks became fashionable. Later, some players wore sleeveless guernseys.
Boots were equipped with leather stops (studs) from the early days. During the late 1950s, plastic stops and soles were introduced. Soon after, some players began wearing low-cut style boots to allow extra speed.
From the early days the boots had hard toes, often strengthened with an inner metal cap, which made contact with other players dangerous. In the early 1970s soft-toed boots were introduced. These lighter boots made for even greater speed without detracting from kicking power.
About the same time, synthetic fabrics came into use for guernseys and shorts. Lace-up guernseys were again popular for a time in 1970s until they were banned because of the risk of finger injuries to opponents when tackling.
The first written rules of Football, May 1858
(Copied from the hand written document in the possession of the Melbourne Cricket Club)