The murky origins of Australia’s football codes

I’m heading south on a date with sports history. As we cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge, most of my fellow bus passengers look up from their mobile phones to take in the vista that has opened up. Even if I’ve seen it a million times, I can’t help staring at the harbour; the water a steel grey in the early morning light.

The dark foliage of the Royal Botanic Garden frames Farm Cove, where warships on the Royal Navy’s Australia Station, such as HMS Rosario, used to moor in the nineteenth century. Between the Bridge and Fort Denison, I count four ferries on the harbour. One of them arcs past the Opera House headed towards Sydney Cove, on the same trajectory as a convict transport 200 years ago.

As we come off the bridge into the CBD proper, there’s an enormous cruise ship alongside the Overseas Passenger Terminal. Its passengers disembark at almost the same spot where convicts of the First Fleet, accompanied by their red-coated guards, stepped ashore in 1788.

Wynyard Square circa 1897

Wynyard Square circa 1897. (Image: State Library of NSW, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The bus stops at Wynyard Park. It’s a rare thing in Sydney, this green space. Unlike the commuters scurrying off to the steel and glass office buildings nearby, this is my destination. Because if sport is your religion, and you worship any of the codes of football played in Australia, this park is holy ground!

Last year, I wrote a piece on the beginnings of rugby league in Australia – ‛All Blacks, All Blues, All Golds: The birth of Australian Rugby League’.

It got me thinking about the origins of the other codes of football in this country. Where could I find the roots to Australian football, rugby union and association football? What was there before these sports existed? If I wanted to know more, how far back would I have to go?

The only solution was to start at the very beginning of European settlement in 1788 and trace forwards.

This is not meant to be an academic treatise, merely the musings of a sports lover using newspaper archives, with a few diversions thrown in, in an attempt chronicle the origins of Australia’s football codes. So I would encourage you to join me on the journey and maybe we can even have some fun along the way.

The story begins with those infamous red-coated soldiers.

The first mention I could find of the word ‘football’ in an Australian newspaper was in a poem published in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser on August 24, 1816:

“Now for my part, I think the thing needs no dispute
That’s as hard to defend as it is to refute,
That’s uncertain as foot-ball which side shall obtain,
While the wreath to the victor requites not his pain;”

The use of the term ‘football’ (or ‘foot-ball’) as a metaphor for something being kicked, bounced around or as an uncertain outcome becomes more common in succeeding years. It shows that football as a pastime must have been familiar to the earliest European settlers.

But what about people actually playing the game? The first mention is in the Australian newspaper on 24 July, 1829. It describes football being played by the red-coated soldiers:

“The privates and others of the garrison have lately been amusing themselves more than usual in the ordinary practice with football, in the Barrack-square, and a healthful exercise is foot-ball.”

The wording “more than usual” suggests football might have been played by soldiers in the past. But was there something special about this game? It appears so, because it was covered by all three of Sydney’s newspapers within a day of each other.

drawing of George St Barracks

George St, Barracks, 1842. Picture by John Rae. Credit: Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales

The Sydney Monitor described the event thusly:

“The privates in the barracks are in the habit of amusing themselves with the game of foot-ball; the ball may be daily descried repeatedly mounting higher or lower, according to the skill and energy of the military kickers thereof.”

What type of football were they playing? The description suggests a kicking (as opposed to running) game, and the “higher or lower, according to the skill” could be a reference to punt kicking.

And just who were these soldier-footballers? The Sydney Gazette noted that “The 57th and the 39th are Irish regiments.”

Irish? I was drawn to an article published by the Belfast Media Group in 2013 on research carried out by John Lynch, an Irish historian. Lynch said that “Between 1830-1878 on average the Irish made up 28 per cent of the [British] army.”

The incentive for an Irishman to enlist was a basic one – they “were given clothes and three meals a day.” What’s more, the Irish soldiers never served in Ireland but were sent away to colonies in the West Indies, and no doubt, New South Wales.

The 57th and 39th regiments served in Ireland for six years prior to being despatched to New South Wales – enough time to recruit a fair percentage of Irish privates. The Hobart Town Gazette in 1826 informed its readers that “The remainder of the 39th has marched to Cork, for the purpose of embarking in transports for New South Wales.”

Our pioneering 1829 football article in the Sydney Gazette mentioned these soldiers were playing their “native game.” The native game of Ireland? Were these soldiers playing a form of Gaelic football?

In 1832, an indignant church-goer wrote a letter to the Sydney Herald:

“Last Sunday, during Divine Service, a large batch of youngsters were eagerly engaged in playing at foot-ball in Hyde Park. Have they [the police] no power to prevent the disgraceful pitched battles that take place weekly in the neighbourhood;”

It sounds like those early games were rough. And Sydney was a rough place. In 1820, almost 40 per cent of the white population were convicts and the colony was still receiving convicts until 1840.

I wonder what those convict-era footballers were thinking when they fronted up to Mrs Hordern’s store in King Street in December 1838. Mrs Hordern was the first retailer to advertise foot-balls for sale and even suggested they would make good Christmas gifts.

Perhaps using one of Mrs Hordern’s foot-balls, a group of Irishmen were recorded playing football in Hyde Park in 1840. The game was just as rough as it had ever been. The occasion was the Queen’s Birthday holiday and it was described in the Sydney Herald:

“A number of Irishmen assembled in Hyde Park to give the Colonists a specimen of the game of hurling, which as usual, terminated in a row. There was also a game of football attempted which also gave rise to sundry scuffles and broken shins to boot.”

Through the 1840s, football in Sydney was played on festival days or notable public holidays. For instance, on the Queen’s Birthday in 1846, celebrations among the military included a blindfold wheelbarrow race and a game of football between the grenadier and light companies.

On Boxing Day, 1849, there was a sports day at Penrith Racecourse. According to Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer, the day featured horse racing, a cricket match, and “a match at football between ten crack players.”

On the verge of the gold rush era, football seemed to take a hiatus in Sydney. It is worthwhile then, turning our attention to other parts of Australia.

Close up of an illustration of a festival day at Balmoral, Sydney, 1870, showing people playing football

Close up of an illustration of a festival day at Balmoral, Sydney, 1870, showing people playing football. From the Illustrated Sydney News. (Credit: Trove, National Library of Australia)

European settlement in Tasmania began in 1803-04 with the establishment of convict settlements at Hobart and on the Tamar River near modern-day Launceston.

In 1836, the government considered selling the public land in Hobart known as the Government Domain. The Hobart Town Courier railed against the sale:

“Where else are our young men to breathe fresh air and recreate from the indoor toil of a long day? Do you interdict cricket, foot ball, golf, and all other outdoor and national amusements?”

So there is a suggestion that football was played in the Government Domain in Hobart. But are there more concrete examples?

An article from the Cornwall Chronicle in 1840 looks promising:

“Thomas Marshall, who without doubt thought himself a humorous customer, was charged with killing time in the pleasing recreation of football, using the ribs and trucks of Henry Boyle, for that purpose, who grievously complained of the sensation he experienced.”

Ouch! That’s not quite the reference I was after – although I’m pleased to report Tom Marshall was fined five shillings for his red card worthy offence.

Like in Sydney, football was played on holidays and days of celebration. The Courier, in early 1848, noted that the patrons at the Tee-Totallers annual festival “danced on the green to the music of the band; while the more masculine engaged in playing at foot-ball and other old English sports.”

At the Catholic Tee-Total society gathering on Boxing Day 1848, the Hobarton Guardian reported the amusements included “dancing, hurling, foot-ball,” and, just in case that didn’t catch your fancy, “running for a pig.”

By 1866, football in Tasmania had become more organised when the first clubs were formed: New Town FC and Hobart Town FC in the south, Launceston FC in the north. The first match played between club sides was on the 26 July 1866 when G. Wright kicked New Town’s only goal in a 1-0 victory over Hobart Town.

The match was played on the Government Domain, which had not been sold off after all.

Football came to South Australia just a few years after Europeans arrived in 1836. A newspaper report in the South Australian Register in 1843 referred to Irish colonists celebrating St Patrick’s Day:

“Yesterday, being St Patrick’s Day, the natives of the Emerald Isle kept their usual anniversary by a game of football in the neighbourhood of the City Market, Thebarton, after which an ox was roasted whole.”

I’m not sure how the night ended up, but the Register went on to say that “they regaled themselves and their families in genuine Irish style.”

A football club was formed in 1860, only a year after the first club in Melbourne. Known as the Adelaide Football Club, the members met on the North Adelaide Park Lands and formed sides according to whether they lived north or south of the River Torrens.

The matches continued throughout the 1860s with increasing patronage. Soon the teams had developed uniforms of sorts: North playing in blue caps and South in pink. Blue and pink flags were hung from the goalposts. Large crowds turned up and it was a place to be seen. Among the spectators were the cream of Adelaide society, including such dignitaries as William Younghusband, the Governor of South Australia.

Football had a carnival-like atmosphere and games were often accompanied by music. The South Australian Register in 1860 stated that “during the afternoon, Schraeder’s brass band played some enlivening airs and contributed to the gayness of the scene.”

The Port Adelaide Football Club was formed in 1870 and still exists as an AFL (and SANFL) club. The need for a standard set of rules led to the establishment of the South Australian Football Association in 1877. The rules adopted were those of the Victorian football clubs. And it is to Victoria we now turn.

The MCG in 1898

The Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1878, photographed by Charles Nettleton. (Public domain image)

In 1803, an attempt was made to start a convict settlement near modern day Melbourne. It was not a success. Some of the convicts, including one William Buckley, escaped. The settlement was moved to Tasmania instead.

When the first permanent European settlers arrived back in the Melbourne area in 1835, they were met by a large group of Indigenous Australians. In the group was a shaggy-haired white man. It was none other than William Buckley, a man who no-one had given a chance to still be alive after 32 years.

No-one would have given Melbourne ‘Buckley’s chance’ of having a population of half a million and its very own football code just 25 years later.

The first account of a football match I came across was advertised in the Melbourne Daily News on 29 March, 1850. It was a day that promised a “Grand foot-ball match for a silver watch.” If football wasn’t your thing you could witness Australia’s only German-born conjurer, Monsieur Festot, perform his “celebrated trick of hatching eggs in a bag.”

In November 1850, Melbournians were in party mode. The occasion was the passing of a bill in British Parliament creating the new colony of Victoria, which until that stage had been part of New South Wales. Four days were given over to Separation celebrations.

The climax to this celebration of Victorian-ness was a game of football – washed down with “a supply of beer for the million on the ground.”

In the night, houses all over Melbourne were illuminated; “even the most dirty hovels in the most dirty of all the dirty lanes in the city” according to the Age. There were bonfires, fireworks and rockets, tar barrels were set on fire in open spaces, and from all over the city ‘reports of firearms resounded for some hours.’

A gymnastics day was held on the last day of festivities. There was a programme of old English sports, which included climbing a greasy pole to reach a top hat with a prize of £1 in it, and chasing a pig with a greasy tail, where the prize was the pig. The last event of the day was a 12-a-side game of foot-ball, won easily by a team led by a Mr Barry.

It is noteworthy that the climax to this celebration of Victorian-ness was a game of football – washed down with “a supply of beer for the million on the ground.”

Just a year after the separation festivities, Melbourne had become one of the world’s biggest boomtowns. The discovery of gold near Ballarat and Bendigo triggered a gold rush that increased the population of Victoria from 80,000 to 540,000 in just ten years.

After the easily won alluvial gold began to run out, many of the new arrivals drifted back to Melbourne.

In 1857, an event in the world of literature had a far-reaching impact on the popularity of football. It was the publication of Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes. The book, about a boy from the prestigious Rugby School in England, was a best-seller throughout the English-speaking world. With depictions of football as played at Rugby School, and its emphasis on manly, physical sports, it would have struck a chord with young men across Australia, including Melbourne, bursting at the seams with young men back from the goldfields.

When describing the appeal of football to its readers, the Argus newspaper said, “Let those who fancy there is little in the game, read the account of one of the rugby matches which is detailed in that most readable work, ‘Tom Brown’s School Days,’ and they will speedily alter their opinion.”

No doubt Tom Wills from Melbourne would have read it. Wills, a football enthusiast and a more than handy cricketer, had attended Rugby School as a youngster. At one stage he captained the school’s cricket team.

In 1858, when Tom Brown’s School Days was running off bookshelves across the country, Wills composed a letter to a newspaper.

Tom Wills c. 1863.

Tom Wills c. 1863. (Public domain image)

It says something about our culture that two of the most famous letters of Australian literature are from an outlaw (Ned Kelly’s ‘Jerilderie Letter’,) and another urging Australians to take up a sport.

Wills’ letter exhorting Victorian cricketers to form a football club was published in Bells Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle, on 10 July 1858, under the heading ‘Winter Practice’. It was an attempt to help Victoria’s cricketers keep trim in the winter months. Wills didn’t hold back with the language. He decried the cricketers who were “inclined to become stout and having their joints encased in superabundant flesh.”

To be honest, Tom Wills’ exhortations were almost half-hearted. He even gave the cricketers a choice. If they weren’t interested in football, Wills suggested they should at least form a rifle club. This had the added advantage of preparing cricketers in case “they may be some day called upon to aid their adopted land against a tyrant’s band.”

Wills signed off by saying that he hoped the cricketers “formed either of the above clubs,” and for good measure, “or, at any rate, some athletic games. I remain, yours truly, T.W. WILLS.”

But the cricketers chose footballs over rifles and preparations were made for the playing of some games, the first of which was a series of three matches between the students of Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College. They were played in the Richmond Paddock, with Tom Wills one of the referees.

The next year, 1859, the Melbourne Football Club became the first football club to be formed in Australia and a set of rules was drawn up. Tom Wills was instrumental in all these early developments. The new sport of Australian football had been born, and the rest, as they say, is history.

According to historian Tony Collins in his book, The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby, Australian football was ‘the first type of football to become a mass spectator sport anywhere in the world.’

The excitement created by football in Victoria spread to other parts of Australia. Even Sydney’s lethargic footballers were getting itchy feet.

Illustration of Football in Richmond Paddock

When Sydney’s winter sportsmen awoke from their slumber in 1865, much had changed in the football landscape. Tom Brown’s School Days had been released, the sport of Australian football had been established, and in England, a schism had occurred that led to the creation of the Football Association in London. The first rules of association football, or soccer, were published in 1863.

The members of Sydney’s first football clubs now had a choice between three rule sets. The first club, the Sydney Football Club, was formed at a meeting in a sports store called Lawrence’s Cricket Depot on 30 May, 1865. It is thought that the rules they chose were the ‘Laws of Football as played at Rugby’ which had appeared in the 1863 yearbook of the Albert Cricket Club, a club to which many of the Sydney players belonged.

Also in 1865, the Australian Cricket Club formed a football team and the two sides began playing games in Hyde Park. These are regarded as being the first club rugby matches played in Australia.

Later in 1865, Sydney FC played a new opponent – Sydney University. This was the first newspaper mention of University playing the game. And this is where things get murky. On the badge of a Sydney University jersey, it says 1863, yet contemporary articles clearly state that the Sydney Football Club of 1865 was the first football club in Sydney. Perhaps no-one will ever know the true story.

In the following year, the Sydney Football Club announced they were going to play under Victorian rules. They played matches against the Australian Club, which often ended acrimoniously. University was the sole torchbearer for rugby until 1870, when Wallaroo, a club with a strong rugby ethos, was formed.

In 1865, the Australian Cricket Club formed a football team and the two sides began playing games in Hyde Park. These are regarded as being the first club rugby matches played in Australia.

Sydney’s dalliance with the Victorian game was not over. And it was a desire to see an intercolonial football contest that nearly tipped the balance against rugby.

Redfern Oval, just a long punt kick from the city of Sydney proper, is synonymous with the sport of rugby league. Many still regard it as the spiritual home of the NRL’s South Sydney Rabbitohs.

But 140 years ago, the place went by a different name: the Albert Ground. During the winter of 1877, it was the scene of two of the more intriguing games in Australia’s football history.

The first match, on 23 June 1877, was a game of rugby featuring the Waratah club from Sydney. Nothing unusual about that. Their opponent, however, was the Carlton Football Club from Melbourne.

The following week the two teams met under the rules of Victorian football. Not surprisingly, Waratah won the rugby match and Carlton won the Victorian rules match.

The games were well attended and demonstrated that not only had Sydney’s sporting public and players enjoyed an inter-colonial contest, but they had developed a taste for the Victorian game.

These games directly led to the formation of the New South Wales Football Association (playing Victorian rules) in 1880, and the loyalty of Sydney’s sports fans hung in the balance.

It wasn’t until 1882, when New South Wales began playing inter-colonial rugby matches against Queensland, that rugby established its preeminence among the football codes of New South Wales.

Action from the Waratah v Carlton game in 1877
Illustration of A festival day at Balmoral, Sydney, 1870

On 20 January 1849, a challenge in the form of an advertisement in the Moreton Bay Courier was issued to “The Sporting Blades of Brisbane” from “The Lads of Kangaroo Point.” They let it be known they would “challenge all-comers to a game of Foot Ball.” I couldn’t determine if any blades took up the lads’ challenge but it does show that football in Brisbane goes back a long way.

For a state so historically strong in the rugby codes, it comes as a surprise that Queensland was originally an Australian football state. The Brisbane Football Club was founded in 1866 using the Victorian rules that were widely published at the time. The dominance of Australian football was first challenged in 1876 when the Rangers club was established under rugby rules.

Adding to the confusion, in the same year, the Petrie Terrace Football Club was formed under association football rules – making it probably the earliest association football club in Australia. Petrie Terrace FC proved short-lived, though. It changed its name to Bonnet Rouge and switched to rugby.

Rugby struggled to gain a foothold and the clubs switched back to Australian football before playing both it and rugby in the same season. But in 1883, another footballing challenge was issued in Queensland. This time it was the rugby players of New South Wales who accepted. The first inter-colonial game of rugby held in Queensland was played at Eagle Farm racecourse and was a 12-11 win for the home side.

Buoyed by the success of the inter-colonial match, a rugby association known as the Northern Rugby Union was established, eventually becoming the Queensland Rugby Union in 1893.

Where does the sport of association football fit into this story? It is commonly held that the first game of association football in Australia was between the Wanderers club of Sydney and a team from The King’s School, Parramatta. It was played at the school on 14 August 1880 and won 5-0 by the Wanderers. But association football-like games were played earlier than this.

In 1879, the Cricketer’s Club of Hobart was formed as an association football club. In the Cornwall Chronicle, Captain Boddam even took a swipe at the Victorian game “which was not football but more the handball played by girls at school.”

When football clubs with different rules played against each other, the accepted practice was for the home club’s rules to apply. So it was that on 6 June 1879, the first match under association football rules in Tasmania took place when Cricketer’s FC hosted New Town FC and played out a 0-0 draw.

When football clubs with different rules played against each other, the accepted practice was for the home club’s rules to apply.

An association football match of sorts was played in Brisbane in 1875 between Brisbane FC and the inmates and wardens of the Woogaroo Asylum. Notably, the rules were altered so that “the ball should not be handled nor carried.” It was a kicking-only game of football but still rough as hell; several players were “denuded of their upper garments.”

In the remarkable football season in South Australia in 1873, the clubs originally agreed to play by the rules of the English Football Association. The first game under these rules was between Port Adelaide and Kensington, on 5 July 1873.

Kensington won the match 1-0; the goal was a free kick by F. Perry, which controversially deflected off the crossbar (which wouldn’t have counted under the old rules). Port Adelaide are not only one of the oldest Australian Football clubs in the country but could have a claim on being one of the oldest association football clubs as well.

On 5 June 1869, the Newcastle Chronicle announced that a football match would be played: “This is, we believe, the first football match that has ever taken place in Newcastle.”

The game was played by a team of 11 against a team of eight; far less than the 15 to 20-a-side games of football played elsewhere. Another game – this one a ten-a-side version – was reported the following week. What code was it? It is hard to be certain from the reports. A potential match winning goal was disallowed for going ‘over’ the goal.

In 1869, when Sydney University was left with no local teams to play, the students played two football matches against the crew of HMS Rosario, freshly back from intercepting a blackbirding shipment of Pacific Islanders bound for the Queensland cane fields. The games were played in the Domain, not far from the Botanic Gardens, and within sight of the ship moored in Farm Cove.

A football game in Victoria c.1890

A football game in Victoria c.1890 featuring goals with what looks to be a crossbar. (Credit: State Library of Victoria)

Big crowds turned out, including women watching from the balconies of the fashionable houses in Macquarie Street. According to Bell’s Life and Sporting Chronicle, in the first match, the Rosario players’ understanding of the rules “directly opposed many of the rules under which the University usually play, the latter adhering closely to the rugby code.”

In the return match, “a capital kick by one of the seamen sent the ball straight between the University goal posts, but just above the bar.” Later in the game, “the ball was twice kicked between the Rosario’s goal posts, but above the bar. The game eventually concluded without either side obtaining a goal.”

In this second match, a score had to be made under the bar; definitely not the standard rugby practice of kicking over the bar.

Even as far back as 1859 in Melbourne, on the eve of the formation of the Melbourne Football club, rules of games were still murky. In the first match of the season, Bell’s Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle reported that “some of the parties engaged following out the practice of catching and holding the ball, while others strenuously objected to it, contending that the ball should never be lifted from the ground otherwise than by foot.”

So it seems that predominantly kicking games have been around since even before Mrs Hordern started selling footballs for Christmas.

There is much common language in the reports of early football in Australia. Scoring was always by means of kicking the ball through goal posts, with or without a crossbar. Even in rugby, scoring was by a goal kicked from the field or a ‘try for goal’ after a touch-down (think modern day conversion).

Teams usually changed ends after a score and matches were almost always low scoring. Some degree of handling was common; even the first rules of association football in 1863 allowed for a ‘fair catch’ or mark, but you could not handle a ball on the ground.

When reading these accounts, it is never completely clear what type of football is being played. Is it rugby, Australian football or association football that the reporter is describing? Perhaps a game could have elements of all three. It is hardly surprising that there were frequent disputes over the rules.

For casual spectators in those days, all football matches probably looked the same with their ‘goals’, ‘scrimmages’, and everybody’s favourite, ‘spills.’ Pinning down precisely when one code begins is difficult. The origins of Australia’s football codes are murky indeed.

Wynard Park Sydney

Wynyard Park in Sydney’s CBD. The birthplace of Australia’s football codes? (Image: Paul Nicholls)

It’s been some journey. From chasing squealing pigs to shimmying up greasy poles for a hatful of cash. From a letter fat-shaming Melbourne’s cricketers into taking up football to poor Henry Boyle getting the shit kicked out of him in a back lane of Old Hobart Town. We’ve heard Schraeder’s brass band entertaining patrons in Adelaide and watched in trepidation as Brisbane’s footballers took on the half naked inmates of Woogaroo Asylum. We’ve had rowdy footballers in Hyde Park disturbing churchgoers, and, finally, to red-coated soldiers playing a sport perhaps resembling Gaelic football, in the military barracks in Sydney.

Which brings me to the reason I’m here at Wynyard Park. Walking south for another block yields a clue. You come to a street running east-west that intersects George Street not far from Martin Place. This is Barrack Street – named for the huge military compound that once stood here.

A thick wall, ten feet high, enclosed the area bounded by Barrack, George, Margaret and Clarence Streets. The wall, built with convict labour in Governor Macquarie’s time, was at once a means of fortification and a psychological barrier isolating the military from the civilian population. Macquarie had good reason to be wary of soldiers involving themselves in civilian affairs. It was from this very barracks that Australia’s one and only military coup was launched in 1808, overthrowing the governor, William Bligh.

The open space at Wynyard Park is essentially a remnant of the parade ground of the old military barracks. It is a space shared in spirit by all of Australia’s football codes. If I was to build an altar to football here, where would I put it? There’s a statue of politician John Dunmore Lang in a likely spot.

Perhaps it was near here that privates from the barracks were first observed playing at foot-ball by reporters from three Sydney newspapers on a winter’s day in 1829. It seems as good a place as any.

Considering the murky origins of Australia’s football codes, it’s only fitting that JD Lang has a pigeon on his head.

Written by Paul Nicholls.

Paul is a Sydney-based writer with a particular interest in the history and culture of sport. He originally wrote a number of long essays on The Roar under the pen name, 70s Mo. You can follow him on Twitter @70s_Mo.

Editing and layout by Daniel Jeffrey

Lead image and image of Richmond Paddock are both credit State Library of Victoria.

Wide images of Carlton vs Waratah football match and Balmoral festival are both credit Trove, National Library of Australia.

Comments (91)

Leave a Reply

  • AR said | August 10th 2017 @ 6:52am

    What a wonderful article…and many of us are *still* squabbling over the rules!


    • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:15pm

      Cheers AR!

  • I ate pies said | August 10th 2017 @ 7:31am

    Fascinating. I never knew that the 3 codes of football were so intertwined in the early days.

    • sheek said | August 10th 2017 @ 1:54pm


      Even rugby was so fluid in its early days, that from reading many other articles, characteristics all present in rugby before the laws were codified, found their way into other codes. For example:

      1. At one time the ‘kick to kick’ was popular & found its way into Australian football, as the basis of that game.

      2. The ‘down rule’ was also popular at one time, & translated into ‘play the ball’ in league while being the basis underpinning American football.

      The game was so fluid that rugby union is lying if it attempts to boast in any way it owned the original characteristics of rugby.

      It only owned some of them, not necessarily much more than anyone else.

  • Benjamin Conkey said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:31am

    Great read Paul. I’ll pause and reflect on those early ‘foot-ball’ matches when I’m standing in Hyde Park for the City to Surf on Sunday morning.

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:16pm

      Cheers Ben – don’t blame a bad performance on too much ‘reflecting’ – enjoy the run

  • Daniel Jeffrey said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:35am

    Thanks for this Paul – a pleasure to read

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:17pm

      Cheers Daniel and a big thank you for putting this all together.

  • marron said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:52am

    Thanks Mo for another great article.

    A couple of small minor minor points of interest

    – the wynyard football reference – i seem to remember that the way that this is described is that it was most likely “keepy-uppy”.

    -wills’ letter – the idea of keeping cricketers fit – his tongue was firmly planted in his cheek. If you read the language, he is taking the mickey completely. Yes, he wants to encourage young men to play football, let’s get it going – but he’s doing it in an amusing way rather than with a serious tone.

    Anyway – a terrific read.

    The lines were blurred, the games were very different. Oh for a time machine!

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:18pm

      Cheers Marron. I do think Tom Wills really had his finger on the sporting pulse of Melbourne.

      • Perry Bridge said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:10am

        Wills is a very interesting character. In part over credited perhaps – however – he was the ultimate sports competitive beast and his on field exploits both at football and cricket deserve greater recognition. He was however no administrator. More of an ideas man and seemingly driven by the lure of the weekend, the next match (for whomever as it turned out).

    • Hayden said | August 11th 2017 @ 7:20pm

      I wouldn’t say Wills was taking the mickey, it was just his writing style. From his Wikipedia page: “As a young adult back in Australia, Wills developed a peculiar stream of consciousness style of writing that sometimes defied syntax and grammar.[262] His letters are laced with puns, oblique classical and Shakespearean allusions, and droll asides, such as this one about Melbourne in a letter to his brother Cedric: “Everything is dull here, but people are kept alive by people getting shot at in the streets”.[263] The overall effect is one of “a mind full of energy and histrionic ideas without a centre”.[264]”

      His biographer Gregory de Moore speculates that Wills had bipolar illness or something similar, which caused him to write in such a way and probably contributed to his creativity on the sporting field as well.

  • Peter said | August 10th 2017 @ 9:43am

    Awesome read, amazing research. The irony is that we still can’t agree on some of the rules!

  • BrainsTrust said | August 10th 2017 @ 10:17am

    The primitive football would have had no rules apart from get the ball to the goal which would have been one side of the village . Then when you scale it down to a small field and limited players you have issues.
    If it anything goes and limited players you would get it down the other end by just passing it forward while running it down.
    If you have the whole village there is enough players to make that a contest but it might be boring otherwise.
    So initially when they tried to make a field version they would introduce various restrictions, a set of posts or trees to limit the goal are, and on running and passing the ball.
    Maybe in some areas they would have banned running while holding the ball ,other places you could go a limited distance or steps, and you could regenerate the limit by either bouncing the ball or tapping it on the ground.
    As far as passing with the hand some might have banned it all together others would have allowed handballs etc
    Football of these forms would have been around for yonks before Australia was colonised by the British but the rules would have been different in every region but I think would have been all on the lines of Caid, AFL and Gaelic football.
    Then in 1800’s some different concepts were being introduced, the offside rule was the key concept in rugby’s formation , it was possible to defend unrestricted running because the ball could not go to a player ahead of the play so a line of defence could be formed. Then you can allow backward passing back in.
    The other line of evolution would have been dependent on ball development banning the use of the hands altogether with a regular round ball along with the invention of the lawn mower leading to the modern form of football.
    Late 1800’s you have NFL developing from rugby, and they have the offside rule applying at the start of the snap and then to make it more interesting after it was a boring run fest they ironically re-introduced the forward pass
    Because they only allowed one forward pass per play then they develop a distinctive passing style aiming to get maximum advantage from the one forward pass allowed,
    and a specialist in that type of forward pass.

  • jock said | August 10th 2017 @ 11:31am

    great read thanks paul. as a kiwi its interesting to see how the different codes developed in the 19th century

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:20pm

      Cheers Jock!

  • republican said | August 10th 2017 @ 12:40pm

    …….no mention of Marngrook or the Gaelic games influences, so this is another provocative history code wars piece to my mind……..

    • marron said | August 10th 2017 @ 5:26pm

      Quite the reverse really.

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:26pm

      Good pick up on the Marngrook, republican. All I can say is that if there was a Marngrook influence it wasn’t mentioned in the mainstream media of the day – and for the most part the article is about the public narrative.

    • Blue said | October 24th 2017 @ 9:39pm

      GAA wasn’t codifed at that time, and contemporary documents show that any influence from “Marngrook” was tangential at best.

      There are primary documents that clearly outline the history – anything else is just tinfoil hat stuff.

  • republican said | August 10th 2017 @ 12:51pm

    ……the Gaelic games, not yet codified but very prominent throughout the east, courtesy of the huge Irish diaspora, undoubtedly influenced the indigenous code, even moreso than those mentioned here………

    • matth said | August 10th 2017 @ 3:56pm

      I’m not so sure of that. I read a book recently by Geoffrey Blainey that showed just how few Irish players were involved int he first few seasons of football in Melbourne and how the rules were originally much more like Rugby, before evolving into the game we now see in the next decades. Just because the games look similar is not proof that one developed from the other.

      • marron said | August 10th 2017 @ 5:18pm

        The point would be not so much that the original rules were like rugby and then evolved into something different, but that they AND rugby were originally something closer together (soccer as well), and they ALL evolved in different ways.

      • republican said | August 10th 2017 @ 7:42pm

        …..ah, the world according to Geoffrey Blainey.
        History is written and interpreted subjectively while it is as much about what is NOT written as is.
        GB has always represented the status quo that is British truth be told………

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:31pm

      Republican: On the Gaelic influence. There’s actually a fair bit of Irish type of football mentioned in the article – I think there is an argument that Gaelic games had some influence on the popularity of “football”

      • republican said | August 11th 2017 @ 5:47pm

        ……….’football’ what an ambiguous term, to be sure Paul……

      • Blue said | October 24th 2017 @ 10:41pm

        I doubt the rabidly racist, avowedly anti-Catholic MCC would have given the Gaelic code much thought at all. It’s hard to imagine how sectarian Australia was at that time, and clubs like the MCC are lucky that this is the case.

    • Perry Bridge said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:26am

      In the very early days – in Melbourne for instance – I think it is clear there were not many Irish involved in the MCC (Melb Cricket Club).
      The MFC was formed from the MCC – the rules committee of May 1859 included Hammersley (son of an Englishman), Thompson (both had attended Trinity College – Cambridge), Wills (attended Rugby school), Bryant (the publican and MCC member who provided balls and must have been involved – had played cricket as a pro for Surrey)…..and then Tom Smith – the Irishman.
      So – was there a Gaelic influence via he? Gaelic was more an idea than a coded sport.
      Thompson the journalist brought the rules of Rugby, Eton, Harrow and Winchester schools.
      The ‘idea’ vs any specific definitive link. Had any of these fellows directly witnessed a military unit have a game at ‘foot-ball’? Even Tom Brown’s School Days – describes more the idea of playing at ‘foot-ball’ than the specifics.
      The specifics were tried and experimented with in Melbourne and the idea was moulded into something tangible.
      But moving on from there – only those with the time to play – could play. And not everyone yet had a Sat arvo off.
      What was most significant in Melb of 1859 onwards was the development of true community football.

  • DB said | August 10th 2017 @ 1:18pm

    “which was not football but more the handball played by girls at school.”

    I knew soccer threw the first stone.

  • John McElroy said | August 10th 2017 @ 1:20pm

    Mate, how could you leave out where VFL or AFL originated ?
    Look up Marn Grook or marngrook, a Victorian Aboriginal game observed where a stuffed ball was kicked & where the ball hardly ever touched the ground !
    The Kulin people of Victoria had been playing the early version of Aussie rules for a few thousand years !!–Com-on Paul –didn’t rate a mention ?

    • matth said | August 10th 2017 @ 3:51pm

      I’ve not read any convincing argument that shows that game as having influenced the first games in Melbourne, as they originally were much more like Rugby, but it appears probable that at the very least the ‘high mark’ that is the characteristic of AFL came from country teams observing the aboriginal game.

      • marron said | August 10th 2017 @ 5:23pm

        The marn grook link is, by the AFLs own admission, a “seductive myth”.

        The high mark didnt develop for a few decades either.
        Any evidence of the country football theory? I’d be very interested to check that out.

        • republican said | August 11th 2017 @ 5:46pm

          ……..the AFL have gone with the status quo in respect of the history wars, so again, this is a very subjective account that is dismissive of any influence that may be contrary to what has been written…….

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:38pm

      see my comment to Republican on Marn Grook. It certainly wasn’t discussed publicly in contemporary sources. But I’d love to hear more. There’s an article topic for you John!

      • John McElroy said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:01am

        Paul, —Marn Grook:- You will find it mentioned in the period see Trove Digital Newspaper Searches…

        • Perry Bridge said | August 11th 2017 @ 11:13am

          re Melbourne Rules footy start up 1858 onwards and early evolution – the influence of Marn Grook is not documented however the presence of T.W.Wills provides more than a tenuous link. However – Wills came back from Rugby school too – and his input varied including advocating for a cross bar (perhaps to make the long kicking he was good at more valuable).
          I would suggest much of the value of Marn Grook is that it is likely that Wills played such like games with the indigenous kids he associated with in his youth around Moyston – and that will have helped plant the seed of sports and football like activity that very much took root in Wills.
          Rules though – not sure that it matters.

    • Blue said | October 24th 2017 @ 9:41pm

      Clearly debunked for anyone with a genuine interest in the history of the game. It’s now a myth pushed only by those with an agenda…

  • Duncan Smith said | August 10th 2017 @ 1:26pm

    Paul your long article deserves more than 9 comments – I will read it when I have time soon.

  • republican said | August 10th 2017 @ 1:38pm

    ………oh yes, & thanks for your piece Paul………

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:39pm

      Ha. Cheers

  • sheek said | August 10th 2017 @ 1:48pm

    Thanks Paul,

    Great read, much appreciated.

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:56pm

      Thanks sheek!

  • Rob said | August 10th 2017 @ 3:23pm

    Nothing about Western Australia or the involvement of the Marngrook game?

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:44pm

      Cheers Rob. I’ve already replied about Marngrook above. As far as WA is concerned, space was an issue. My reasoning for leaving it out was because it came later, the code of “choice” would probably not have affected either Australian Football or Rugby – both of which were already established.
      But I do kind of feel bad about leaving them out. Maybe I can do a piece on the History of WA football – and MarnGrook!

  • matth said | August 10th 2017 @ 3:49pm

    For detailed analysis of the origins of Australian Football, you should check out “A Game of Our Own” by the historian, Geoffrey Blainey. It’s a good read and includes some of the evidence you refer to as well.

    Great article, well done.

    • republican said | August 10th 2017 @ 7:50pm

      …..GB is dismissive of anything not recorded which includes so called myths.
      History has been passed down by word of mouth throughout and especially in the cultural traditions of our indigenous and the Irish.

      • marron said | August 11th 2017 @ 9:02am

        republican this is true – oral history definitely has a place.

        However, when the oral history is reliant on what the Wills’ link is (an old man remembered his mum saying it when he was little – and that’s IT) – then it is unfortunately not enough.

        That’s why I asked matth above for the country football link. The more evidence the better. And if you’ve got good oral testimony on caid in australia, then share it please! But looking at the games and saying “that looks like irish football” is not enough, because most of the codes in the 19th century contained similar elements. These elements were not just based on public school games – there were plenty of folk games (and NOT just the “kill the dill with the pill” variety, but ones with rules and set numbers of players etc). A lot of these went unrecorded but you can get a sense of it.

        However – there is no question that the people setting up rules and codes in australia were of the public school set – educated at Rugby and elsewhere.

        • republican said | August 11th 2017 @ 5:56pm

          ……..but these rules were never adhered to marron, not steadfastly, which is why these elite British should not be afforded so much prestige in what I see as their exclusive appropriation of our great game……..

      • Pope Paul VII said | August 11th 2017 @ 12:32pm

        Spot on re GB republican. The Irish would have written things down more often had not the English been busily attempting to destroy their culture, including language.

        And a pity their was no time for the indigenous to sketch on a rock “footy cancelled today as the squatters poisoned the well….

        • republican said | August 11th 2017 @ 6:01pm

          ……..certainly I have many stories of my family, handed down by word of mouth re the Irish Catholic experience in this country as second class citizens, that has not been always written but should not be dismissed as mere ‘myth’ either…….

  • Spiro Zavos said | August 10th 2017 @ 4:57pm

    Paul, a most interesting article with some great research.

    An interesting other issue in the development of the various football codes in Australia is the geographical/topographical imperative.

    Melbourne had miles and miles of flat land so that a football game based around the Gaelic model on a huge paddock was feasible, if not desirable. Australian Rules, is one of the handful of games, like hockey and cricket, where there is not a standardised

    Sydney and Brisbane, though, are hilly. There was a lack of flat land for sports paddocks. A football game on a smaller, standard-sized field was an obvious answer.

    Taking this further, if you have a field some miles in length, as the first fields were in Melbourne, you need to create a game with a lot of people on the field, with a lot of kicking rather than passing to cover the distances between goals.

    Anyway, Paul, great stuff and the stuff of invigorating discussion/argument in the finest sporting traditions.

    Congratulations, too, to Daniel and his crew for the splendid presentation of the article.

    • Will said | August 10th 2017 @ 5:08pm

      The later decades of the 19thC in Victoria seems to have been a hot bed of local identity developments, the local code of football, the Heidelburg school in art and Federation.

      • Will said | August 10th 2017 @ 5:12pm

        Whereas the cultural cringe was strongest in Qld and NSW.

      • Slane said | August 10th 2017 @ 5:19pm

        Melbourne was the richest city in the world during the gold rush. They hosted the World’s Fair in 1880 and built a bunch of really incredible buildings.

        • marron said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:40am

          Sydney had it too.
          We just burnt our buildings down….

      • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:56pm

        Some very interesting cultural factors at play as well Will. Was Melbourne, with all its working class migrants more egalitarian than Sydney? Was Sydney’s convict heritage and the us and them attitude it spawned more conducive to a rugby culture? Interesting times…

        • Perry Bridge said | August 11th 2017 @ 12:34pm

          The city v city cultural factors might be more an issue were it a concurrent process.
          The Melbourne evolution happened in a narrow time window whereby a new stand alone code could spring up. It happened in a city that was young, ‘free’, remote enough, flat enough, and growing very rapidly with great wealth concurrent with industrialisation, railroads and thus the growth of a suburban metropolis.
          The sports culture of Melbourne saw suburbs and clubs growing in parallel. These new clubs were within 25-35 years of the establishment of the settlement.
          In Sydney – it was nearer to 90-100 years on.

        • Pope Paul VII said | August 11th 2017 @ 1:07pm

          Plenty of working class in Sydney. Got a feeling Aussie Rules established a league in Sydney prior to Union but I may be wrong. The Rugby League commenced in 1908 and most certainly was working class. Rugby Union was for toffs. Certainly Inner city Rugby League and Aussie Rules clubs existed side by side. Rugby League prospered but that’s the way it goes but almost all of those inner city clubs are gone. I love the way Melbourne clubs have transcended the generations. It’s a remarkable testament to the game.

          • Perry Bridge said | August 11th 2017 @ 1:24pm

            #Pope Paul VII

            It’s interesting – re Sydney inner city clubs – how about club and suburb that is gone.

            Look up Sydney’s “Collingwood” football club and suburb.

            Still in 1880 the Rugby 1sts side hosted Collingwood at the Rugby club home at Stanmore, meanwhile the seconds played out at Burwood – which meant the Collingwood side had travelled someway in from their locale out on the Georges river near present day Liverpool.
            The suburb of Collingwood has long since disappeared – but there is the Collingwood Hotel in Liverpool.

            • Pope Paul VII said | August 11th 2017 @ 4:01pm

              Wasn’t aware of the Sydney Collingwood. Thanks, I will.

    • Beni Iniesta said | August 10th 2017 @ 7:54pm

      Simply not true mate – look at the in goal areas on a rugby field.

      These are of varying widths.

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:53pm

      Cheers Spiro. The discussions on topography are fascinating. As are the climate ones – Melbourne actually being drier during their winter meaning the playing fields were harder and full rugby type tackling being much more dangerous. I could have gone on and on… 🙂

      • Perry Bridge said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:44am

        Certainly a tale of two cities. Very different cultures, and growth factors. I used to see Melbourne as conservative – however – in the 1800s Sydney was clearly the conservative seat of colonial rule.

        A major factor on the evolution of football rules and game style around the 1850s was regarding who was actually playing the game. Rugby was a school boy game. Designed to instil school boy disciplines. The Melbourne game was developed as an athletic pursuit – by adults and youths alike – and not as a school yard game.
        The fields of choice for the English games borrow heavily from the dimensions of available space at the various schools.
        In Melbourne – certainly the footballers were kept off the cricket fields initially – and so the parklands were at first utilised and trees were very real obstacles. And even the first games on the MCG saw the field marked as a rectangle – that was gradually done away with.

    • ozman said | August 11th 2017 @ 3:09pm

      Soccer grounds are not standardised either, look it up.

  • Sam Brown said | August 10th 2017 @ 5:23pm

    Great article. A lot of stuff I never knew here.

    • Norad said | August 13th 2017 @ 12:05pm

      Good work and so many what ifs. A Sean Fagin obit. But in the end the world football game will win out.

  • sheek said | August 10th 2017 @ 5:24pm

    Sydney University continue to push the line they first formed a rugby club in 1863.

    What appears to be the case is that the SUFC was formed in 1863, not the rugby club. Indeed, the SUFC had not much more than a dozen members & no-one in particular to play against.

    It wasn’t until 1865, as you mentioned, that they actually began playing a form of rugby against other clubs.

    Of course, SU sticking steadfastly to 1863 is all about politics & bragging rights, & little about truth.

    With so many sporting clubs being formed from about 1842 onwards, Guy’s Hospital was the first, I think, it’s all about getting as high up the totem pole as possible.

    If your sporting club started in 1863 or 1865, as many as who knows, 30-60 clubs could have been formed in that time.

    So obviously, to SU, bragging rights is more important than the truth.

    • marron said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:55am

      The bragging rights thing is interesting because people assume that, for example, in 1863, or whenever it was, that the “Rugby” club, or the “Football club”, was playing something recognisable to modern eyes , and in a competition.

      The “club” was a 19th century institution, it had more aspects than playing games, even if that was the primary purpose.

      Then, in terms of football – there wasn’t any formal competition, it was all scratch matches, with rules discussed maybe on the day (there are numerous examples of games not being played because no agreement could be made). Or internal matches (which, if the members had been to public schools in england, was what they were actually most used to).

      Anyway, the result of all this is effectively that all number of clubs and competitions and codes can claim all different things, legitimately or otherwise. “Murky” is the word – it was a different world.

      • Perry Bridge said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:53am

        1863 is an interesting date to pluck.

        The 1862-1863 meetings that saw the establishment of the London FA didn’t immediately result in the modern game of Association Football being played either in manner or in popularity. The FA struggled initially. Early members dissolved, or returned to the Rugby style games. Sheffield FA still played largely by their rules. It took almost 10 years to bring London and Sheffield together – by which time a cross bar was in place and a fair catch was out.
        The Rugby style games weren’t yet ‘codified’ for adults. It was evolving but was still very much driven by local variants, interpretations etc. The RFU establishment in 1871 brought it together.

        That means that during the 1860s is was all still very fluid. Football was still an evolving ‘idea’. And in Melbourne the 1859 list of rules as a structural guide but not a comprehensive description of play. The evolution of the rules illustrates the points of dispute that must of arisen and the ‘solutions’ put in place.
        Pre game hand shakes by captains would still dictate the interpretations of the day.
        Into the 1880s clubs in Brisbane would decide at the start of the season upon which rules they would play by. Vic Football was still employing the kick off to begin proceedings. Many of the distinctions were somewhat more nuanced – although by the 1880s there were arrivals from England who were determined that only the Association game was true football and handling games were an abomination, or the Rugby advocates claiming the Victorian/Australian game was not manly enough…….it had begun.

  • Sherry said | August 11th 2017 @ 6:48am

    Great research, Paul. You didn’t write this in your lunch hour. The Roar has taken on the origins of world rugby from to time but nothing as complete as your rundown on the four codes
    in Oz. Well done indeed.

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 12th 2017 @ 11:14pm

      A few lunchtimes. Thanks Sherry.

  • Geoff Parkes said | August 11th 2017 @ 11:38am

    Mo, apologies for being a bit slow to get to this, but what a great read! Incredibly informative and entertaining. Congratulations.

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 12th 2017 @ 11:17pm

      That’s alright, Geoff, the rugby world has been a bit hectic lately, and like my article they seemed to have let Western Australia out. Thanks for the comment, coming from you it means a lot.

  • Perry Bridge said | August 11th 2017 @ 12:18pm

    Sydney is interesting – by 1880 the ‘Football Notes’ by ‘Leatherstocking’ includes the reflection “Truly, football scribes require to be ubiquitous nowadays, to do justice to every contest demanding attention.”

    This was the result of referencing the 3 codes – the Rugby Wallaroos out muscling the more ‘lithe and active’ visitors from Newcastle (thought to be more suited to the NSWFA game – i.e. Vic Rules). Newcastle would be more suited to the next match v University.
    The English Assoc footballers were more hidden away in the Parramatta Domain where fee of the Sydney public had the chance to see them.
    Meanwhile the NSWFA rules were employed by the Waratah club on Moore Park = against all comers but was of only a moderate success due to the lack of knowledge of the rules (the importance of ‘bounding the ball and giving little marks’ cited). Sydney and East Sydney clubs being newly started being an excuse for not a great display of the skills of the game for that season – but would be better next year.
    The mention of the possibility of the Rugby and English Assoc footballers may form an alliance to suppress the NSWFA.

    Much water was still to flow under the bridge in Sydney – literally and figuratively. By 1880 Melb Rules were 20 years entrenched in Victoria. Football in Sydney of all types was really just starting out and with no particular local culture/heritage.

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 12th 2017 @ 11:19pm

      @Perry Bridge.
      Thanks for your insights into the early days of football – adds a lot to the discussion. It would be great to chat about this stuff over a few beers I reckon.

  • Roger said | August 11th 2017 @ 12:40pm

    Look at the first picture you see with a ball.Its a guy kicking a round ball same as what they call soccer today.Every other sport that you see today is handball because most of the time its played with ball in your hand.I don’t know which code ripped off football first but it should have been dealt with immediately.In other words you simply can’t just take the word football out of association football and use it as your own.All these other codes are handball games not football or commonly known as soccer for I don’t know what reason.

    • Perry Bridge said | August 11th 2017 @ 2:08pm


      You do realise that ‘Foot ball’ was used well before the English (London) Association Game started taking formal shape from 1863 on.
      No one owned the word/phrase.
      The assertion you make re “All these other codes are handball games not football’ (soccer) is a little dismissive.
      The Australian code does not outlaw the use of hands for example – however – it DOES legislate the benefit of kicking (allows a mark to be claim from a kick, and only kicks can result in a goal). Association Football (soccer) has no such legislated reward for a kick – thus, a header carries the same weight as a kick.
      So – I can argue to you that Association Football is no more football than it is ‘anti-handball except for the goalie and sideline throw ins’.

      • Roger said | August 11th 2017 @ 3:50pm

        I think three quarters of the world’s population know what football is.Only the Americans and Aussies dont.And if you look at the way the games played and be honest, its self explanatory.When you run with the ball you have to control it with your feet.Nearly every other time you use your feet.You get the drift.
        Football came well before Afl, Nrl or Union. That’s one thing for certain.

        • Perry Bridge said | August 14th 2017 @ 1:56pm


          “Football came well before Afl, Nrl or Union. That’s one thing for certain”

          And football came well before Soccer too.

          Otherwise – the task of the folk at Cambridge might have been much simpler.

          You do realise even the first London FA rules allowed a fair catch. Even the Eton Field game was a big one for no hands – but, 3 pt goals, Bully’s and Rougeables make it very unlike soccer. Oh it’s oh so murky.

  • Nigel Patterson said | August 11th 2017 @ 2:47pm

    Fantastic article – many thanks!

  • Simon said | August 12th 2017 @ 9:59am

    I have always had a notion that the game of Australian rules was bought into northern Australia by the Maccasan traders who traded with the Aboriginals in northern Australia 400 years before white settelment from a game played on the Asian continent where a ratan ball was controlled only by the feet, head and chest to the opposition over a net.

    • republican said | August 12th 2017 @ 7:08pm

      ………..lets run with that for a while Simon, if just for the poetic justice this invokes………

  • Sam said | August 12th 2017 @ 10:18am

    Hi Paul, I love the intersection of my two passions- history and sport. I found your reference to the Irish soldiers demonstrating Hurling and playing “their native game” interesting in particular. I thought it of interest to mention that Gaelic Football wasn’t codified until the 1880s so there could have been variation in the way the Irish game was played here.

    • Paul Nicholls said | August 12th 2017 @ 11:27pm

      Sam, it would be great to be able to go back in time for a day or two to see this stuff first hand.

  • republican said | August 12th 2017 @ 11:46am

    ……..Australian Footy established the first offical league here in the ACT as well I believe………..

    • Norad said | August 13th 2017 @ 7:00am

      No. Soccer did. 1920s.

      • republican said | August 22nd 2017 @ 2:00pm

        …….1922 our code had two teams competing then another four in 1923, so not much in it although I have not read anything that confirms Soccer had established a formal league here in the 1920’s.
        Australian Rules footy was being played earlier than this in the region as no doubt Soccer and Union were as well………

        • Norad said | December 17th 2017 @ 5:48pm

          AFL spin leaves out Australian football history.

          Canberra Community News Tue 11 May 1926

          A well-attended meeting of enthusiasts of the round ball game was held at Eastlake Hall on 21st April, for the purpose of forming a Federal Territory Soccer Football Association. The following clubs have already affiliated to the Association:-Burns Club (black and white hoops), Molonglo (light and dark blue), Capitol Hill (royal blue), Northbourne Club (blue and gold stripes).

        • Norad said | December 17th 2017 @ 5:56pm

          More that AFL House don’t want to admit. Canberra Community News Mon 12 Jul 1926

          FOOTBALL. RUGBY LEAGUE. (By ” Rugger.»)
          Great progress has taken place in this code of football since my last report, as there are now nine clubs in the Territory.
          the first team to affiliate with the N.S.W. Rugby League on the Federal Territory was the “Sewer F.C.M four years ago

  • The H said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:18pm

    Nothing has changed!
    I refer to the quote” when football clubs with different rules played against each other, the accepted practice was for the home clubs rules to apply”
    When ever a team plays the Broncos in backwardBriz the NRL makes sure the referees know ‘home club rules apply!’

  • Blue said | October 24th 2017 @ 9:59pm

    What a terrific piece Paul, thanks so much for taking the time. A good building block for future understanding of the game.