It’s Thursday, 16 August 1883. Around 200 people are gathering at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground for the first-ever inter-colonial match between the colony of Victoria and the colony of New South Wales in association football.
The Victorians stood proudly in light blue. Their opponents, the New South Welshman, prepared to make history in dark blue.
Football was different back then. In this groundbreaking match the Victorian noses would have been out of joint with the absence of classic Victorian rules like ‘drop-kicking’, although a player “may butt the ball in an inelegant way with his head”.
Victoria had the majority of the possession in the opening stanza but it was New South Wales who took the lead with Kerr breaking the deadlock with a strong header. Skipper Eaves added another before Victoria’s Riddell and Teare pegged back their opponents in a tough match filled with wild tackles and burning aggression. It ended 2-2.
The two sides again couldn’t be separated two days later at the South Melbourne Cricket Ground, drawing 0-0. In the next five years the two colonies would meet each other nine times, with Victoria taking out four wins.
Thanks to the work of Peter Kunz in his brilliant book Chronicles of Soccer in Australia we know that in 1890 Queensland joined the party, stealing the show with a 3-1 win over New South Wales in Botany. They were donned in “red and black shirts and socks with blue shorts”. They completed a clean sweep of their two-game series with a 1-0 win in Ashfield.
Then, 14 years later, the New South Wales team were the first Australian representative team to play overseas when they were invited to play New Zealand in 1904.
Inter-state matches slowed down at the turn of the century as the newly federated nation looked to improve the quality of all their state and local leagues. Seven states had established governing bodies.
So what does this mean? Does it really mean that football can be credited with the creation of State of Origin? In some ways, yes. For many people it’ll be the first time they’ve realised it is part of the DNA of Australian football.
In comparison to its modern-day behemoth in what is now known as rugby league, the earliest records of New South Wales and Queensland facing off is in 1907-08. Football beat them by a good 24 years to the punch. The NRL’s State of Origin tournament, beginning in 1980, is now a must-watch fixture, heralded as one of the biggest sporting events in the Australian sporting calendar. It digs into deep-seated rivalries between Australian states.
Now 137 years have passed since Victoria snatched a draw in August 1883. But can State of Origin make a comeback in an Australian football climate that is crying out for both eye-catching spectacles and an appreciation of its history?
You can have your say in the matter through this independent research survey. Be honest, be open, love it, hate it, let’s hear what you think.