A Brief History Of Australian Football

The origin of this distinctive game is not clear, though a game vaguely resembling football was played in Melbourne as early as the 1840's.

One theory is that it originated from an Aboriginal game, whilst others believe it may have been modelled on Gaelic Football. Historians such as Geoffrey Blainey have disputed the latter theory on the grounds that there is evidence that the Australian game predates the Irish one.

Blainey believes that Australian Rules Football was a colonial Australian invention which blended Soccer and Rugby and added some nuances of its own.

Whatever its origins, Australian Football has evolved dramatically during the course of its history and is still seeing innovations introduced on a regular basis.

During the 1850's a few football teams formed in Victoria, originally to keep cricketers fit during the off season. The 1859 season saw standardised rules being introduced and the following season saw the exclusive use of an oval ball.

By 1877 the game had evolved considerably and the Victorian Football Association was formed with the following teams.

Albert Park (later South Melbourne, then Sydney)
St Kilda,
Hotham (later North Melbourne),

The VFA took control of the rules and organised Intercolonial matches, with the game flourishing in Western Australia, Tasmania, South Australia and even for a time, New Zealand. It was unsuccessful however, in establishing the game in New South Wales, Queensland, or the home country, England.

In 1896 dissatisfaction with the way the competition was being run led to the formation of the breakaway Victorian Football League, made up of teams in the vicinity of metropolitan Melbourne. This league, which became the dominant force in football and ultimately evolved into the national competition, was made up of the following teams.

(initial 1897 season)

St Kilda,
South Melbourne.

In 1908 Richmond and University joined the competition, but after a demoralising 51 consecutive losses, University was absorbed by Melbourne at the end of the 1914 season.

In 1925 Hawthorn, North Melbourne and Footscray entered the competition and it retained that 12 team format for 57 years.

By 1982 the VFL competition, easily the most wealthy in Australia, began its expansion into the other states. The financially strapped South Melbourne club was transplanted into Sydney and renamed the Sydney Swans.

This was followed in 1987 by the creation of a Queensland club, the Brisbane Bears, and a Western Australian club, the West Coast Eagles.

1990 saw the VFL finally change its name to reflect its growing national character, becoming the Australian Football League.

1991 saw the creation of an Adelaide club, the Adelaide Crows.

In 1995, a second Western Australian team, the Fremantle Dockers, was added to the competition.

1996 saw the ailing Fitzroy team merged with (or more accurately absorbed by) the Brisbane Bears, who changed their name to the Brisbane Lions to reflect the deal.

Finally, in 1997 a second South Australian team, Port Adelaide Power, were admitted to the competition, bringing us to the current 16 team AFL structure.

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