Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

130 years of organised soccer in Melbourne.

Also published at Oz Football Weekly

2013 represents the 130th anniversary of organised soccer in Melbourne. As the evidence shows, people began to organise association football clubs and played games in 1883. However, the FFV sees 1884 as the anniversary year because that when the Anglo-Australian Football Association was formed and four clubs started playing under its banner. It's a contentious decision (made more contentious by recent discoveries) which needs to be revisited.

The North Melbourne Advertiser of 6 April 1883 contained the following report:
As advertised, the scratch match under the British rules took place on Saturday last [March 31], in the old Civil Service Football Ground [diagonally opposite AAMI Park]. There were about 25 players on the ground, besides a good many spectators, most of whom seemed to understand the game. It appeared rather awkward to some of the players, especially those who have been used to the Victorian game, as the rules are altogether different, but after a little practise it is the intention of the club to give the game a fair test before the Melbourne public. The game is "football pure and simple." A free kick is accorded for touching the ball with the hand or elbow and the foot and head are the only portions of the body allowed "in play." There were many old Scotchmen and Englishmen who declared the game a treat to witness, but many of our colonials thought the play very tame, there being no opportunity to show "skilful manipulations and get up a series of excitements" during the progress of the play. The club has already on its list 45 members, and after the meeting of tonight at Young and Jackson's it is expected the number will be doubled.

The Melbourne Argus of 20 April 1883 contained a brief notice indicating further developments.

A general meeting of the members of the Anglo-
Australian Association Football Club was held in Young and Jackson's Hotel last night (Thursday). Twenty-one members were present. The business of the evening consisted of drawing up rules for the management of the club. It was decided to practice again on Saturday afternoon at Albert-Park, near the railway, play to commence at half-past 3.

And so began the 130-year ongoing relationship between organised soccer and that wonderful mix of sportsgrounds and parklands located between South Melbourne and St Kilda. The home of South Melbourne FC, for over 50 years, Albert Park continues to be a place where the beautiful game flourishes. 

Yet Albert Park is not the home of the very first organised match (as opposed to practice match) in Melbourne. That honour might well belong to Richmond Cricket Ground [Punt Rd Oval]. The Argus of 12 May reported that a game of soccer was set to be played there that day. The regular Saturday fixture list included this notice: "Anglo Australian Association v. Richmond, on the Richmond cricket-ground." And it was reported on the following Monday that the
Anglo-Australian Association Football Club, having secured the Richmond cricket ground for the season, played there for the first time on Saturday, the time being filled up with a well-contested scratch match.
It's not an extensive write-up but it is there. The rather startling conclusion is that the first game of soccer in Melbourne might have been between the Anglo-Australian Association Football Club (the proto-association or organising body) and a football club named Richmond FC, possibly a forerunner of the present-day Tigers AFL club. Put that in your sports quiz! Though it may also simply be a cricketers XI from RCC. It may also be the case that Richmond didn't front and the Anglo Australian Football Club played amongst themselves.

Whatever the case, Melbourne soccer might have a significant anniversary coming up on May 12. I wonder if the Tigers would host a a re-enactment at Punt Road between its best XI and an FFV XI. The shame of such a suggestion is that it is absurd. In a mature and sophisticated sporting culture befitting the 'sports capital of the world' it wouldn't be.

If that game didn't eventuate then a month later, one most certainly did. The AAAFC played a game against South Park FC. The Argus reported that a "match, under the association rules, was played on the Richmond Cricket ground between the Anglo-Australian Association and South Park Football clubs. The former proved the best team, getting four goals to one." The first in a long line of footy types assuming they could beat a soccer team at their own game?

No more inter-club contests were forthcoming in 1883 and the AAAFC satisfied themselves with intra-club scratch matches for the remainder of the season. Nonetheless a challenge was in the offing for the Victorians, an intercolonial series of two games against NSW was played in Melbourne at the end of the season.Victoria performed well, drawing 2-2 with NSW on Wednesday 15 August at East Melbourne cricket ground. This game was followed up with a 0-0 draw three days later on South Melbourne cricket ground. While they couldn't scratch a win, the undefeated start to the intercolonial contests probably represented a good end to a successful first season of organised soccer in Melbourne.

Possibly suffused with the glow of their relative success, the AAAFC decided to move on to bigger things in 1884. The Argus of 14 September 1883 contained this report:
The Anglo Australian football Club, at a meeting last night, appointed delegates from their club to make arrangements for forming other clubs next season in South Melbourne, Carlton, Richmond, South Yarra, Hotham, and Williamstown, so that the public may have opportunities of seeing the British Association game played. There is a probability of trophies being played for between the different clubs when formed, and of the Home Association being asked to send out a cup. Hopes are still entertained of sending home a team of footballers in 1885-6. 
As it turned out, this was a little optimistic, especially in regard to sending a team "home". Nonetheless, four teams were established and played competitively: South Melbourne, Prahran, Carlton and Richmond.

Others like Williamstown were formed but seem not to have made it onto the playing field.

Given this evidence is it time for the FFV to shift its anniversary date back to 1883?


  1. I always thought Richmond AFL club was formed in 1885 (according to AFL media guide). A re enactment would be good - the NNSWFF had one for their centenary in '84.

    1. Thanks. You are correct, but I believe that RFC emerged from the Richmond club that occupied Richmond Cricket Ground in 1883.

  2. Is it possible that the Richmond team was actually yhe Richmond CC. In the 1880s yhe club was looking for a winter sport and founded the Richmond FC in 1885 after failing to lure Melbourne FC over to Punt Rd. in this era it was common for cricketers to play football under yhe name of the cricket club.