Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Friday, 15 August 2014

10,000 people at the footy, July 1875

One thing that has always puzzled me is the assertion that high scoring leads to excitement and the popularity of a sport. This is an argument used against soccer (in which the average goals-per-game total is around 3). In Melbourne, high scoring is put forward as an explanation for the immense popularity of Australian rules football.

Yet, when we look back at the origins of the game we see a confusing fact. The scoring in the first 20 years or so of Australian rules tended to be similar to the scores in English Association football of the time. Indeed, it is possibly the case that more goals were scored in English football matches in the 1870s than there were in Australian rules matches around the same period.

This article, published in the Queenslander 31 July 1875, makes it clear that Victorian rules was a very popular code of football. The reported game between Melbourne and Carlton attracted a crowd of 10,000. Yet it resulted in the narrowest of 1-0 victories to Carlton. This fact did little to deter the writer from predicting 20,000 at the next week's game.
The principal football match of the season ; between the two crack clubs of the colony— Melbourne and Carlton—which I alluded to in my last as about to take place, resulted in a splendid game. There were about 10,000 persons present, who evinced the greatest degree of excitement in the struggle. The only goal obtained during the afternoon was kicked by Carlton in the first twenty minutes' play, and though this gave that club the victory, the Melbourne men had by far the best of the fight. The return match comes off next Saturday on the Melbourne ground, when there is bound to be 20,000 persons present. The Melbourne men have been hard at work practising since their defeat, and they are confident they will turn the tables on the victors in the next match.
It seems to me that a grievous historical error is made when the relatively high-scoring games of today or the recent historical past are used as an explanation of why footy became so popular. It was something else: the tussle; the opportunity to gather in support of your local team; the spectacle of violent contact—maybe all of these and more. One thing it was most definitely not was the game's reputedly high-scoring nature.

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