Explore the History of australian football

​Perhaps displaying a hangover from their epic performance against South Australia three days previously, Western Australia struggled to shake off a determined New South Wales side in the next match of the carnival, played the following afternoon.  At half time the sandgropers led by a mere 4 points, but a blistering third quarter saw them rattle on 9.2 to 1.0 to effectively seal the game.  New South Wales finished the match strongly, and added 6 goals to 3 in the final term, but it was nowhere near enough to bridge the gap, the Western Australians winning by 39 points,17.12 (114) to 12.3 (75).


The much anticipated clash between the VFL and South Australia on Wednesday 26 August proved to be a major anti-climax as the Victorians were quicker to the ball, kicked better, and were generally too strong all round.  South Australia tended to rely too much on handball, and seemed a yard slower than in their previous match against Western Australia.  However, in Jack Tredrea they had, according to "The Argus", the most impressive player on view, and one of the real stars of the carnival.  The VFL's final winning margin was 49 points, 10.15 (75) to 2.14 (26).


​​Queensland continued to show improvement when they took on New South Wales in the next match of the carnival on Thursday 27 August.  New South Wales won comfortably enough, 13.15 (93) to 8.11 (59), but the losers produced some fine sequences of football, and never stopped trying.

South Australia proved that the gap between the top three football states and the rest was fairly substantial when they trounced Tasmania by 67 points, 16.20 (116) to 7.7 (49), in the first match of a double header on Saturday 29 August.  The 'wheatfielders' did more or less as they pleased, and might well have won by more had they really needed or wanted to.

The VFL and Western Australia clashed in the second match of the double header, in what was dubbed as 'the carnival decider'.  Just as they had done against South Australia, however, the Victorians proved much too accomplished and physically strong for the comparatively lightweight Western Australians, and won with ease, 13.22 (100) to 6.8 (44).


Tasmania rounded off the championships with an easy 11.18 (84) to 1.12 (18) defeat of New Zealand, emphasising their status as a true football state, and the strongest football power outside the "big three".

South Australia's James "Sorry" Tierney, pictured in a South Adelaide jumper, but who was with West Adelaide in 1908

Western Australia were marginally the better side during the third term, but they were let down to some extent by poor kicking for goal.  When South Australia hit back hard towards the end of the quarter the WA defence refused to buckle, and at three quarter time it was the West Australians who still had a spring in their step, albeit that their lead had been cut to just 5 points: Western Australia 6.8 (44); SA 6.3 (39)

South Australia hit the front early in the last term courtesy of a goal from Tredrea, but Western Australia responded with great tenacity and verve to control the ensuing fifteen minutes or so and establish an 11 point advantage.  South Australia then hit back, but when a left foot snap from Townsend hit the post high up they visibly wilted.  They managed a late goal to bring the margin to within a straight kick, but Western Australia held out and deservedly won, 8.11 (59) to South Australia's 8.5 (53).


Western Australia were marginally the better side during the third term, but they were let down to some extent by poor kicking for goal.  When South Australia hit back hard towards the end of the quarter the WA defence refused to buckle, and at three quarter time it was the West Australians who still had a spring in their step, albeit that their lead had been cut to just 5 points: Western Australia 6.8 (44); SA 6.3 (39)

South Australia hit the front early in the last term courtesy of a goal from Tredrea, but Western Australia responded with great tenacity and verve to control the ensuing fifteen minutes or so and establish an 11 point advantage.  South Australia then hit back, but when a left foot snap from Townsend hit the post high up they visibly wilted.  They managed a late goal to bring the margin to within a straight kick, but Western Australia held out and deservedly won, 8.11 (59) to South Australia's 8.5 (53).


​​New Zealand met Queensland in the carnival's sixth match, played on Monday 24 August.  “As a game judged by Victorian standards there was a great deal left to be desired, but both sides were in earnest, and both showed they are on the up-grade.”  Queensland in particular, whose players had been receiving tuition at Carlton, showed considerable improvement on their previous performances, and, after trailing 0.1 to 4.4 at the first change, outscored their opponents by 8 points over the remainder of the game.  New Zealand eventually won by 13 points, 6.12 (48) to Queensland's 4.11 (35).

Harold Littler of Launceston and Tasmania

Two days later, on Friday 21 August, New Zealand found themselves in action again, this time against their redoubtable hosts.  Having to front up against the mighty Victorians on their own midden was going to be a tall order for New Zealand whatever the circumstances, but being required to do so just two days after a strenuous, energy-sapping encounter seems, in hindsight, almost like calculated brutality.

The VFL won with consummate ease, 25.21 (171) to 5.10 (40), but the scoreline was immaterial inasmuch as the Victorians were scarcely required to move into anything approaching top gear.  The New Zealanders were plucky and determined, and seemed to improve, particularly in terms of team skills, as the game progressed.  Everyone in the Victorian team did what was expected of him, and if McNamara with 7 goals, and Lee with 6, stood out to a certain extent, their achievements were attributable as much to good all round team play as to any feats of individual brilliance.

Despite not playing with the cohesion and pace shown in their opening game against Queensland, Tasmania proved comfortably too strong for New South Wales in the fourth game of the series, played on Saturday 22 August, as the first part of a double-header.  Aided by the breeze in the opening term, the Tasmanians kicked waywardly to lead 1.8 to 0.1 at the first change.  At half time it was 3.10 to 2.3, with New South Wales failing to make the most of their opportunities. Tasmania then more or less sealed the game with a 4.3 to 1.3 burst in the third term, but New South Wales refused to give in, and, with much vocal support from the large crowd, actually outscored the Apple Islanders by 4 points in the last quarter.  Final scores: Tasmania 8.14 (62); New South Wales 4.11 (35).


​The second match of the double-header saw two of the main football states, Western Australia and South Australia, do battle.  According to ‘The Argus’, this game, “as a spectacle, despite the wet and slippery ground, could not have been improved upon”.

The match was characterised, above all else, by some superb kicking, by both sides.  Western Australia kicked the first goal of the match through a McNamara place kick, but then South Australia, whose play was characterised by crisp, short passing, took charge and rattled on three quick goals without reply.  A goal by Matson – ironically, a South Australian by birth – kept the sandgropers well in touch at the first break:South Australia 3.1 (19); Western Australia 2.2 (14)

South Australia extended their lead courtesy of a snapped goal from Chamberlain shortly after the resumption, but the move of ‘Diver’ Dunn into the ruck by Western Australia changed the course of the game as he became a dominating influence Western Australia added 3 goals without reply over the remainder of the term to head into the long break 8 points to the good, 5.4 (34) to 4.2 (26).

Sam Gravenall (North Fremantle and WA).

OVERVIEW


The seven carnival teams were divided into two sections: Section A comprised the three strongest sides (the VFL, Western Australia and South Australia), with Section B being made up of  the 'minnows'.  Each of the teams in Section A also played one of the Section B teams as a proselytising gesture.   Not surprisingly, the powerful Victorians, playing on their home turf, proved invincible, while Tasmania exceeded its own controlling body's expectations to win Section B.


​​The carnival got underway at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday 19 August.  A crowd estimated at somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000 was treated to a march past of the seven competing teams, who were then presented to the Governor of Victoria, Sir Thomas Gibson-Carmichael, and the Premier, Sir Thomas Bent.  Henry Harrison, the man regarded as "father of the game", was guest of honour.

The opening match of the carnival featured New Zealand and New South Wales.  The football was described as "crude" but "plucky and sportsmanlike", with the relatively inexperienced New Zealanders, spurred on with great enthusiasm by the majority of the crowd, overcoming a half time deficit of 29 points to win by the narrowest of margins.

Immediately after the New Zealand-New South Wales match, Tasmania took on Queensland in what proved to be a grossly lop-sided contest.  The Apple Islanders, with “weight, strength and ability” “were never really tested”  against the energetic but naive Queenslanders, and won at a canter, 22.22 (154) to 2.2 (14).  Lee, who booted 8 goals for the victors, was said to be one of two Tasmanian players “who could walk into any Victorian League team tomorrow, if permit regulations allowed”.  The other was the follower, Mahoney.  One of Queensland's best players, Watts , hailed from Thursday Island .

Bill Busbridge of Essendon and Victoria

Half-hearted attempts to promote Australian football outside its southern states stronghold were to continue, intermittently, for much of the remainder of the century, but 'love of the game' was never a sufficiently strong factor in itself to effect change.  The fact that Australian football today enjoys a somewhat higher profile than ever before in Sydney and Brisbane has absolutely nothing to do with 'love of the game'; it is purely the outcome of economic constraints and stimuli.

A century ago such factors were non-existent.  The 1908 Melbourne carnival was, essentially, a celebration of sport, manhood and national identity, something which it would be completely impossible to replicate a century on.


1908 Melbourne Carnival: Competing Teams

New South Wales Light royal blue jersey with red waratah on breast; white knickers; royal blue hose
New Zealand All black jersey with gold fern leaf; black knickers; black hose
Queensland Dark maroon jersey with white 'Q' monogram on breast; white knickers; maroon hose with white tops
South Australia Brown jersey with turquoise blue arm bands and cuffs; white knickers; turquoise blue hose
Tasmania Myrtle green jersey, rose and primrose braces, map of Tasmania on breast with football in centre; white knickers; green hose
Victorian Football League Oxford blue jersey with white letter 'V' on breast; white hose; oxford blue hose
Western Australia Dark green jersey with gold swan on breast; white knickers; dark green hose with white tops

Henry Harrison

The birth of the Australian nation state in 1901 heralded a temporary diminution in state (formerly colonial) parochialism, and a commensurate increase in national consciousness.  In football, the single most significant  outcome of this development was the creation, in November 1906, of the Australasian (later Australian) Football Council (AFC), which until the VFL unilaterally decided to  take matters into its own hands some eighty years later was to remain the ultimate controlling body for the sport.  


In 1908, partly as a celebration of the new-found 'spirit of nationhood', and partly to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Australian football's hypothetical birth, the AFC organised a 'carnival of football' involving all six Australian states, plus New Zealand.  The venue for the carnival was Melbourne, birthplace of the code, and while the football which was produced was predominantly one-sided the spirit of amity and brotherhood which prevailed made the whole venture an unqualified success.  Plans for a second carnival, to be held in Adelaide in three years time, were swiftly finalised.

The involvement of New Zealand clearly indicates that there was an opportunity at this time for Australian football to establish itself on the international front.  Although it is probably fair to say that the game in New Zealand was already in decline by 1908 it was still sufficiently popular to have benefited from involvement in a proactive and expansionist-minded AFC.  Unfortunately, the power of the AFC to stimulate, steer and develop the game was stymied by a widespread resurgence - most notably of all in Victoria - of blinkered loyalty to state before country - or, more accurately, of obsessive devotion to "the club" in preference to "the game at large".



The 1908 Australasian Football Jubilee Carnival in Melbourne