Explore the History of australian football

Triple Magarey Medallist Tom Mackenzie

Charlie Pannam senior of Collingwood

North Adelaide's Norman Claxton

Victoria's Mick Pleass, of South Melbourne

Interstate Football is Born, Saturday 15th June 1901: Victorian Football League versus South Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

The primary reason behind the formation in 1877 of both the Victorian and South Australian Football Associations was to agree on a common set of rules to be used by all their respective constituent clubs.  Prior to this, particularly in Adelaide, there were several different sets of rules in vogue, with players often facing the perplexing situation of having to modify their style of play almost weekly.  Another difficulty was that, in the absence of a standardised method of assessment based on a common rule framework, it was impossible to determine which teams were genuinely the strongest.

At the inaugural meeting of the SAFA on 30 April 1877, several different rule combinations were considered, with the delegates ultimately plumping for a set of rules which closely approximated to those devised in Victoria three years earlier.  In choosing these rules rather than various other suggestions - one delegate, Mr. Twopenny, spoke ardently in favour of the Association adopting the rules of the English game of rugby, for example - delegates were mindful of what they perceived as the desirability of being able to arrange and participate in intercolonial contests.  Given that Victoria was South Australia's nearest colonial neighbour, it seemed logical to adopt a set of rules with a strong Victorian flavour.

It is doubtful if the VFA was particularly concerned about the feasibility of arranging intercolonial contests when it agreed on its rules, which broadly reflected 'the Victorian Rules of 1874' mentioned above.  Nevertheless, once the South Australians had decided to play their football according to a compatible set of rules, several VFA clubs were quick to recognise, and take advantage of, the potential benefits - financial, social and sporting - of making regular forays across the border.  As early as the first season of what might be termed 'commonality', both Melbourne and St Kilda accepted invitations to visit Adelaide where, not surprisingly, they proved too strong for an assortment of opposition teams, most of whose members were still becoming accustomed to the 'foreign' rules.  Thereafter, seldom a season went by without one or more VFA teams visiting Adelaide, and from 1878 the practice began to be reciprocated, with Norwood in 1880 procuring the distinction of becoming the first South Australian club to win against Victorian opposition when it downed Melbourne by 2 goals to 0 at the MCG.  Norwood at this time was a bastion for ex-patriot Victorian footballers, which may in part explain its success, and in 1880 it was half way through a six season spell of dominance of the SAFA.

For many seasons, Norwood would prove itself the equal of the Victorians.  In 1883, for example, it defeated the powerful Essendon combination by 5 goals to 1 at Kensington Oval, while five years later, much more famously, it overcame VFA premier South Melbourne, again at Kensington, in a three game 'Test' series which had been arranged to decide the champion of Australia.  Other South Australian clubs - South Adelaide against Melbourne in 1884, Port Adelaide against South Melbourne in the 1890 championship of Australia match, for instance - achieved sporadic victories against VFA opposition, but overall the balance of power continued to reside emphatically with the Victorians.

This was even more pronouncedly the case in the sphere of representative intercolonial football, which got underway in Melbourne on 1 July 1879 when a Victorian combination crushed the visiting South Australians by 7 goals to 0.  Between 1879 and 1881, Victoria met South Australia twice per season, winning all six encounters easily, and accumulating an aggregate tally of 32 goals to just 5, whereupon it was decided to suspend the contests until the South Australians could demonstrate an ability to compete.  In 1890, perhaps persuaded by Norwood's and Port Adelaide's successes in the champions of Australia arena, the Victorians consented to a resumption of 'hostilities' - and, on 5 July 1890 in Melbourne, proceeded to annihilate South Australia yet again, this time by 13 goals to 6.  Clearly the substantial discrepancy in standard still existed.

Or did it?  Five days later, again in Melbourne, the same two teams met for a second time, and on this occasion it was the South Australians who emerged victorious, kicking 6 goals to their opponents' 4.  Perhaps intercolonial football had a future after all, an impression that was reinforced twelve months later when a two match series in Adelaide was shared, and again in 1892 when the only game between the colonies for the year saw the Victorians eke out an unconvincing 2 goal win in Melbourne.  Victoria won again by 2 goals in 1893, this time in Adelaide, but in 1894 the concept of representative intercolonial football was once more called into question as the Vics registered an all time record win in front of their home crowd, amassing no fewer than 14 goals, a phenomenal tally for the time, to South Australia's none.  With Victoria now leading the series by 11 wins to 2, and having scored 88 goals to 37 (equivalent to a percentage of either 237.8 or 70.4, depending on which side of the border you reside), matches between the two colonies again fell into abeyance.

When the fixtures resumed once more in 1899, the Victorian football landscape had altered irrevocably, with the recently established VFL replacing the VFA as the colony's, and indeed Australia's, premier football competition.  The game itself had changed, too, most notably via the introduction of a new scoring system, whereby behinds, hitherto recorded but valueless, made a tangible contribution to a team's score.

In South Australia, the main development had been the inception of electorate football, which it was hoped would lead to an evening up of a competition that had grown disconcertingly top heavy.  This rule, which basically required that players represent their local clubs, had been introduced on a voluntary basis in 1897, but two years later it had become compulsory, with North Adelaide, premier for the first time in 1900, apparently the main initial beneficiary.

The 1901 season had also witnessed the expansion of the SAFA to 7 clubs following the admission of Sturt, which after a tentative start would rapidly develop into one of the competition's heavyweights.

The first 'new era' intercolonial contest took place in Melbourne on 1 July 1899, and resulted in a convincing, 34 point win to the home side.  The following year, in Adelaide, South Australia managed to finish a couple of goals closer, but the VFL team was still consummately superior.

On 1 January 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia, comprising 6 constituent states, came into being.  Among those half a dozen states were the former colonies of Victoria and South Australia, which meant that when the two confronted one another on the football field on 15 June 1901, it was, in effect, the first ever interstate football match.

The Teams

C.Dow (Collingwood), C.James (South Melbourne), W.McLelland (Melbourne), J.Monohan (Collingwood), D.Adamson (South Melbourne - captain), C.Parkin (Melbourne), C.Roland (Carlton), J.Purse (Melbourne), C.Pannam (Collingwood), A.Pearce (St Kilda), E.Rowell (Collingwood), H.Lampe (South Melbourne), H.Goding (South Melbourne), W.Robinson (Essendon), J.Smith (St Kilda), G.Pleass (South Melbourne), F.Worroll (South Melbourne), W.Griffith (Essendon)

SA: T.MacKenzie (West Torrens), N.Jolly (Sturt), W.Trembath (Norwood), L.Hill, (Norwood) F.Dickinson (North Adelaide), N.Claxton (North Adelaide), J.Quinn (Port Adelaide), C.Fulton (West Adelaide), H.Kruss (South Adelaide), E.Lewis (Norwood), C.Barnes (Norwood), S.Robinson (Norwood), A.Hosie (Port Adelaide - captain), F.Bailey (Port Adelaide), H.Thompson (West Torrens), G.Bruce (West Adelaide), J.Woollard (Sturt), P.Sandland (North Adelaide), H.Cowan (Norwood)

Both teams had a surfeit of top quality players.  The VFL side boasted strength on every line courtesy of the likes of South Melbourne's long kicking full back Charles James, Melbourne half backs Charles Parkin and William McLelland (after whom the McLelland Trophy would later be named), wingmen Charlie Pannam senior (Collingwood) and Charlie Roland (Carlton), and centre half forward “Ted” Rowell of Collingwood.  It also had impressive strength in the ruck with South Melbourne's formidable “Mick” Pleass and the relentless James Smith of St Kilda, while rovers Frank Worroll (South Melbourne) and Bill Griffith (Essendon) provided plenty of bite around the packs.

The South Australians had a good mix of youth and experience in their line-up.  The youngsters included the eventual winner of the 1901 Magarey Medal, North Adelaide's 18 year old Phil Sandland, and future champion and triple Magarey Medallist Tom MacKenzie, of West Torrens in 1901, but later of North Adelaide.  West Adelaide wingman George Bruce would later play for Carlton and the VFL with distinction, while Sturt ruckman Jack Woollard would later achieve football immortality of sorts as skipper of Port Adelaide's powerful 1910 combination, which would win both the local and national premierships.  Meanwhile the South Australian captain, Arch Hosie from Port Adelaide, was in his twelfth season of senior football, and would carry on for two more years, during which time he would skipper his state to a memorable victory over the VFL in Melbourne.

Match Report (as per the contemporary Melbourne press)

The football match South Australia versus Victoria attracted a large attendance of spectators to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday afternoon.  The weather was cold.

Quite early in the game it was apparent that while the visitors were playing better together than the Victorians and showed great aptitude in handling the ball and passing it from one to the other there was still a lack of judgement in front of goal which enabled the home team to turn many a rush.  Robinson with a punt scored the first goal for the Victorians, who had whatever advantage the cross wind gave, and at quarter time the Victorians had 1 goal 2 behinds to 1 behind.

In the second quarter the Adelaide men snapped a goal through the agency of Bailey, and 5 behinds were added rapidly, two or three of which might have easily been goals.  Quinn, a clever, slippery little chap, who was great favourite with the crowd, was doing a good deal of work forward, and often gained rounds of applause.  At half time the board read Victoria 2 goals 3 behinds South Australia 1 goal 6 behinds.

Purse opened the third quarter with a fine run, and from his kick Worroll passed to Rowell, who scored.  Quinn and Fulton did some good work for South Australia, but Robinson and Goding each got a goal, and in ten minutes Victoria had established a long lead.  In a hot struggle in front of the Victorian posts, Kruss snapped a goal, but the Adelaide men were missing a lot of chances.  Pannam soon afterwards made the run of the day well shepherded by Pearce, and from his kick a behind came.  On the kick-in Thompson ran over the line.  Mr. D'Helin promptly brought the ball back and bounced it, and from the scrimmage which resulted Robinson again scored.

The visitors did not like this decision, for in Adelaide the only penalty in coming over the line is for the man to kick it off again.  Mr. D'Helin was right, however, according to our rules.  Victoria had a strong lead as the final quarter was entered, and Rowell and Lamp each added a goal.  Bailey and Quinn also scored for the visitors, and the game ended.

FINAL SCORE: Victoria 8.7 (55); South Australia 4.16 (40)

BEST - Victoria: Robinson, Rowell, Pannam, Pleass, Pearce, Goding, Lampe   South Australia: Quinn, Woollard, Sandland, MacKenzie, Hosie, Bruce, Bailey

GOALS - Victoria: Robinson 4; Rowell 2; Goding, Lampe   South Australia: Bailey 2; Kruss, Quinn

(Reading the above, it is interesting to note that there is no reference to arguably the most characteristic feature of the Australian game, high marking; on the other hand, the author is clearly impressed by players who embark on long runs with the ball, à la rugby.

The discrepancy in rule interpretation to which the author refers was not going to disappear overnight, either.  As late as the 1990s, for example, Victorian observers would merrily accuse Adelaide Crows players of “throwing” the ball, highlighting a fundamental difference in the way umpires applied the laws of the game relating to handball on either side of the border.)

Seven weeks later, in Adelaide, the South Australians gained revenge over the Vics with a 12 point win, 6.11 (47) to 5.5 (35).  The victory initiated an unprecedented sequence of success for the croweaters, who in 1902 defeated the VFL both home (by 19 points) and away (by 8 points), thereby emphasising the evenness of standard which prevailed at the time.  When the Western Australians emerged on the interstate scene in 1904, they were quick to demonstrate that they, too, were playing football of a comparable standard to both the Victorians and the South Australians.  .