|Emigrants to the Colony of Victoria brought with them a variety of approaches to playing football from their schools and towns in England, Ireland and Scotland. Thus Australian football had its evolutionary beginnings in the 1850s
in scratch matches (games without standard rules) played in Melbourne parks on holidays.|
By 1858 some of these games were advertised or recorded in local
newspapers or diaries. From these records we know that on 5 June 1858
Melbourne Grammar School won a game of football against St Kilda Grammar,
on 31 July 1858 a scratch match between young men was arranged by the
local publican Jerry Bryant near the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and the boys
from Melbourne Grammar played against a group of men from St Kilda.
In August and September of that year the well known three-game match
between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar was played, as were at
least five other scratch matches that we know of. There were probably others.
A new sporting code
Also in 1858, the idea of establishing a football club and formalising the
rules was first suggested in a public forum. On 10 July, the Victorian cricket
captain Tom Wills wrote a letter to Bell's Life in Victoria & Sporting Chronicle calling for the foundation of a "foot-ball club" with a "code of laws" to keep cricketers fit during winter and benefit the turf of the cricket ground.
It was not acted upon until May 1859 when the Melbourne Football Club was
made official and a committee of four men organised some rules. They were
the university-educated Irish teacher Tom Smith, English university-educated
journalists from York and Surrey, James Thompson and William Hammersley
and Australian Tom Wills, educated at the Rugby School in England. These
rules of the Melbourne Football Club subsequently became the Australian
From its beginnings, Melbourne football attracted big crowds, as it was
played in large open parklands and was free to watch. Trees could be used for
goalposts and the game played with a round ball, as pictured on the stamp left in the 1866 engraving of a game of football in the Richmond Paddock, adjacent to today's Melbourne Cricket Ground.