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Australian rules football


Australian rules football

Australian football
A ball-up in a game between Essendon and Hawthorn during the 2007 AFL season
Highest governing body AFL Commission
Nicknames Football, footy, Aussie rules
First played Codified in May 1859 in Melbourne, Victoria.
Registered players 790,905 (total) (2011)
163,000 (adult) (2011)
Clubs 2,659
Contact Full contact
Team members 22 (18 onfield)
Mixed gender Single (at senior level)
Type Outdoor
Equipment Football
Olympic Demonstration sport, 1956 Melbourne Olympics

Australian rules football, officially known as Australian football,[1] also called football, footy, or Aussie rules[2] (and in some regions marketed as AFL after the Australian Football League, the pre-eminent and fully professional Australian football league in the country),[3] is a sport played between two teams of eighteen players on the field of either an Australian football ground, a modified cricket field, or a similarly sized sports venue. The main way to score points is by kicking the ball between the two tall goal posts. The team with the higher total score at the end of the match wins[4] unless a draw is declared.[5]

During general play, players may position themselves anywhere on the field and use any part of their bodies to move the ball. The primary methods are kicking, handballing and running with the ball. There are rules on how the ball can be handled: for example, players running with the ball must intermittently bounce or touch it on the ground. Throwing the ball is not allowed and players must not get caught holding the ball. Possession of the ball is in dispute at all times except when a free kick or mark is paid. A distinctive feature of the game is the mark, where players anywhere on the field who catch a ball from a kick (with specific conditions) are awarded possession.[6]

Australian football is a contact sport in which players can tackle using their hands or use their whole body to obstruct opponents. Dangerous physical contact (such as pushing an opponent in the back), interference when marking and deliberately slowing the play are discouraged with free kicks, distance penalties or suspension for a certain number of matches, depending on the seriousness of the infringement. Frequent physical contests, spectacular marking, fast movement of both players and the ball and high scoring are the game's main attributes.

The game's origins can be traced to football matches played in Melbourne in 1858. Australian football became codified in May 1859 when the first laws were published by the Melbourne Football Club.[7][8]

Australian football has the highest spectator attendance of all sports in Australia.[9][10] The sport is also played at amateur level in many countries and in several variations.

The most prestigious competition is the Australian Football League (AFL), culminating in the annual AFL Grand Final, currently the highest attended club championship event in the world. The rules of Australian football are governed by the AFL Commission with the advice of the AFL's Laws of the Game Committee.


  • Laws of the game 1
    • Field 1.1
    • Match duration 1.2
    • General play 1.3
    • Scoring 1.4
  • Structure and competitions 2
  • History 3
    • Origins 3.1
    • First rules 3.2
    • Early competition in Victoria 3.3
    • Spread to other colonies 3.4
    • Emergence of the VFL 3.5
    • Effects of the two world wars 3.6
    • Interstate football and the Australian National Football Council 3.7
    • Towards a national competition 3.8
  • Women's Australian football 4
  • Australian football internationally 5
    • International rules football 5.1
  • Cultural impact and popularity 6
  • Australian Football Hall of Fame 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Laws of the game


Both the ball and the field of play are oval in shape. No more than 18 players of each team are permitted to be on the field at any time.

Up to three interchange (reserve) players may be swapped for those on the field at any time during the game. In Australian rules terminology, these players wait for substitution "on the bench"—an area with a row of seats on the sideline. Players must interchange through a designated interchange "gate" with strict penalties for too many players from one team on the field. In addition, some leagues like the AFL have each team designate one player as a substitute who can be used to make a single permanent exchange of players during a game.

There is no offside rule nor are there set positions in the rules; unlike many other forms of football, players from both teams may disperse across the whole field before the start of play. However, a typical on-field structure consists of six forwards, six defenders or "backmen" and six midfielders, usually two wingmen, one Centre line (football) and three followers, including a ruckman, ruck-rover and rover. Only four players from each team are allowed within the centre square (50 metres (55 yd)) at every centre bounce, which occurs at the commencement of each quarter, and to restart the game after a goal is scored. There are also other rules pertaining to allowed player positions during set plays (that is, after a mark or free kick) and during kick-ins following the scoring of a behind.

Match duration

A game consists of four quarters and a timekeeper officiates their duration. At professional level quarters consist of 20 minutes of play, with the clock being stopped for instances such as scores, the ball going out of play or at the umpire's discretion. The umpire signals time-off to stop the clock for various reasons, such as the player in possession being tackled to the ground and leading to stagnant play as neither side can recover the ball. Time resumes when the umpire signals time-on or when the ball is brought into play. Such stoppages generally lead to quarters being extended by between five and ten minutes. The official game clock is only known on the field by the timekeepers. Official game time is not displayed to the players or the public; the only knowledge they have of time is when sirens sound to mark the beginning and end of each quarter. Official time may be approximated by broadcasters to display to television audiences. Teams change ends at the end of each quarter; umpires change ends at half time.

General play

Marking the ball is one of Australian football's distinctive features. (Pictured: Essendon great John Coleman takes a spectacular mark in 1950.)

Games are officiated by umpires. Before the game, the winner of a coin toss determines which directions the teams will play to begin. Australian football begins after the first siren, when the umpire bounces the ball on the ground (or throws it into the air if the condition of the ground is poor), and the two ruckmen (typically the tallest players from each team) battle for the ball in the air on its way back down. This is known as the ball-up. Certain disputes during play may also be settled with a ball-up from the point of contention. If the ball ever goes out of bounds (beyond the oval boundary line around the edge of the field), a boundary umpire will stand with his back to the infield and return the ball into play with a throw-in, a high backwards toss back into the field of play.

The ball can be propelled in any direction by way of a foot, clenched fist (called a handball or handpass) or open-hand tap but it cannot be thrown under any circumstances. Once a player takes possession of the ball he must dispose of it by either kicking or handballing it. Any other method of disposal is illegal and will result in a free kick to the opposing team. This is usually called "incorrect disposal", "dropping the ball" or "throwing". If the ball is not in the possession of one player it can be moved on with any part of the body.

A player may run with the ball, but it must be bounced or touched on the ground at least once every 15 metres. Opposition players may bump or tackle the player to obtain the ball and, when tackled, the player must dispose of the ball cleanly or risk being penalised for holding the ball. The ball carrier may only be tackled between the shoulders and knees. If the opposition player forcefully contacts a player in the back while performing a tackle, the opposition player will be penalised for a push in the back. If the opposition tackles the player with possession below the knees (a low tackle or a trip) or above the shoulders (a high tackle), the team with possession of the football gets a free kick.

Precise field and goal kicking is the most important skill in Australian football.

If a player takes possession of the ball that has travelled more than 15 metres (16 yd) from another player's kick, by way of a catch, it is claimed as a mark (meaning that the game stops while he prepares to kick from the point at which he marked). Alternatively, he may choose to "play on" forfeiting the set shot in the hope of pressing an advantage for his team (rather than allowing the opposition to reposition while he prepares for the free kick). Once a player has chosen to play on, normal play resumes and the player who took the mark is again able to be tackled.

There are different styles of kicking depending on how the ball is held in the hand. The most common style of kicking seen in today's game, principally because of its superior accuracy, is the drop punt, where the ball is dropped from the hands down, almost to the ground, to be kicked so that the ball rotates in a reverse end over end motion as it travels through the air. Other commonly used kicks are the torpedo punt (also known as the spiral, barrel, or screw punt), where the ball is held flatter at an angle across the body, which makes the ball spin around its long axis in the air, resulting in extra distance (similar to the traditional motion of an American football punt), and the checkside punt or "banana", kicked across the ball with the outside of the foot used to curve the ball (towards the right if kicked off the right foot) towards targets that are on an angle. There is also the "snap", which is almost the same as a checkside punt except that it is kicked off the inside of the foot and curves in the opposite direction. It is also possible to kick the ball so that it bounces along the ground. This is known as a "grubber". Grubbers can bounce in a straight line, or curve to the left or right.

Apart from free kicks, marks or when the ball is in the possession of an umpire for a ball up or throw in, the ball is always in dispute and any player from either side can take possession of the ball.


Sherrin is the official game ball of the Australian Football League.
The two tall central posts are the goal posts, and the two shorter outer posts are the behind posts

A goal, worth 6 points, is scored when the football is propelled through the goal posts at any height (including above the height of the posts) by way of a kick from the attacking team. It may fly through "on the full" (without touching the ground) or bounce through, but must not have been touched, on the way, by any player from either team. A goal cannot be scored from the foot of an opposition (defending) player.

A behind, worth 1 point, is scored when the ball passes between a goal post and a behind post at any height, or if the ball hits a goal post, or if any player sends the ball between the goal posts by touching it with any part of the body other than a foot. A behind is also awarded to the attacking team if the ball touches any part of an opposition player, including his foot, before passing between the goal posts. When an opposition player deliberately scores a behind for the attacking team (generally as a last resort, because of the risk of their scoring a goal) this is termed a rushed behind. Before the start of the 2009 season, there was no additional penalty imposed for rushing a behind, compared to any other behind. However, for the start of the 2009 season[11] a new rule was announced[12] awarding a free kick against any player who deliberately rushes a behind.

The goal umpire signals a goal with two hands pointed forward at elbow height, or a behind with one hand. The umpire then confirms the signal with the other goal umpire by waving flags above their heads.

The team that has scored the most points at the end of play wins the game. If the scores are level on points at the end of play, then the game is a draw; extra time applies only during finals matches in some competitions.

As an example of a score report, consider a match between Collingwood and St Kilda. Collingwood's score of 16 goals and 12 behinds equates to 108 points. St Kilda's score of 7 goals and 10 behinds equates to a 52-point tally. Collingwood wins the match by a margin of 56 points. Such a result would be written as:

"Collingwood 16.12 (108) defeated St Kilda 7.10 (52)."

And said:

"Collingwood, sixteen-twelve, one hundred and eight, defeated St Kilda seven-ten, fifty-two".

Additionally, it can be said that:

"Collingwood defeated St Kilda by fifty-six points".

The home team is typically listed first and the visiting side is listed second. The scoreline is written with respect to the home side.

For example, Port Adelaide won in successive weeks, once as the home side and once as the visiting side. These would be written out thus:

"Port Adelaide 23.20 (158) defeated Essendon 8.14 (62)."[13]
"West Coast 17.13 (115) defeated by Port Adelaide 18.10 (118)."[14]

Structure and competitions

The football season proper is from March to August (early autumn to late winter in Australia) with finals being held in September and October.[15] In the tropics, the game is sometimes played in the wet season (October to March).[16] Pre-season competitions in southern Australia usually begin in late February.

The AFL is recognised by the amateur clubs and competitions around the world.[18]

For almost all Australian football club competitions the aim is to win the Premiership. The premiership is always decided by a finals series. The teams that occupy the highest positions on the ladder after the home-and-away season play off in a "semi-knockout" finals series, culminating in a single Grand Final match to determine the premiers. Typically between four and eight teams contest the finals series. The team which finishes first on the ladder after the home-and-away season is referred to as a "minor premier", but this usually holds little stand-alone significance, other than receiving a better draw in the finals.

Many suburban and amateur leagues have a sufficient number of teams to be played across several tiered divisions, with promotion of the lower division premiers and relegation of the upper division's last placed team at the end of each year. At present, none of the top level national or state level leagues in Australia are large enough to warrant this structure.



Statue next to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on the approximate site of the 1858 "foot-ball" match between Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College. Tom Wills is depicted umpiring behind two young players contesting the ball. The plaque reads that Wills "did more than any other person – as a footballer and umpire, co-writer of the rules and promoter of the game – to develop Australian football during its first decade."[19]

As early as 1841, there is documented evidence of "foot-ball" being played in metropolitan and country Victoria as well as mention of early matches in Adelaide (1843) and southern Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). While the exact rules being played in these matches are unknown they may have shared similarities and influences.

In the late 1850s Melbourne's schools are first recorded organising football games modeled on precedents at English schools.[20] The earliest known such match was played on 15 June 1858 between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar School on the St Kilda foreshore.[21][22]

On 10 July 1858, the Melbourne-based Bell's Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle published a letter by prominent Victorian cricketer Tom Wills, calling for the formation of a "foot-ball club" with a "code of laws" to keep cricketers fit during winter.[23] This letter is regarded by many historians as giving impetus for the development of a new code of football today known as Australian football.

On 31 July, a scratch match was held at the Richmond Paddock adjoining the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Trees were used for goal posts and there were no boundaries and the match lasted from 1 p.m. until dark. There were no rules and fights frequently broke out. Melbourne being a relatively young city, the majority of the early players were migrants and the media of the time noted that participants of each nationality played the game their own distinctive way: some were "guided by their particular set of rules, others by no rules at all".

Another significant milestone in the sport's development was a match between Melbourne Grammar School and Scotch College, which began on 7 August 1858 at Richmond Paddock, was umpired by Wills and John Macadam,[24] and which also involved Scotch College headmaster Thomas H. Smith.[25] A second day of play took place on 21 August[26] and a third, and final, day on 4 September.[27] While the full rules that were used is unknown, some details of the match survived. It was played with a round ball, the distance between the goals was approximately half a mile (approximately four times longer than the modern Melbourne Cricket Ground playing surface), there were 40 players per side and one goal each side was scored with the game being declared a draw. The two schools have competed annually ever since in the Cordner-Eggleston Cup, the world's oldest continuous football competition.[28]

The theory that Australian football was derived from Gaelic football became popular in the mid-20th century, despite the fact that Australian football was codified almost 30 years before the Irish game.[29] There is no archival evidence in favour of a Gaelic origin, and the style of play shared between the two modern codes was evident in Australia long before the Irish game evolved in a similar direction.[30] Since the 1980s, the theory that Australian football comes from the Aboriginal game of Marn Grook has also gained attention.[31] It is claimed that Tom Wills, growing up amongst Aborigines in Victoria, may have seen or played Marn Grook, and used elements from the game when formulating the laws of Australian football. This, too, has no basis in direct evidence.[32]

First rules

The Melbourne Football Club's rules of 1859 are the oldest surviving set of laws for Australian football. The

  • Australian Football League (AFL) official website
  • Australian Football: Celebrating The History of the Great Australian Game
  • Laws of Australian Football
  • Australian Football explained in 17 languages – a publication from
  • Reading the Game - An Annotated Bibliography of Australian Rules Football

External links

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ 2012 Laws of the game (p. 6)
  5. ^ In some special situations such as Grand Finals or other knockout tournaments, if the score is tied, either extra time or a rematch the following week is required to get a result.
  6. ^ 2012 Laws of the game Section 14, page 45
  7. ^ History Official Website of the Australian Football League
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ AFL rules on deliberate rushed behinds
  12. ^ All clear for rushed behind rule | Herald Sun
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ [1] Archived 30 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Bombers soaring on the Tiwi Islands
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ First Australian Rules Game, Monument Australia. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  20. ^ Pennings, Mark (2012). Origins of Australian Football: Victoria's Early History: Volume 1: Amateur Heroes and the Rise of Clubs, 1858 to 1876. Connor Court Publishing Pty Ltd. ISBN 9781921421471, p. 8.
  21. ^
  22. ^ The Melbourne Book – A History of Now. Published 2003. Hardie Grant Books. South Yarra. ISBN 1-74066-049-8. pg. 182
  23. ^
  24. ^ The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848–1954) Monday 9 August 1858
  25. ^ pg 36. Melbourne FC Since 1858 – An Illustrated History
  26. ^ The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848–1954) Tuesday 17 August 1858
  27. ^ a b p303.
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ Melbourne FC Since 1858: An Illustrated History. Goeff Slattery Publishing, pg 20–10.
  34. ^ G. M. Hibbins. Sport and Racing in Colonial Melbourne: The Cousins and Me: Colden Harrison, Tom Wills and William Hammersley. Lynedoch 2007, chs 8, 9.
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ Referenced in
  39. ^ WICKS, B. M. Whatever Happened to Australian Rules? Hobart, Tasmania, Libra Books. 1980, First Edition. (ISBN 0-909619-06-9)
  40. ^ Flanagan, Martin (12 March 2011). "Balance a key to great game", The Age. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  41. ^ Hess, Rob (2000). "'Ladies are Specially Invited': Women in the Culture of Australian Rules Football". In Mangan, J. A.; Nauright, John. Sport in Australasian Society: Past and Present. Psychology Press. pp. 111–141. ISBN 978-0-7146506-0-9.
  42. ^ Browne, Ashley (2008). "For Women, Too". In Weston, James. The Australian Game of Football: Since 1858. Geoff Slattery Publishing. pp. 253–259. ISBN 978-0-9803466-6-4.
  43. ^ a b Florance, Loretta (23 May 2015). "National AFL women's league 'inevitable', as teams line up for third year of exhibition matches", ABC News. Retrieved 23 May 2015.
  44. ^ Lane, Samantha (27 March 2013). "AFL sees the light on women's footy", The Age. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  45. ^ AFL International Development Archived 21 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^ McAullife, Chris (1995). "Eyes on the Ball: Images of Australian Rules Football", Art & Australia (Vol 32 No 4), pp. 490–500
  51. ^ Heathcote, Christopher (August 2009). "Bush Football: The Kunoth Family", Art Monthly (Issue 222).
  52. ^ Angel, Anita (23 November 2009). "Looking at Art", Charles Darwin University Art Collection & Art Gallery. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  53. ^ Rielly, Stephen (30 December 2008). "Cartoonist William Ellis Green spoke to AFL tribe", The Australian. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  54. ^ Douglas, Tim (30 August 2012). "Ballet's former glories show footy's left its mark", The Australian. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  55. ^ Worrell, Shane (3 April 2010). "Modern footy not in tune", Bendigo Advertiser. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  56. ^ Media Release, Sweeney Sport report for 2006–07 Archived 27 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  57. ^
  58. ^ a b
  59. ^
  60. ^ Curtis, R. (11 May 2008). "Pacific nations bemoan AFL neglect". The Sunday Age (Melbourne).
  61. ^
  62. ^
  63. ^ Murray a Legend, six inducted –
  64. ^


See also

The following thirteen members have been promoted to the status of "Legend" since 1996: Ian Stewart (1997), Gordon Coventry (1998), Peter Hudson (1999), Kevin Bartlett (2000), Barrie Robran (2001), Bill Hutchison (2003), Jock McHale (2005), Darrel Baldock (2006), Norm Smith (2007), Alex Jesaulenko (2008),[62] Kevin Murray (2010),[63] Barry Cable (2012),[64] and Tony Lockett (2015).

The elite Legend status was bestowed on 12 members of the Hall of Fame in 1996: Ron Barassi, Haydn Bunton Senior, Roy Cazaly, John Coleman, Jack Dyer, Polly Farmer, Leigh Matthews, John Nicholls, Bob Pratt, Dick Reynolds, Bob Skilton and Ted Whitten (see above list for further details).

For the centenary of the VFL/AFL in 1996, the Australian Football Hall of Fame was established. In that year 136 identities were inducted, including 100 players, 10 coaches, 10 umpires, 10 administrators and six media representatives.[61]

Australian Football Hall of Fame

Many related games have emerged from Australian football, mainly with variations of contact to encourage greater participation. These include kick-to-kick (and its variants end-to-end footy and marks up), Auskick, rec footy, 9-a-side footy, masters Australian football, handball and longest-kick competitions. Players outside of Australia sometimes engage in related games adapted to available fields, like metro footy (played on gridiron fields) and Samoa rules (played on rugby fields).

In 2006, 615,549 registered participants played Australian football in Australia.[58] Participation increased 7.84% between 2005 and 2006.[58] The Australian Sports Commission statistics show a 64% increase in the total number of participants over the 10-year period between 2001 and 2010.[59] In 2008 there were 35,000 people in 32 countries playing in structured competitions of Australian football outside of Australia.[60]

Australian football has attracted more overall interest among Australians (as measured by the Sweeney Sports report) than any other football code, and, when compared with all sports throughout the nation, has consistently ranked first in the winter reports, and most recently third behind cricket and swimming in summer.[56][57]

Australian football is popular among indigenous communities.

Australian football has been an inspiration for writers and poets including Manning Clarke, Bruce Dawe and Philip Hodgins.[49] Paintings by Arthur Streeton (The National Game, 1889) and Sidney Nolan (Footballer, 1946) helped to establish Australian football as a serious subject for artists.[50] Many Aboriginal artists have explored the game, often fusing it with the mythology of their region.[51][52] Statues of Australian football identities can be found throughout the country. In cartooning, WEG's VFL/AFL premiership posters—inaugurated in 1954—have achieved iconic status among Australian football fans.[53] Dance sequences based on Australian football feature heavily in Robert Helpmann's 1964 ballet The Display, his first and most famous work for the Australian Ballet.[54] The game has also inspired well-known plays such as And the Big Men Fly (1963) by Alan Hopgood and David Williamson's The Club (1977), which was adapted into a 1980 film by director Bruce Beresford. Mike Brady's 1979 hit "Up There Cazaly" is considered an Australian football anthem, and references to the sport can be found in works by popular musicians, from singer-songwriter Paul Kelly to the alternative rock band TISM.[55] Many Australian football video games have been released, most notably the AFL series.

Australian football is a sport rich in tradition and Australian cultural references, especially surrounding the rituals of gameday for players, officials and supporters.

South Melbourne's renowned ruck combination of the 1920s, left to right: Mark Tandy, Fred Fleiter and Roy Cazaly. Fleiter coined the phrase "Up there, Cazaly!" as a signal that he had cleared the way for Cazaly to leap for the ball. It was used as a battle cry by Australian soldiers during World War II, and inspired Mike Brady's 1979 Australian football anthem of the same name.

Cultural impact and popularity

Since 1967 there have been many matches between Australian football teams (mainly from Australia) and Gaelic football teams (mainly from Ireland), under various sets of hybrid, compromise rules known as International rules football. In 1984, the first official representative matches of International Rules were played, and these were played annually each October between the AFL and the Gaelic Athletic Association, also known as the GAA, between 1998 and 2006. These were part of the official International Rules Series, which attracted large crowds and media interest in Ireland and Australia. In 2007 the international rules series was abandoned because of the aggression and the severity of the Australian team in the previous year, but in 2008, under new rules to protect the player with the ball, it resumed in Australia.

International rules football

The AFL became the de facto governing body when it pushed for the closure of the International Australian Football Council in 2002. The Australian Football International Cup is currently the highest level of senior international competition.

Prince Charles is the Patron of AFL Europe. In 2013, participation across AFL Europe's 21 member nations was more than 5,000 players, the majority of which are European nationals rather than Australian expats.[48]

Most of the current amateur clubs and leagues in existence have developed since the 1980s, when leagues began to be established in North America, Europe and Asia. The sport developed a cult following in the United States when matches were broadcast on ESPN in the late 1980s.[47] As the size of the Australian diaspora has increased, so has the number of clubs outside Australia. This expansion has been further aided by multiculturalism and assisted by exhibition matches as well as exposure generated through players who have converted to and from other football codes. In Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and the United States there are many thousands of players.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the game spread with the Australian diaspora to areas such as New Zealand and South Africa; however this growth went into rapid decline following World War I. After World War II, the sport experienced a small amount of growth in the Pacific region, particularly in Nauru, where Australian football is the national sport, as well as Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.[46]

Australian football is played at an amateur level in various countries around the world. Over 50 countries are home to clubs or leagues who play regularly. Twenty countries have participated in the Euro Cup and 22 countries have participated in the International Cup with both competitions prohibiting Australian players. Over 20 countries have either affiliation or working agreements with the AFL.[45] There have been several players in the VFL/AFL who were born outside Australia and since 1982, an increasing number of players have been recruited from outside Australia through initiatives such as the Irish experiment and more recently, international scholarship programs.

Australian football match at Linkbelt Oval in Nauru, where Australian football is considered the national sport

Australian football internationally

As of 2014, 195,000 females (19% of all players) participate in the game across Australia.[43] The AFL Women's National Championships is the premier competition for women's Australian football. On the back of the inaugural AFL Women's Draft in 2013 and a series of exhibition matches at the MCG, the AFL is set to establish a semi-professional, nationally televised women's league competition by 2020.[44] Gillon McLachlan, CEO of the AFL, stated that he would like the push the league's founding date to 2017.[43]

The level of interest shown by women in Australian football in considered unique among the world's football codes.[40] It was the case in the 19th-century, as it is in modern times, that women made up approximately half of crowds at Australian football matches—a far greater proportion than association football and the two rugby codes.[41] This has been attributed in part to the egalitarian character of Australian football's origins in public parks where women could mingle freely and support the game in various ways.[42]

Action from a women's match on the Gold Coast between Bond University and Burleigh Heads

Women's Australian football

The AFL has signalled further expansion by scheduling a competition match in New Zealand 2013 and up to three competition matches in 2014 played in Wellington.

Although a Tasmanian AFL Bid has been ongoing, the AFL's recent focus has been gaining market share in lucrative broadcasting rights in two populous Australian states, helped by introducing clubs on the Gold Coast and in Greater Western Sydney. The AFL regularly schedules pre-season exhibition matches in all Australian states and territories as part of the Regional Challenge.

State of origin games also declined in importance, especially after an increasing number of withdrawals by AFL players. The AFL turned its focus for representation to an annual International Rules Series against Ireland in 1998 before abolishing State of Origin in 1999. The second-tier state and territorial leagues still contest interstate representative matches.

Following the emergence of the Australian Football League, the SANFL, WAFL and other state leagues rapidly declined to a secondary status. Apart from these there are many semi-professional and amateur leagues around Australia, where they play a very important role in the community, and particularly so in rural areas. The VFA, still in existence a century after the original schism, merged with the former VFL reserves competition in 1998. The new entity adopted the VFL name and remained a primarily state-based competition.

The league changed its name to the Australian Football League (AFL) following the 1989 season. In 1991, it gained its first South Australian team, the Adelaide Crows, which paid five million dollars to enter the AFL. During the next five years, two more non-Victorian teams, the Fremantle Dockers and Port Adelaide Power, joined the league. In 2011 and 2012, respectively, two new non-Victorian teams were added to the competition, the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants. The AFL, currently with 18 member clubs, is the sport's elite competition and the most powerful body and continues to seek further opportunities to expand into new markets.

Founded in 1870, Port Adelaide was the only pre-existing club outside Victoria to gain entry into the AFL.

In 1982, in a move that heralded big changes within the sport, one of the original VFL clubs and now struggling, South Melbourne, relocated to Sydney and became known as the Sydney Swans. In the late 1980s, due to the poor financial standing of many of the Victorian clubs, the VFL pursued a more national competition. Two more non-Victorian clubs, the West Coast Eagles and the Brisbane Bears, began playing in 1987. In their early years, the Sydney and Brisbane clubs struggled both on and off-field because the substantial TV revenues they generated by playing on a Sunday went to the VFL. To protect these revenues the VFL granted significant draft concessions and financial aid to keep them competitive. Each club was required to pay a licence fee which allowed the Victorian-based clubs to survive.

By 1980, the way the game was played had changed dramatically due to innovative coaching tactics, with the phasing out of many of the game's kicking styles and the increasing use of handball; while presentation was influenced by television.[39]

In 1978, the term Barassi Line was used to describe the dichotomy that existed in Australia's football culture, where Australian Football was most popular in all states bar New South Wales and Queensland. This description prompted the first suggestions of regular interstate club competition and of overcoming the dichotomy and establishing a national league.[38]

The West Coast Eagles and Sydney Swans line up for the national anthem at the 2005 AFL Grand Final. Traditionally held at the MCG, the Grand Final is the highest attended club championship event in the world.

Towards a national competition

With the lack of international competition, representative matches between state teams were regarded with great importance. Originating from the early intercolonial matches, these tests continued well after Federation of Australia in 1901 and the Australian Football Council co-ordinated regular interstate carnivals. In 1908, a Jubilee Australasian Football Carnival was held to celebrate 50 years of Australian Football. The carnival included teams representing Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia and New Zealand.[37] Due in part to Victoria recruiting some of the best players to play in the VFL, Victoria dominated interstate matches for three quarters of a century. Representative football was kept alive longer than the national club competition with the introduction of State of origin rules in 1977. The new rules mean that rather than representing the state of their adopted club, players would return to play for the state they were first recruited in. This instantly broke Victoria's stranglehold over state titles and Western Australia and South Australia began to win more of their games against Victoria. Both New South Wales and Tasmania scored surprise victories at home against Victoria in 1990.

The ANFC ran the Championship of Australia, the first national club competition, which commenced in 1888 and saw clubs from different states compete on an even playing field. During this time, the Port Adelaide won a record four national club championships. Although clubs from other states were at times invited, the final was almost always between the premiers from the two strongest state competitions of the time—South Australia and Victoria—and the majority of matches were played in Adelaide at the request of the SAFA/SAFL. The last match was played in 1976, with North Adelaide being the last non-Victorian winner in 1972. Between 1976 and 1987, the ANFC, and later the Australian Football Championships (AFC) ran a night series, which invited clubs and representative sides from around the country to participate in a knock-out tournament parallel to the premiership seasons, which Victorian sides still dominated.

The Australian National Football Council's primary role was to govern the game at national level to facilitate interstate representative and club competition.

New South Wales and Queensland compete at the 1933 Australian Football Carnival at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Interstate football and the Australian National Football Council

Both World War I and World War II had a devastating effect on Australian football and on Australian sport in general. While scratch matches were played by Australian "diggers" in remote locations around the world, the game lost many of its great players to wartime service. Some competitions never fully recovered. Between 1914 and 1915 talks were held for a proposed amalgamation with rugby league, the predominant code of football in New South Wales and Queensland, resulting in a trial run.[35][36] World War I saw the game in New Zealand go into recess for three quarters of a century. In Queensland, the state league went into recess for the duration of the war. VFL club University left the league and went into recess due to severe casualties. The WAFL lost two clubs and the SANFL was suspended for one year in 1916 due to heavy club losses. The ANZAC Day clash is one example of how the war continues to be remembered in the football community.

Australia's first recruitment poster, published in 1915, questions the public's commitment to Australian football, rather than the war.

Effects of the two world wars

In 1896, delegates from the stronger and wealthier VFA clubs—Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, St Kilda and South Melbourne—met to form a breakaway competition and in 1897, the Victorian Football League (VFL), was born as an eight-team competition. Popularity of the VFL grew rapidly and by 1925 with 12 teams, had become the most prominent league in the game and would dominate so many aspects of the sport from that point on.

Emergence of the VFL

The first intercolonial match had been played between Victoria and South Australia on 2 August 1879.

Despite being the dominant code in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia late in the century the code was beginning to decline in New South Wales and Queensland largely due to competition with other more popular football codes, as well as interstate rivalries and the lack of strong local governing bodies. In the case of Sydney, denial of access to grounds and the loss of professional players to other football codes directly inhibited to the game's growth.

Gradually the game, known at first as "Melbourne rules" which became "Victorian rules" and then "Australian rules" or "Australasian rules," gained roots in other Australasian colonies—beginning with South Australia (1860), Tasmania (1864), Queensland (1866), and New Zealand (1871). In 1877, the sport's first governing bodies, the South Australian Football Association and the Victorian Football Association were formed on 30 April and 17 May respectively. The game began to be played in New South Wales in 1877, in Western Australia in 1881 (during the 1880s, young men sent to school in Adelaide brought the game home when they had finished their education—more came from the eastern states later in the Western Australian gold rush) and the Australian Capital Territory in 1911. By 1916, the game was first played in the Northern Territory, establishing a permanent presence in all Australian states and mainland territories.

Engraving of the first intercolonial football match between Victoria and South Australia at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground, 1879

Spread to other colonies

Football matches between 1859 and 1899 were played in a 20-per-side format.

The relationship with cricket primarily came out of co-existence and many of football's founders were cricketers. As a result, the sport shares some terminology (i.e. "umpires" and "boundary"). However cricket authorities did not initially allow football to be played on their grounds and in the early years football was played primarily in parks. The first football match played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) was not until 1876. Cricket authorities soon saw the opportunity to capitalise on the rapid growth of Australian football, however, and soon most grounds in Victoria were expanded to accommodate the dual purpose, a situation that continues to this day.

Some rival rules eventually gave way to an acceptance of the Melbourne rules. In 1860, the Melbourne Football Club redrafted its rules following the input of several other clubs. The requirement to bounce the ball while running was introduced in a significant redraft of the Melbourne rules in 1866 by H. C. A. Harrison and his rules committee to satisfy the Geelong Football Club's own set of very different rules.[34] Behind posts, introduced at this time, are also believed to have come directly from the Geelong rules. The new rules became known as the Victorian rules, which became more widely adopted. In 1869, a 100-minute time limit was introduced to the game for the first time. Previous to this, winners were decided in a number of ways, but most commonly the first side to kick two goals.

The first trophy for Australian Rules Football, the 1861 Challenge Cup, was won in 1862 under Melbourne's rules by University over Melbourne. The competition continued into the 1860s with the addition of other teams from Melbourne's suburbs. Two further competitions, the South Yarra Challenge Cup (which had evolved from the Caledonian Games) and "Second Twenties" were held in the 1860s and 1870s.

In 1859 several new football clubs formed including the Castlemaine Football Club, Geelong Football Club and the Melbourne University Football Club. While many one-off matches are recorded to have taken place between several early teams from Melbourne's suburbs and country Victoria (such as the Ballarat and Geelong competitions), in the early days many had not yet formed clubs for regular competition.

Engraving of a football match at the Richmond Paddock (Yarra Park), 1860s. A pavilion at the MCG is on the left in the background.

Early competition in Victoria

(codified in 1871). rugby union (codified in 1863) and soccer The rules were signed by Tom Wills, William Hammersley, J. Sewell, J. B. Thompson, Alex Bruce, T. Butterworth and Thomas H. Smith. Importantly, the rules were widely publicised and distributed. Having been codified in 1859, Australian football is older than any other major football code, including [33] The AFL is the

Most of these hold annual semi-professional club competitions while the others oversee more than one league. Local semi-professional or amateur organisations and competitions are often affiliated to their state organisations.

There are also seven state/territory-based organisations in Australia, most of which are now either owned by or affiliated to the AFL. [17]

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