Beginning with beginnings: the 1885 season

by poskitt

I shall start, as is customary, at the beginning:

The West Australian of Wednesday, 13 May, 1885, reports as follows:

Meetings of the Committees of the “Fremantle”, “Rovers” and the “Victorian” Football Clubs, respectively, were held held on Friday evening last at the Criterion Hotel, for the purposing of forming a Football Association. Mr. Stafford of the Rovers was voted to the Chair, and, in advocating the object of the meeting, stated that in his opinion the Association should have been formed some years ago, instead of being left till the present time. A copy of the Rules of the Adelaide and Suburban Football Association having been read, it was unanimously resolved to adapt them to local circumstances, which were subsequently passed by the meeting. It was agreed that the Association should be called the “West Australian Football Association,” that it should consist of an unlimited number of clubs; that the Subscription should be one guinea for the season for each club, and that two delegates be appointed from every subscribing club to form a general committee. The election of Office Bearers for the current season was then proceeded with. Mr. Dyson of the Victorians was elected Hon. Secretary pro. tem. Dr. Scott was chosen patron. His Worship the Mayor of Fremantle, Mr. B. C. Wood, was nominated President, and Major Sutherland, Dr. Barnett, Dr. Jameson, Dr. Hope, Messrs. Marmion, Maitland Brown, S. H. Parker, R. E. A. Wilkinson, J. W. Hackett, James Morrison and R. F. Shell, Vice Presidents of the Association. The Secretary was instructed to write to the above named gentlemen soliciting their acceptance of office.

The Secretary read a letter from Mr. B[????] of the High School, saying, that, although unable to attend the meeting that night, he would be happy to join the Association. The Fremantle Committee also stated most probably that the Union Club of Fremantle would join. After the usual compliment to the chair, the meeting closed.

It was such that the inaugural governing body of Australian football (at the time called Victorian Rules or the Australian Game) in Western Australia was formed, already with the support of several of the colony’s eminent personalities, including Maitland Brown, the Member of the Legislative Council for Gascoyne; John Winthrop Hackett, proprietor of both of the colony’s leading newspapers, The Western Mail and The West Australian; William Edward Marmion, MLC for Fremantle; and Barrington Clarke Wood, the Mayor of Fremantle.

The first match contested under the auspices of the new association was held at 3pm on Saturday, 6 June, at the Recreation Ground in Perth (now the Perth Esplanade), between the Victorian and Rovers clubs. Notably, the team for Victorians was named as follows, consisting of 19 players and four “emergencies”:

A. G. Rankin (Capt.), Haussen, H. R. Dixon, C. D. Longson, C. G. Anderson, Hardy, A. C. Gull, C. Crossland, R. Ward, W. R. Ward, M. Coomer, Carmichael, Jones, Marshall, A. Johns, G. S. Hornbrook, P. Healey, Sheen and Armstrong. Emergencies: Walsh, Clark, Sinclair and Ashwell.

The West anticipated a “fast and exciting game”. A report published in the paper the following Saturday makes for interesting reading. A crowd of “about three hundred spectators” witnessed the game, which out of Perth’s population of 9000 at the time, was not an unsubstantial figure, and, one could say, heralded the immense popularity of the game in the following century. The game was by no means an organised affair – rules were variable. Indeed, one player, Drummond of the Rovers, was said to have carried the ball behind the line in an attempt to “touch down”, as in the Rugby rules. It was reported that Rovers played in colours of  yellow and black, and Victorians in red and blue, although this was by no means fixed, with one player “coming out in white, blue, amber and black” according to The Inquirer. The same paper praised the adoption of uniform, supposing it gave the field a “gay and animated appearance”. Both teams were nicknamed by the papers, with Victorians called either the “Vic’s” or the “Reds” and Rovers nicknamed the “Yellow and Blacks” or the “Tigers”.

The coin toss was won by the Victorians’ captain Rankin, who elected to kick towards the north-west goal. The game began with a rugby-style “kick-off” by Ogborne of the Rovers “exactly at half-past three o’clock” against a very strong wind. The first score of the game was a behind, recorded by the Victorians. The score at half time was, depending on the paper, Victorians three (The Inquirer) or four (The West) behinds to Rovers three (The Inquirer) or two (The West) behinds. No quarter or three-quarter time was played. Rovers had the advantage of the wind in the second half, and scored one goal, recording by Hussey. The final score is again disputed between the two publications, The Inquirer had Rovers defeating Victorians 1.7 to 0.3, and The West had Rovers winning 1.6 to 0.6. However, both publications agreed that Rovers had won, and were the better team. The best players were, for Rovers, Harkness (agreed by both papers as the best on ground), Stafford, Strickland, Ogborne, Hussey and Bishop, and for Victorian, Rankin, Gamson, Gull, R. Ward and Dixon.

Some now traditional elements  of the game were noticed for the first time, including this amusing description of one player’s attempts to get the ball:

Only one accident occurred, and this was due to one of the “Vic’s” mistaking the “Oyster” [ball] for pearl shells, and diving into them at the expense of a few superficial inches of skin and a somewhat scarlet appearance during the remainder of the game.

The inaugural umpire was a Mr. Fethers, who was praised for the “able and efficient manner in which he discharged his onerous and by no means pleasant duties” and his “good sense to overlook hasty utterances”.