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The Age

1 - 1... after three days

Author: John Harms
Date: 14/03/2008
Words: 855
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: Supplement
Page: 21
A football match between Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College in 1858 has a special place in history as one of the earliest played under 'Victorian rules', writes John Harms.

As the good folk of bluestone Melbourne perused their Melbourne Morning Herald over breakfast on a late winter's Saturday 150 years ago, a notice may well have grabbed their attention: that Melbourne Grammar School was to play Scotch College in the parklands outside the cricket ground that August afternoon.

Many would have craved an athletic contest just because it would give them something to do. A football game was an amusement, a curiosity, a social event. But, for the chaps and ladies of middle class Melbourne, a football match meant much more than that. Many had been educated in the old country, or in schools of the colony established in their image. They had learnt to appreciate the significance of manly games.

The question on their mind may well have been, by what rules would this football match be played?

As it turned out, the match was played by new rules, that became known as the Victorian rules.

But in the minds of those in attendance, the boys were playing a game of football.

At that time, football was the name given to any vigorous contest for the leathern sphere. Indeed, for decades later throughout Australia when football clubs were formed, the first discussion was to decide by which rules that football club would play - the rugby rules, the rules set down by one of the other English public schools, the association rules, the Victorian (later, Australian) rules. Some clubs had this discussion before the start of each season.

The match between Grammar and Scotch has won significance over the years as the first match played by local rules, because the game played in this fashion became tremendously popular.

Although football did develop into a more open contest in the decades following, on this afternoon in the parklands by the cricket ground, the two schools were locked in a dour contest that looked quite a lot like rugby.

They played until sunset and then returned the following Saturday to continue the battle - and then the following Saturday as well. The goals were 800 metres apart. Each team selected an umpire: Melbourne Grammar chose Tom Wills; Scotch chose Dr John Macadam. Numerous trees dotted Yarra Park and the scrimmage of boys would have been difficult to see at times. The match finished in a one-all draw.

In folklore, it is considered the first game of footy as we now know it.

Historians have since found evidence of earlier matches - but the origin of the game which has won a mighty place in Australian culture remains one of the most contested areas of Australian history.

Both Melbourne Grammar and Scotch delight in their place in this history. Both are happy to acknowledge the ongoing research of historians. For Grammar's principal, Paul Sheahan, respect for scholarship goes without saying. Similarly Tim Shearer, executive director of the Old Scotch Collegians Association and former AFL umpire, points out: "We are careful to say we don't dogmatically claim this was the first game of Australian football and that there are differing views which we respect. But we do like to say that this is the first recorded game by two teams who still exist today."

The match is very important to both schools."

I would be surprised to find one student who didn't know about it," says Sheahan.

At Scotch, the football supporters' group is called The 1858 Club. "The history is strongly in the consciousness of the students," Shearer explains. "The two schools share a great rivalry in all sports. In footy, the week leading up to the game is huge.

The boys get so pumped. Overhyped.

Sometimes it impacts negatively on their performance.

So, if anything, we have to play it down."

A number of aniversary events are planned this year.

Melbourne meets Geelong in the AFL at the MCG on the night of Friday, August 8, the two oldest clubs playing the key match in the AFL round that celebrates the 150th anniversary of football.

Melbourne Grammar plays Scotch College at a venue to be decided. This will also be the final match of the APS competition, so could well decide the premier for the school season.

A gala dinner will be held the night before. Not only will it celebrate the 150th anniversary of that match, but representatives of each school will have argued long and hard in picking "a combined team of our history" which will be announced.

The events of the week will entrench further the position of this match in the history of football, and in the history of the two schools.

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