FOOTBALL

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The game of football - the only game true to it's name as it is the only game where the ONLY way you can score a goal is with the foot (unlike soccer, rugby or gridiron) - is the most exciting team sport on earth. After all, it is easier to score in this game than in any other (except probably basketball) and it also includes a limited variety of contact subject to the rules. It is also a sport that is better viewed live at the venue instead of on television.

The game was first played in what passed for it's present form in 1858 in Melbourne as a means of finding an appropriate winter activity to keep the cricket players fit when they weren't playing. On a paddock with trees all over it and the goals a large distance apart, two private schools - Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College - tried out the game over three days. The game took place in the parklands now occupied by the MCG and the Punt Road Oval. It finished in a draw with both teams scoring the same number of goals. Since that first game, the schools have met annually and are probably the most appropriate guides to the development of the game. Nowadays, with both schools having a strong football program in its curriculum, it is not unusual to see elite AFL coaches in attendance. I intended to attend the game in 2008 - the 150th anniversary of the game - but it was moved to a position as an AFL curtain raiser, wrecking those plans.

There is much conjecture as to the origins of the game that was developed and played in 1858. In my opinion three different forms of football are seen to have played a role. The first is Gaelic Football, played predominantly in Ireland and it bears the closest resemblance to our game. It is for this reason that a hybrid version manages to work when teams from Ireland and Australia play test matches against each. The second is rugby (what we know now as union that is), which has more to do with the contact than the ball play in its part in the development of the game.

The third is a variety of football played by the Australian Aborigines called "Marn Grook". It was being played well before 1858, and in terms of the layout of the field of play it could be argued that it was played exactly that same way as that inaugural game in 1858 was - except that there were no real rules as such in the Aboriginal game and no scoring either. It may explain why the Aborigines have such a well-developed instinct for the game, as seen on the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory, and as I observed personally in Broome in June 2006.

Even though the other varieties of "football" are older, the Australian game was the first in the world to actually be codified. That is, it was the first to have rules properly established in writing and be followed. This process was started in 1859 with ten simple rules, and the original written laws have been preserved and are in the possession of the Melbourne Cricket Club. It is regarded as one of Australia's National Treasures.

Prior to the formation on controlling bodies in Victoria and South Australia in 1877, organisation of matches and competitions was hap hazard and virtually non existent. This even tended to happen after that and managing to establish local competitions that lasted was difficult to do.

For many decades the game was happy to reside in Australia alone, with only New Zealand showing any interest. However as television and then the internet began to take effect, expansion was seen to be the only way to survive. Our football is now being played in a large number of different countries and those who can afford it can send a team to Australia to compete in the International Cup. Individual players are starting to be noticed by the AFL and the only way is up.

My own following of the game began in the early 1970's. My childhood team was Collingwood in the VFL and my favourite player was Peter McKenna. I attended my first live game in 1972 at Victoria Park when Collingwood scored 28.16 (184) against Geelong's 16.13 (109) with Macca kicking 12 - one of only four occasions I was at a game live and someone kicked at least a dozen. I was the proud owner of a Collingwood jumper with the number 6 on the back. Due to the expense of attending games though I didn't get to see many live games over the years with perhaps my biggest year being 1974. I was in attendance at the MCG when John Greening made his comeback against Richmond and I rode with Collingwood's good year until we were beaten by Carlton at Waverley. From there we only won two more games and lost four to drop from the top of the ladder to fourth. The Carlton loss hurt but what really hurt was the loss to St.Kilda at Victoria Park. Macca only kicked one goal and came off in the last quarter after he was roughed up by Kevin Neale. That game was a rarity as my father and I got a spot in front of the Ryder Stand. Usually we were in the Rush Stand above an entrance - ensured by getting to ground early in time to take in the reserves. That day was also notable in general (I wasn't aware of this at the time) in that it was first time that Jim O'Dea had played against Collingwood since 1972 after he almost killed Greening with a king hit behind the play. 1974 was also big because I got to meet Macca at a church event in Balwyn (also attending were Harry Beitzel and Sir Douglas Nicholls) and got his autograph. I still have that autograph today.

It was in 1977 that the roots were sown for my following of grass roots football as my following of Preston in the VFA solidified and I was starting to see junior games at Donvale who at the time were wearing the Collingwood jumper. Sometimes I ran the scoreboard back at a time when such a job was very popular. I was still going to Collingwood games as well but they remained spasmodic - although I should mention my attendance at a game where Richmond's Kevin Bartlett played his 400th game (against the Magpies of course). I don't remember when my first live Preston game was but I was in attendance at the 1982 and 1984 grand finals. I would have gone in 1983 but I was ill that weekend. I also saw the Donvale Under 15's second semi final in 1980 at Whitehorse Reserve - now Eley Park's home ground in the Amateurs and formerly St Leos home ground - when they won a nasty game against Koonung. I ran the scoreboard for that game as well. Illness stopped me from seeing the grand final which Donvale won.

In 1981 I also started going to other local football matches, seeing Mitcham defeat East Burwood in that year's Eastern Districts FL Division 1 grand final at Boronia. I was supporting Mitcham but I noticed that former Collingwood player Barry Price was playing for East Burwood. I followed up the next year seeing Mitcham beaten by Vermont - a game that had a major influence on my decision to try out umpiring (see the personal event). The local following expanded in 1983 when I attended the Diamond Valley Division 1 grand final at Victoria Park. It was at this game that I was lucky enough to get access to what was normally the Collingwood coaches box and I commentated on the game using a handheld cassette recorder. Greensborough defeated Bundoora in this game.

I was swinging closer to the grass roots as my attendance to Collingwood games was waining. I went interstate for the first time in 1984 to attend the Magpies game at the SCG against the Swans - a trip I repeated in 1985. It was the latter trip that had me seeing the second of the dozen goals kicked, this time by Brian Taylor. This game was also great in that I was allowed onto the ground to help the Collingwood cheer squad hold up the banner.

1986 was the year things changed. I started going to local games more regularly armed with my handheld cassette tape, and I attended my last Collingwood game live - and indeed the second last VFL/AFL game ever that I paid to attend - against Melbourne at the MCG. I had already returned to Sydney earlier in the year and what I saw that day disgusted me. It was as though the Swans had bought a bunch of lucky ducks - the ball just kept on bouncing their way! We were beaten and the money factor was battling against my conscience. The game died for me a bit that day and if it hadn't been for the grass roots the game may have lost me altogether. I continued to follow the Magpies from a distance, but when Carlton won the 1987 premiership I was done with the top level. My only paid game after that didn't even involve Collingwood - it was North Melbourne and Carlton in 1992, the Friday night game when the gates were knocked down as I remember. I went to that one with my wife (a mild Kangaroo fan) for her birthday. The only AFL game I have seen live since was at Docklands in 2001 (my report on that game is in the Phil's Weekend section) and I didn't have to pay for that one. I went to a couple of night games but only for the curtain raisers (Ovens and Murray against Essendon District in 1988 and Geelong against Eastern Districts in 1989), and I also went to the Western Bulldogs versus Essendon pre season game in 2009 - because all the proceeds that night went to the victims of the Black Saturday bushfires.

I was going to local games constantly from 1986 to mid 1993. From 1986 to 1988 I commentated live with the hand held cassette recorder, and saw my third dozen goalkicker - North Kew's Neville Roberts (not the Richmond player) who also took a screamer of a mark in the goal square in the game against Mentone. From 1989 to mid 1993 I had a video camera and recorded the games and added commentary later. That ended with a freak accident in Bendigo on the Queen's Birthday weekend. During that time I became something of a part of the furniture at Donvale, videoing them three times in 1989 - against Wattle Park, St Leos and St Kevins in the grand final, and twice in 1990 both times against Burwood with the latter again at the grand final although on that day I was commentating live only. I was at it again in 1991 videoing the grand final against St Pauls during which Grant Tweedie took a ripping mark which he forwarded to Almost Footy Legends on the AFL Footy Show. I also tried to video the 1992 grand final in Donvale's debut season in the EDFL against Warrandyte, but I didn't notice until after the weekend was done that the heads were dirty. I was also in attendance for our victories over Bayswater at Boronia in 1994, Vermont at Ringwood in 1996 and Mulgrave at Boronia in 2001 - as well as our loss to Vermont in 1995.

I also got to Preston when I could but that was hard to fit in, although I had a highlight early in 1985 after we defeated Prahran at home after the 1984 flag was raised - when I got to shake the hand of Preston's number one ticket holder, then Victorian Premier John Cain. Of course I was livid when Preston went through it's issues while I was in Canberra and even more so when we aligned with Carlton instead of Collingwood and Carlton eventually took us over creating the Northern Blues. Luckily the Bullants returned to the field in a similar way to Fitzroy and presently reside in the Victorian Amateur FA. After spending 2014 in recess the Vales returned and remain in the Eastern FL. In 2010 I saw the fourth player to kick a dozen goals - fourteen in fact for Claremont against Sorell down in Hobart. I never did note his name. Despite my lack of support for any AFL club I still watch the games on Fox Footy. I was in attendance at the AFLW game between Adelaide and Carlton at Thebarton Oval - after all it was free entry.

Within Phil's World, I have a number of areas covering the history and the current state of the game.

NEWS: This is an archive of stories that I placed on the website when it was wikified in Version 7, and also has current stories.

SCORES: This is the largest section on the website, archiving all the scores across Australia dating back to 2000 (except for the northern summer) and keeping up with the current scores during the season.

PROJECT: This is the section on my historical project.

WEEKEND: This is the archive of reports from Phil's WeekendTM, a weekly report on games that I attend that is archived back to 2002 with two games from 2001.