I thought there’d be some interest in this piece I just unearthed in the archive. It tells of football’s popularity at the time but it also speaks of the difference between then and now. The writer seems only to have a passing connection with the game (so at least nothing’s changed in that regard — only joking!). – Ian Syson
FOOTBALL IN VICTORIA.
We present our readers this month with an illustration of the, most popular sport, perhaps, in Victoria— namely, football. The scene chosen by our artist is the Melbourne football ground, and, we may suppose ourselves looking on at a match being played between the chosen twenties of two crack clubs, tbe Carlton and Melbourne or Albert-park, these being supposed to be the three strongest in the colony, and, indeed, the records of past matches played between them show that there is little to choose, as regards the skill and strength of the players, between the three clubs. Football vies with cricket in the popularity it has acquired and the eagerness with which it is pursued, and the number of clubs in existence. Ten thousand spectators have frequently been gathered together at a match on the Melbourne ground, at Carlton, or in the Albert-park ; and not only is the game popular in and about the metropolis, it is carried out with equal ardour in the country districts, and at Geelong, Sandhurst, Ballarat, Maryborough, Kyneton, and Kilmore there are regular clubs established, and matches between the picked twenties of those places and of the metropolis, as well as between themselves, are of frequent occurrence. As a rule, the country clubs hardly play with that skill and agility which the metropolitans display, but they make up for it by rude strength, and many a fleet Melbourne player has succumbed to the vigorous charge of a miner or bushman, although skill in the long run generally wins the day.
It is now nearly 20 years since that some half dozen footballers from the old country met one afternoon at the Parade Hotel, Richmond-road, which overlooks the ground our artist has depicted, and drew up a short code of rules, which, with very few alterations, have been accepted as the rules of football all over the colony, and very well they have worked. They are very simple, and such as a player fresh from Rugby, Winchester, or Eton, or, in fact, anywhere, can easily accommodate himself to after a very short acquaintance. The ball used in all matches is the small Rugby oval ball.
The ground is usually 200 yards in length, by 50 or 60 in breadth, and is marked off by posts and rope. It is a very pretty sight when the rival twenties, in their distinguishing uniforms and knickerbockers, first range them- selves on opposite sides for the ‘kick off’ — although, if the weather be at all damp, the neatness of the uniforms is quickly destroyed after half an hour’s play with its inevitable spills— and great is the excitement when a player makes a catch from the foot near goal and calls ‘mark.’ The players defending the goal drop back towards it, whilst the aggressive party watch their champion as he places the ball carefully for the ‘kick.’ The crowd surge round, a breathless silence ensues for a few seconds until the leathern sphere is sent on its journey. Every eye watches its course, and if the kick be true and the ball drops neatly between the posts, and the umpire gives it a goal, cheer on cheer re-echo through the paddock and tell that a goal is won. If the ball falls wide, derisive cheers from the defenders and their ‘party’ on the ground greet the abashed ‘kickist.’ The ball is soon sent off again, and once more the mimic strife waxes warm.
Many a hairbreadth ‘scape is recorded at football matches. Sometimes the goalkeeper just manages, by a high jump, to touch the ball as it is going through the post— some- times the ball misses by a few inches only, or hits the posts, and not unfrequently some unskilful kickist sends it the wrong way altogether, amidst deafening shouts of derision from players and spectators. The game is played in the colonies with great vigour and determination, and is maintained for two and three hours at a time with unflagging energy. Fortunately, very few serious accidents have been recorded against these veritable exponents of ‘muscular Christianity,’ although the rough, element is frequently displayed, and even a free fight over some disputed goal is not entirely unknown.
It is a manly pastime, one requiring fleetness of foot, quickness of eye, and stamina ; and as success in matches depends on the men working well together and obeying their captain, it also may be regarded as inculcating and fostering those qualities of mind and body which are useful in thbe more serious business of life. In pluck and endurance the colonial players are certainly not behind those of the old country, and the thorough manner in which so active a pastime is pursued proves that manliness and courage are qualities that are characteristic of the colonial youth.