Almanac Football History: Aren’t we lucky we are not playing soccer?

Geelong fans and probably most Victorians believe we have the best code of football in the world. It is unique and it is our own and has been since Tom Wills and his mates drew up the first set of rules that have survived in 1859. But did you know that fifteen years later we nearly switched to soccer?


The early game was a low level scrummaging affair and ball spent lots of time hidden under a mass of bodies when all sorts of violence and mayhem were possible. At the start of May 1874 a general meeting of the Geelong Football Club welcomed the president, George Reynolds Rippon, editor of the Geelong Advertiser. One of the items of business discussed was whether a change in the rules might reduce the brutality and the risk of injury, particularly for younger players. By then, what we know as Association Football – soccer – had its own code of rules drawn up by the Football Association in England in 1863. This was a game that only allowed goalkeepers to handle the ball and players throwing the ball in when it crossed the boundary lines. It had an offside rule too, while in footy the only time offside applied was at kick-off when teams lined up behind the man who was taking the first kick.


The headmaster of Geelong Grammar School, J.B. Wilson, wrote a letter expressing his concern about the dangers, but argued that strict enforcement of the existing rules was preferable to a switch of codes. Similar arguments carried the day at the meeting, though a parent wrote to the Advertiser the next day hoping that wiser counsels would prevail when local clubs considered the matter when they revised their rules for the new season.


This fascinating episode was not the only occasion when a switch of codes was discussed in the nineteenth century, but each time the merits of the local variety carried the votes. By the 1880s people with experience of the Australian game, rugby and soccer weighed into the arguments, but by then the local game had diverged significantly from the other two and its place in the southern colonies was secure, and as John Harms and others have reminded us, in Queensland too. We should remember and thank those people who carried responsibility for the game through the ages for their flexibility and concern as they ensured its survival in the face of overseas and domestic challenges. And the folks in the outer who made it their game.




To return to our Footy Almanac home page click HERE.

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?

And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help things keep ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE.

One-off financial contribution – CLICK HERE.

Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE.




  1. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for a piece that provides interesting food for thought, Roy – the evolution of Australian Rules football in the nineteenth century is such a wonderful story.

  2. You are right, Kevin. History does not run in straight lines. Sports history is full of twists and turns and finding and understanding them is where the fascination lies. Steve Georgakis has a lovely article in the Conversation about the story of football in Queensland. You will enjoy this.

  3. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Roy. I’ll certainly check out the article.

Leave a Comment