When the world went slightly wacko for a little minute

Reported in the Argus, Saturday 13 May 1933

‘Might Adopt Soccer or Rugby.”

A possibility that the Victorian Football Association might abandon the Australian game and take up soccer or Rugby unless it can make satisfactory arrangements with the Victorian Football League for some form of amalgamation was discussed yesterday by the president of the Association (Mr. Liston).

The Association, Mr. Liston claimed, should be regarded as the senior football organisation of Victoria. “Thirty-six years ago,” he said, “the Victorian Football Association was dealt what was believed to be a death blow. The eight so-called stronger clubs seceded and formed the League. The Association was expected to pass into the realm of forgotten sporting organisations; yet it lived and prospered. Other outer suburban clubs were brought into the fold, and its strength was maintained. Then Richmond angled for membership of the League andd at last succeeded in entering the charmed circle. This blow was easily survived. When, about six years ago, the League invited Footscray, North Melbourne and Hawthorn to join it, many who had persistently endeavoured to wreck the Association believed that at last its days were numbered. They were wrong. Melbourne’s outer suburbs grew, while many of the inner industrial suburbs showed signs of shrinkage. To-day the Association contains only two clubs of pre-League days — Williamstown and Port Melbourne — but with 12 good clubs on its list it has never been stronger in membership and enthusiasm. As the Association does not make a business of football it does not pay its players the basic wage.

The club secretaries are fortunate if their enthusiasm is rewarded with an honorarium, and the game is mostly played as it was in old times for the sheer love of it. The Association teams are built up almost entirely from the junior ranks and when these juniors become ‘stars’ covetous eyes are cast upon them by officials fiom the highly prefessional League clubs and if an embargo be placed upon the order of their going bitter epithets are hurled at the senior, but allegedly inferior body.

“The Association has produced many famous footballers. In the whole history of the game it is doubtful if two finer players ever donned uniforms than the late “Billy” Hannaysee of Port Melbourne and Jasper Jones of Williamstown. At least two famous League coaches in W. Monagle (Carlton) and J. Caldwell (South Melbourne) made their football debut with Williamstown, while the premier League teams, as the years have passed, have in- variably possessed numerous players taken over from the Association. To-day endless turmoil exists because of efforts by League secretaries to take the best Association players.

Four Possibilities.

“Four courses face the Association. The first is that it might join the League on the basis of two sections with the lowest club in the first section and the highest club in the second section changing places each year. This is the system adopted by the Soccer Association in England and it works well and fairly. The League however wishes to preserve its 12 clubs intact. The Association will not join up if its clubs are always to be regarded as ‘untouchables.’

Thus one choice may go by the board. The second is that the Association might continue on the present lines. Certainly, the players would get little more than their tiavelling expenses, but most of the players at any rate for the first few years, play for the love of the game. The third possibility is that the Association might declare itself a purely amateur body. There is strong support for amateurism in sport at present. The fourth possibility is that the Association might deem it wise to throw in its lot with either soccer or Rugby. With 12 good grounds practically at their disposal, no doubt the promoters of either of the two overseas games which have made tremendous strides in recent years would gladly welcome a coalition. Association players would make ideal Rugby footballers, and the prospect of trips to the other States, to New Zealand and to England would be a great incentive to the players to change back to the original code from which the Australian game came. Whichever of these four choices the Association makes it cannot but be strengthened. It is very much alive for an organisation whose death was decreed towards the end of the last century. It would be strange if the secession of 1897 ended in a coalition in 1933. The question is “With which code will the coalition be made?”

And while it may seem a bizarre piece of brinkmanship by Liston, it needs to be remembered that he was simultaneously a senior office holder in both the VFA and soccer. Liston’s idea was also an exasperated dig at the VFL who refused to acknowledge the VFA’s struggle for grounds and support. As a “what if” kind of exercise it makes for interesting speculation. Had the VFA gone to soccer what would Victoria’s sporting landscape look like today?


  1. John Butler says

    Frosty Miller as a centre forward?

    The mind boggles.

    Good get Ian.

  2. Oh, I remember now.

    Liston of the famous Liston Trophy?

    With “grounds at their disposal”, and the World Cup 2018/2022 happening…

  3. Ian Syson says

    Yes. He of the Liston medal.

    It seems that it has always been about grounds and it always will be!

  4. When I was reading about William Ricketts one day – he was an inner city man and decided to move to the Dandenongs – I had reason to think about the shrinkage of the inner suburbs, like Richmond and Fitzroy.

    So there were possibilities of things like relegation and promotion, just like there are in the world game today (English Premier League, especially).

    And this was before the mass migration which drove a lot of Australian soccer.

  5. Ian – just goes to show that nothing much changes. But the bit I like is:

    “As the Association does not make a business of football it does not pay its players the basic wage. The club secretaries are fortunate if their enthusiasm is rewarded with an honorarium, and the game is mostly played as it was in old times for the sheer love of it.”

    I think they made the right decision in the code they chose.

  6. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Always a great shame that the vitriolic VFL officials dressed in AFL clothes killed off the VFA and re-instituted the VFL – it has been a farcical exercise. The VFL existed from 1897-1989, and became the AFL. The VFA was the oldest football competition in Australia, dating back to 1877.
    Shame Gannon shame.

  7. Around the same time Rugby League in NSW was trying to get the VFL to co-operate in developing a hybrid of the two codes. A trial match of the new rules was played in Sydney.

    Previously during World War I Charles Brownlow was to attend a meeting of the then Australasian Football Council with instructions from the VFL to vote for a crossbar on the goals amongst other changes to the rules to bring Australian Football and Rugby closer together.

  8. Article from 1915 concerning proposals for combining Australian Football and Rugby League here:


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