In 1857, Tom Wills, one of the founders of Australian Football, returned to Australia after schooling in England where he was football captain of Rugby School and a brilliant cricketer. Initially, he advocated the winter game of football as a way of keeping cricketers fit during off-season.
The new game was devised by Wills, his cousin H.C.A. Harrison, W.J. Hammersley and J.B. Thompson. The Melbourne Football Club was formed on August 7, 1858 – the year of the code’s first recorded match between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar School.
The game quickly blossomed. The Geelong Football Club was formed in 1859 and in 1866 an updated set of rules was put in place and competition started.
The Victorian Football League was established in 1896 and the following year the League’s first games were played among the foundation clubs – Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, St Kilda and South Melbourne.
In 1908, Richmond and University joined the competition. But after the 1914 season, University left the League. In 1925, Footscray (now the Western Bulldogs), Hawthorn and North Melbourne (now the Kangaroos) joined the VFL.
This line-up of 12 clubs would remain unchanged until 1987 when the competition expanded to include the West Coast Eagles and the Brisbane Bears. BY 1997, the competition comprised 16 clubs after Adelaide (in 1991), Fremantle (in 1995), and Port Adelaide (in 1997) joined the now Australian Football League and foundation club Fitzroy merged with the Brisbane Bears to form the Brisbane Lions (after the 1996 season).
AFL - The Story So Far: A Chronology 1897 – 2006
2000 - 2006
The first league season of the new millennium begins three weeks earlier than usual with the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games to begin in early September.
1990 - 1999
The decade begins a new era in the game, the Victorian Football League becomes the Australian Football League, acknowledging the national expansion, with clubs now in Sydney, Queensland & Perth, and the league adopts the much more national official name.
1980 - 1989
This decade would prove to be arguably the most influential, controversial & changing decade in the games
history. Richmond begins the decade thrashing Collingwood in the 1980 Grand Final, the first time runners up medallions are presented to the losing team on the ground following the game. This would quickly prove an unpopular practice and only occur once more the following season before ceasing.
1970 - 1979
One of the games most historic & tumultuous decades unfolds with some big changes to the way the game is played. Round 1, 1970, Richmond & Fitzroy meet at the MCG. For the first time league football is played on a Sunday with the Queen in attendance.
1960 - 1969
Round 2, 1960, an unusual & rare occurrence leads to a future great tradition, due to torrential rain, the Round is postponed. To make up the time, two matches are played for the very first time on Anzac Day while the remainder are played the following Saturday.
1950 - 1959
The decade begins with Essendon sensation John Coleman kicking 100 goals for the second successive season. He becomes the only player to ever kick 100 goals in both his first two seasons of football.
1940 - 1949
Towards the end of the 1939 season the 2nd World War broke out and this would immediately effect the next decade of the competition though the effect wouldn’t be as deep or lasting as the 1st World War.
1930 - 1939
The 19th man rule is first introduced for the 1930 season, allowing clubs to substitute a player in a match.1930, Collingwood becomes the only club to ever win four successive Premierships.
1920 - 1929
Vic Cumberland of St Kilda retires towards the end of the 1920 season as the oldest ever player at 43 years of age. Richmond win’s its first Premiership, defeating Collingwood in the 1920 Grand Final; they would follow it up in 1921, winning back to back flags.
1910 - 1919
1910, the League for the first time officially approves player payments after a bribery scandal is uncovered, several Carlton players were found guilty of playing poorly for payment during the finals series. These players would initially be given life bans though some were later overturned.
1897 – 1909
Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, St Kilda & South Melbourne make up the newly formed VFL