Codes Unite

Co-operation smallAfter the resuscitation of the game in Sydney in 1903, administrators of the Australian became quite concerned that players disqualified in one code could cross and play with another, be that Australian, rugby or under British rules (to use the term of the day now known as soccer).

So the following year they arranged a conference between officials from the three codes to discuss the matter with the ensuing result:

“On the Initiation of the N.S.W. Football League (Australian Rules), a meeting of delegates from the N.S.W League (Australian Rules), the N.S.W. Association (British Rules – soccer), and the Metropolitan Rugby Union, (Rugby League had not then been introduced in Australia) was held at the Sports Depot (NSW Sports Club) Hunter Street on Friday, to consider tho subject of reciprocity in disqualification.  It has been considered for sometime that it is desirable that disqualification by one executive should carry disqualification by all. The delegates meeting fully endorsed this view and unanimously  agreed to record to their various executives the following :

  1. That in the event of any player being disqualified, the N.S.W. Football League (Australian Rules), the Metropolitan Rugby Union, or the N.S.W. Football Association – (British Rules), the disqualification shall be endorsed by tho remaining bodies.
  2. That no application from a disqualified player be entertained by any of the three bodies until the disqualification is removed by the body disqualifying.  That this shall not be retrospective except in the case of disqualification for life.

As disqualification is not enforced except for a serious offence, it should help to keep, up the tone of football if the penalty is recognised by all the bodies. The action of the League in taking the Initiative in ‘this matter Is to be commended.”

It has to make you wonder how long these rules existed for and how committed the three bodies were in their application.  Which one defaulted first?

This is the first time we have read of any such rule and today it certainly would be an eye opener for readers in states other than NSW and Queensland where Australian football reigns supreme.

By 1904 Rugby Union was a massive winter sport in NSW and it was only with the introduction of Rugby League in 1908 that ‘Rugby’ lost its strangle hold on the men and boys of these two states.


Crowd - early small
Bigger Crowds at the New Game?

The two opposing football bodies, the Australian Football Council, representing all states for the Australian game and the NSW Rugby League, again got together to discuss the formation of a game that would see an amalgamation of the two codes.  Well that was the thinking.

This time it was in 1933 and once more at a time when a national 10 day carnival was held in Sydney.

A preliminary meeting with representatives of both groups was appointed to establish some starting rules of the game and a secret match under those rules was played on the morning of Friday, 11 August at the RAS Showground, Moore Park (now FOX Studios).

Most of the players who took part in the encounter were members of the Queensland Australian Football team who were in Sydney for the carnival. Needing enough for two fourteen man teams, their number was supplemented by some local Rugby League players.  The trouble was that all players were not familiar with these new rules and the Queensland players, in particular, had played a tough match the day before against ˜Canberra.”

At a more formal meeting at Rugby League Headquarters held on the night of the game, 165 Phillip Street, Sydney,  Horrie Miller, Secretary of the NSW Rugby League gave a detailed report on the drafting of the rules, a brief description and a few of those rules, appears below:

It was suggested that the field of play would be divided up in a manner somewhat similar to the Rugby field with the exception that the goal posts be put on the (rugby) dead ball line and the touch-in-goal area in front of the goal posts instead of behind them.  In place of having a 25 yard line from the posts, it was set at 35 yards at each end.  In the central area it was proposed the Australian game should be played with the pass back and the tackle, there being no off-side in that area.  However, inside the 35 yard areas, the off-side rule would apply, as recognized by Rugby League.

The rules provided for fourteen aside, but only twelve aside were available, the Australian Rules men being mainly Queenslanders. The Rugby field was used and a 35 yards area at each end set aside in which offside, applied and not elsewhere. It was said there was a touch of soccer in the game. Tries and goals were the means of scoring.

There were many other rules to this new game but the one concerning the off-side rule, appeared to be a point of contention.

It would appear that Mr Miller was a leading proponent for the introduction of a new game and went to great lengths to get the two groups talking as well as making arrangements for the trial game.

Various speakers expressed the view that any amalgamation would have to be gradual and that if each code introduced features of the other, the game could be brought together in a few years.

Mr Miller made a very interesting point when he said “I may say that the idea in drawing up this code of rules was to make the play as open as possible.  We are giving what you Australian rule (sic) people are asking for and what the Australian public require, that is action.”

“In fact” he added, “it is action all the time.  At no stage of the game would the ball be dead.”

The meeting was chaired by Mr E H Tassie who was the South Australian Representative on the Council.

After listening to the speakers from the NSW Rugby League, he made the comment that  ‘his group’s sincerity over the matter (the amalgamated game) might have been questioned, but, as delegates on a trip to Sydney, our actions have been such as should stay any criticism in that respect.”

The delegates from both sides kept their comments to what we would describe these days, as “niceties”.rugby - early small invert

Eventually, the following motion was carried unanimously by the combined seventeen man delegates:

That the suggested rules drawn up by the sub-committee for that purpose, form the basis of a report back to the various clubs, and, if in their opinion, these bodies consider a further conference desirable, such conference be held.

It was fine for the Rugby League delegates to give such a commitment but the Australian Football Council was comprised of delegates who represented each state and while most took notice of the resolutions of this body, it is reasonable to say that these were not all binding and this was particularly the case of the VFL.  In many eyes, particularly towards the end of its life, The Australian Football Council or later, the National Football Council, were considered by many as a toothless tiger.

One significant matter on both sides was the strong personalities “who would not have a brass tack of the other game. They think they have a good thing, and that if the other party wants to come into the fold he must do so and not expect any amalgamation. ‘Let the Rugby League take on our game,’ said an Australian Rules hard citizen. ‘Let the Victorians take on the Rugby League game. They would play it well,’ said a Sydney man.

The whole issue had its fate decided when the NSW Rugby League met on 14 August where the matter was discussed in detail.

Mr.S.G Ball proposed and Mr. J. Craig seconded that the report be received and no further action taken. He added that their own game at present needed all their care and attention.  This was carried, after debate, by 15 to 10.

It was doubted that the respective state leagues would have supported such an extraordinary change to the rules of their (Australian) game so the early decision of the Rugby League, in a way, put a dampener on any possibility of a future mission into changing rules or the combining of games and the issue having any caustic repercussions to the AFC delegates.

Locally, a later proposition was put whether a new game would have supplanted the Australian code on the one hand and Rugby League on the other, is quite another matter. It was thought old sympathies, ties, friendships, and traditions would probably, have held the present games intact.

We shall never know.

The Australian and Rugby League Game Combine – Round 1?

1914 Hybrid Game Field smallCan you imagine a football game which came from an amalgamation of Australian Football and Rugby League?

Well it was on the cards.  Not once, but twice such a proposal was considered last century.

The first was in 1914 when a conference was held by high level officials of both codes in Sydney during the national all-states carnival in August.

Despite calls that such a move would simply be stupid and a waste of time, many took the proposal very seriously. So serious that a series of conferences were held.

From what we can discern, it was the brainchild of Charles Brownlow, the long term Geelong Football Club secretary and delegate to the VFL at the time.  He was also their delegate to the Australian National Football Council (ANFC) which first promoted this idea of amalgamation.

Apparently his reasoning was the perceived failure of the 1914 Carnival in Sydney, noting that thousands had attended games by the Australian Rugby League team against the English touring side only weeks before at the SCG.  These matches had drawn 38,000 & 41,000 spectators respectively and a further 40,000 at the Sydney Showground during the same period.

He argued that if Rugby League could draw crowds of that nature and games of Australian Football could do the same in Melbourne and to some extent, Adelaide, why not introduce a combined game which could appease everyone?  Some commentators even went as far as identifying the thousands of pounds in gate money the Football Council could derive.

Then followed an additional conference of delegates held in Melbourne in November of the same year.  The attendees decided not to release any details of the meeting until a further date.  Mr. H. (Horrie) R. Miller, secretary of the N.S.W. Rugby League, said that “the day decided on for giving out the news was Thursday, Nov. 19,” the day following the next meeting of his League. But added “I can say this, the result of the conference is far beyond our most sanguine expectations. This will be agreeable news to many, surprising news to many, who look upon the movement as Utopian. However, it is a wonderful world, and we shall see.”

Later that month, after considering the proposals for a new code of rules, by the amalgamation of the Rugby League and Australian game, the New South Wales Rugby League said it was favourable to a change.  So, if the Australian Football bodies in the various States were also in favour, the new game would be adopted, and it was thought that matches could be played in 1915 as ‘curtain raisers’ to the competition engagements.

Discussion over the summer months leading into 1915 as to whether Australian Football, should agree to change their rules in order to come up with a hybrid game.  By early February it was announced that the NSW Rugby League and the South Australian National Football League agreed to an amalgamation of codes.

Alex McCracken, president of the VFL told the media that conference delegates had tentatively agreed to certain proposals which were being submitted to the various state leagues for a decision.  At the same time, the NSW (Australian) Football League unanimously agreed to the following alterations:

1. A crossbar between the goal posts, 10ft (183cm) from the ground. The ball to be kicked over the bar to constitute a goal; a ball going under the bar to count as a behind; the behind posts to be retained, and behinds scored as at present.

2. Throwing or knocking the ball backwards, that is, the player in possession of the ball who knocks or throws the ball, must always be between such ball and the goal towards which he is kicking.

3. When a player in possession of the ball is collared, he may be thrown or pushed aside, even though he drops the ball immediately he is caught. The tackle in such instances will permit a player to catch an opponent between the hips and the shoulders. Unless a deliberate foul occurs, no penalty shall be allowed for such tackle.

It appeared though, as far Victoria was concerned there was no likelihood of any drastic alterations to the rules of their game.  However, it was considered one or two amendments could be made. Speaking at the Carlton FC annual meeting in late January, Mr. McCracken said ˜they would be very careful about making any change in the game which they all liked,” with several in the audience interjecting, ‘Carlton won’t have it.’ Mr. Gardiner, a Carlton delegate at the VFL meeting, said “it was waste of time discussing it.”

The VFL said at a special meeting that it had decided to defer consideration of the matter until additional information was in hand.

At its mid-April meeting, the VFL decided to report the decision of the League to the Australasian Football Council. During the discussion the whole of the arguments were directed towards showing that the alterations proposed would improve the Australian game. Each dealt with a point discussed long before the proposed amalgamation of the codes was ever mentioned.

In reading the reports, I don’t think the VFL clubs were ever serious about any change.

By 12 May not all states had replied to the Australian National Football Council’s request for a decision on amalgamation of codes.

With further pressure of the Great War impinging on society throughout the country, the whole subject seemed to just peter out.

The attached image shows a suggested field placements for an amalgamated game.

In our next article we will explore the 1933 attempt at amalgamating the codes.  This time there were proper rules and other details drawn up for implementation.