The Old Argument of Who Invented the Australian Game of Football

H C A HarrisonGoing through various newspapers of past years we came across the following article in a September 1908 issue of the Referee (Sporting) Newspaper.

It refers to Harrison as often being referred to as the father of the game (of Australian Football) and decries that title.  It goes on to say the initial rules were drawn up by an ad-hoc committee, over a few drinks following what would be described as a rough game.

One of our members, Greg de Moore wrote a especially interesting book, a Game of Our Own, on the one he labels as the game’s founder, T W Wills.

Nevertheless the article from 1908 makes interesting reading and it was written after there was much celebration in Melbourne at the time over the 50 year anniversary of the game:

“I previously touched on the origin of the Australian Game of Football, and quoted evidence to show that the title, ‘The Father of the Game”, has been incorrectly conferred, by the Press of Melbourne upon Mr. H. C. A. Harrison. The evidence was from the writings of Mr T W Wills and J. B. Thompson, two of the committee of four which drafted the first set of rules just 50 years ago. I received two letters on the subject from Melbourne footballers, but while agreeing with the statements I put forward they throw no fresh light on the matter.

As Mr. Harrison is still quoted on all sides in the Press and at official functions as the father of the game, further reference to the first code of rules to what is to-day known as the Australian Game having been drawn up by a committee consisting of Messrs. T. W. Wills, J. Hammersley, J. B. Thompson and T Smith, is timely. The evidence of Messrs. Wills and Thompson is thoroughly born out by the late Mr. Hammersley, who for 18 years was sporting editor of The Australasian.

In 1883, after he had withdrawn from regular journalistic harness, Mr. Hammersley, in an, article referring to football in Victoria, made the following statement:” When the game was first started in Victoria on anything like a sound footing (and that was in 1857) , it was a very rough game and no mistake. My shins now show honourable scars, and I often had blood trickling down my legs. No wonder, for hacking [kicking at another’s leg] was permitted and no objection was taken to spiked shoes. One day however, after a severe fight in the old Richmond Paddock, where blood had been drawn freely and some smart raps exchanged and a leg broken, it occurred to some of us that if we had rules to play under it would be better. Tom Wills suggested the rugby rules but no one understood them except himself and the result was, adjourn to the Parade Hotel, close by. This we did, with the following result: several drinks and the formation of a committee consisting of: Tom Wills, myself, J B Thompson and Football Smith, as he was termed, a master at the Scotch College, rattling fine player and a splendid kick, but of a very peppery temper. We decided to draw up a simple code of rules and as simple as possible so that anyone could quickly understand. We did so and the result was the rules then drawn up form the basis of the present code under which the game is universally played in Victoria and in most other parts of Australia. I feel sure that neither Rugby nor the Association code will ever supplant them.

This article has gained some merit over the years and is recognized as good foundation at which to consider the actual starting of the game of Australian Football.  The above quote is not entirely accurate, there were others whose signatures appear at the bottom of the original rules of football which are still in existence and are on display at the MCG Museum.

It is true though, that in 1866, H C A Harrison was asked to revise the rules of the game, which he did.  His amended rules were accepted without change and they remained the code’s principle rules until they were further revised a number of years later.

Harrison was prominent in very early football He was captain of both Melbourne and Geelong football clubs at various times.  When the VFA was formed he was made a vice president and when the VFL was instigated they made him their first life member.  He was also made a life member of the Australian Football Council when it was first formed.

He was also deeply involved in cricket, in particular with the Melbourne Cricket Club which he had an association, first as a player, then an official from 1861.  Harrison died in 1929 and while the title Father of the Game may be up for argument, he was certainly there and active in the very early days of the game.

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