History of the VFL
Article written by Tom Baulch
The Victorian Football League (VFL) has been the main Australian Football Rules (AFL) state-level league in Victoria since 1877, where it is originally known as the Victorian Football Association (VFA).
In 2021, New South Wales and Queensland join the VFL to create the largest second-tier football competition in Australia.
The VFA was founded on 17 May 1877, where the five foundation clubs were Albert-park, Carlton, Hotham (later North Melbourne), Melbourne and St Kilda. By 1888, a formal premiership system and premiership ‘points’ were awarded for winning games as the collection of clubs grew to twelve; Carlton, Essendon, Fitzroy, Footscray, Geelong, Melbourne, North Melbourne, Port Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda, South Melbourne and Williamstown.
During the 1890s the competition split due to an off-field struggle between the stronger and weaker clubs due to the stronger clubs requesting greater control relative to their financial contribution to the game. By 1931, the relationship between the two competitions was improved.
In 1938, the VFA legalized throwing of the ball to speed up the game which had previously been dominated by long kicking. The Australian National Football Council (ANFC) governed the interstate matches during the 1950s, where throwing of the ball was illegal. The VFA chose to revert to handballing after being beaten comprehensively in the interstate matches throughout the 1950s.
The VFA’s importance grew after signing a television deal with ATV0 (later Network Ten) in the 1960s, which saw increased sponsorship, awareness, and attendance throughout the 60s and 70s.
The VFA’s decline began in the 1980s, as declining financial support and sponsorships meant that many clubs began to struggle. By the end of 1994, the VFA was disbanded and became the VSFL, joining with VFL (Port Melbourne, Williamstown, Preston, Coburg, Sandringham, Box Hill, Werribee, Frankston and Springvale).
Since the turn of the century, the VFL has been contested by a mixture of three types of clubs; standalone VFL clubs, reserve teams of AFL clubs and VFL clubs operating under affiliation agreements with AFL clubs, but these clubs no longer exist. All three clubs compete to a reasonably even standard, helping the VFL remain popular in Victoria.
Matches over the past 20 years have attracted traditional fans of VFA and VFL clubs, and affiliated fans of AFL clubs to watch their reserves players.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the VFL’s 2020 season was cancelled. The 2021 season will see the amalgamation of the North East Australian Football League (NEAFL), the state league in New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory.
The reserves teams from the New South Wales and Queensland AFL clubs (Sydney, Greater Western Sydney, Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast) will join the league, and two of the NEAFL’s other Queensland-based senior clubs will join in Aspley and Southport.
The season will see 22 clubs competing eight stand-alone VFL clubs, eleven AFL reserves teams, and three traditional VFA/VFL clubs in reserves affiliations with AFL clubs. Furthermore, the league will be used as a talent pathway, as each club is required to field at least six under-22 players in each game.
“Football”. Geelong Advertiser. Geelong, VIC. 21 May 1877. p. 3.
“Opening of the Football Season”. The Argus. Melbourne. 5 May 1888. p. 14.
“The Victorian Football Association”. North Melbourne Courier and West Melbourne Advertiser (72). North Melbourne. 19 March 1897. p. 3.
Fiddian, Marc (2003), Seagulls over Williamstown, Williamstown, VIC: Williamstown Football Club, p. 55
Percy Taylor (25 November 1944). “No football merger – final VFL-VFA meeting on Monday”. The Argus. Melbourne. p. 17.
“VFA matches for TV”. The Age. Melbourne. 4 March 1967. p. 1.
Adrian Dunn (6 May 1991). “VFA reaps the benefit of stringent policing”. Herald-Sun News-Pictorial. Melbourne. p. 73.
Adrian Dunn (13 October 1994). “Plan a ‘victory’ for VFA identity”. Herald Sun (Afternoon ed.). Melbourne. p. 73.