Because most European competitions have only been founded in the last twenty years, there is a tendency to assume that Australian football’s history on the continent is a short one. That couldn’t actually be more wrong however. In just four years time we will mark a century of Exhibition matches in Europe with what we hope by then will be the 5th annual Elastoplast European Challenge.
That’s right you’re eyes did not deceive you, it will be a century. The first documented overseas exhibition match was played in London on October 28th 1916, between two teams of serving Australian servicemen. The teams in question represented the Third Australian Division and the Australian Training Units and drew a crowd of over 3000, including the Prince Of Wales and the King Of Portugal to the Queens Club in West Kensington, now better known of course as a world class lawn tennis venue.
The game was organised to raise funds for the British and French Red Cross and was the brainchild of Lieutenant Frank Beaurepaire, who was then known for his achievements at the 1908 Olympic Games where he won a silver and a bronze medal in swimming. Remarkably after the First World War he would win two more medals of each colour at the 1920 and 1924 games and he later became Lord Mayor of Melbourne during the second World War. In this instance he was hoping to show something of the great game his native city had produced and by any standards of the time, the Pioneer Exhibition Game Of Australian Football was a huge success featuring some outstanding exponents of the game, most of whom had played Senior Football in their respective states.
The Australian Training Units team took to the field on the day in red jumpers featuring a white Kangaroo on the breast. The team was captained by Norwood’s Charlie Perry and included renowned players such as Jack Cooper(Fitzroy), Percy Trotter(East Fremantle), Clyde Donaldson(Essendon), Harry Kerley(Collingwood), John Hoskins(Melbourne), Charlie Armstrong(Melbourne & Geelong) and George Bower(South Melbourne). Their opposition, the Third Australian Division, lined out in blue jumpers featuring a white map of Australia, noticeably without Tasmania, even though the team featured at least one apple islander in Launceston’s James Pugh. They were captained by South Melbourne’s Bruce Sloss and their many stars on the day included Jack Brake(Melbourne), Dan Minogue(Collingwood), Carl Willis(South Melbourne), Leo Little(Melbourne), Bill Stewart(Essendon), HM Moyes and Percy Jory(St Kilda), Charlie Lilley(Melbourne), Les Lee(Richmond), Cyril Hoft(Perth) and Billy Orchard(Geelong).
It would appear on the basis of those listed with the two teams that the Third had a greater number of Victorians and this may well have proved the difference as they ran out victors with a score of 6.16(52) to 4.12(36). The below report appeared in the Times of London two days later. While this is the only documented exhibition game, it is safe to assume and there are some records to suggest that Australian servicemen based in Europe during World War I were playing football for recreation before the exhibition. We can assume that the sport came to Europe first and in larger numbers with the arrival of the First Australian Imperial Force in early 1915. We know that they were initially based in Egypt, where North Africans were definitely treated to robust inter unit games, and then moved to Galipoli. There would certainly have been little time for football in the Dardanelles, where Anzac forces suffered catastrophic losses, but it is known that a few men had a football and a kick-about took place there between Brown’s dip and White’s Gully. It must be assumed so that the first proper games played on European soil were played in France, Belgium and England in 1916. Over the coming years AFL Europe will be investigating the First World War history of the sport here and will hope to work with our members, Australian government and the Australian military to celebrate the sport’s centenary in Europe in 2016.
Rare and unique footage of the game housed in the archive of British Pathe can be seen here.
NOVEL MATCH AT QUEEN’S CLUB.
Over 3,000 people watched a football match at Queen’s Club on Saturday between team from an Australian Division and another representing Training Details. The game was played under Australian rules, and was a novelty to most of those present.
The ground is oval, running to 120 yards in width and 180 yards in length. The goal posts have no cross-bar, and as long as a ball is kicked through them the height does not matter. A penalty goal can be dropped, punted, or placed, and in passing the short kick is much used, the off-side rule being non existent. All the rules are designed with the object of making the game a fast one, and it has certainly the look of being that. There are four quarters of 20 (sic) minutes each, and after the first and third there is merely a quick change round and no interval.
The spectators were also treated to their first exhibition of Australian “barracking”. This barracking is a cheerful running commentary, absolutely without prejudice, on the players, the spectators, the referee, the line umpires, and lastly the game itself. On Saturday it was mostly concerned with references to the military history of the teams engaged. When a catch was missed, for instance, a shrill and penetrating voice inquired of the abashed player, “D’you think, it’s a bomb? It’s not, it’s a ball.” On one side there was a colonel playing among the backs and the captain of the other side was a chaplain, and a popular one, to judge by the cheery advice that he got from the privates on the line and in the stand.
The men playing on Saturday were not used to each other, but though the teams thus lacked combination the game was fast, and there were some excellent displays of high marking and kicking for goal. The Division eventually won by six goals and 16 behinds (52) to four goals and 12 behinds (36). All the gate money and profits from programmes went to the funds of the British and French Red Cross Societies.