Games similar to what would become the early form of Australian Rules Football had been played in Victoria for years, but the idea of forming a club - as distinct to playing for a school or as part of hastily arranged scratch match teams - was first floated publicly by Tom Wills in the 10 July 1858 edition of Bell's Life magazine.
Now that cricket has been put aside for some months to come, and cricketers have assumed somewhat of the chrysalis nature (for the time being only, it is true), but at length again will burst forth in all their varied hues, rather than allow this state of torpor to creep over them and stifle their now supple limbs, why cannot they, I say, form a football club, and form a committee of three or more to draw up a code of laws?
If a club of this sort was got up, it would be of vast benefit to any cricket ground to be trampled on, and would make the turf firm and durable, besides which it would help those who are inclined to become stout and having their joints encased in useless superabundant flesh.
If it were not possible to form a football club, why should these young men who have adopted this new country for their motherland - why, I say, do not they form themselves into a rifle club, so at any date they may be some day called upon to aid their adopted land against a tyrant who may some time pop upon us when we least expect a foe at our very own doors. Surely our young cricketers are not afraid of a crack of a rifle when they face so courageously the leather sphere, and it would disgrace no one to learn in time to defend his country and his hearth.
A firm heart and a steady hand and a quick eye are all that are requisite and with practice all these may be attained.
Trusting that someone will take up this matter and form either of the above clubs, or at any rate some athletic games.
Despite his call Wills didn't move to establish a club or arrange any matches, and it was left to local publican and MCC player Jerry Bryant to put on the first well publicised game. Another letter to Bell's Life invited players to the paddock next to the MCG for a game on Saturday 31 July 1858.
It was little more than a scratch match without a defined series of rules. The English, Scottish and Irishmen amongst the participants played their own form of the game and it caused the match to be played with an air of chaos. The group played out three more games on August 14, 21 and 28 before the first major match involving a 'Melbourne' side took place.
A match between 'Melbourne' and South Yarra was played on Saturday 25 September, and 27 players went against each other in Yarra Park - what would later become known as the Melbourne Football Ground. South had issued the challenge, and came to the game with their own set of rules. The home side won by one goal from Thomas Wray to nil and football season was then shut down so that cricket could take its traditional place as Melbourne's summer sport.
Some sources suggest that the present day Melbourne Football Club was formed during this season. There is no evidence to support this - a group of players appear under the unofficial name 'Melbourne', and many of the same players were involved in the club proper after it was officially formed and played its first games the next year.
The Argus - 30/08/1858
A Game Of Our Own: The origins of Australian Football by Geoffrey Blainey
"Origins of Australian Football: Volume 1" by Mark Pennings