Though the first game involving a team called 'Melbourne' had been on September 25 1858 against South Yarra (with 'Melbourne' victorious), it wasn't until the next year when the independent football club was officially formed.
What would soon become the Melbourne Football Club played a game amongst themselves on Saturday 14 May at Richmond Paddock. The teams were chosen by Thomas Smith and Jerry Bryant and was intended to be between members of the MCC only. Due to the small numbers on hand they were forced to allow others in, and the club's numbers swelled from that point. Bryant's team won by two goals to nil. There were issues with interference from spectators and with bystanders who "lounge about inside the bounds".
Immediately after the first game, a meeting of 51 cricket club members officially formed the Melbourne Football Club. A committee was appointed and tasked with drawing up the first official code of laws for the new game. They also asked for permission to play on the MCG, which was initially granted but then revoked due to fears that the field would be damaged.
On the following Tuesday 17 May a group met at Jerry Bryant's Parade Hotel and set out the first written laws of the game. Tom Wills, William Hammersley, James Thompson and Thomas Smith joined Bryant at the meeting. The newly elected secretary of the MCC Thomas Wray was present but did not join in the discussion or put his name to the rules.
The rules were:
I: The distance between the goals and the goal posts shall be decided upon by the captains of the sides playing.
II: The captains on each side shall toss for choice of goal; the side losing the toss has the kick off from the centre point between the goals.
III: A goal must be kicked fairly between the posts, without touching either of them, or a portion of the person of any player on either side.
IV: The game shall be played within a space of not more than 200 yards wide, the same to be measured equally on each side of a line drawn through the centre of the two goals; and two posts to be called the 'Kick Off' posts shall be erected at a distance of 20 yards on each side of the Goal posts at both ends, and in a straight line with them.
V: In case the ball is kicked behind goal, any one of the side behind whose goal it is kicked may bring it 20 yards in front of any portion of the space between the 'Kick Off' posts, and shall kick it as nearly as possible in a line with the opposite goal.
VI: Any player catching the ball directly from the foot may call 'mark'. He then has a free kick; no player from the opposite side being allowed to come inside the spot marked.
VII: Tripping and pushing are both allowed (but no hacking) when any player is in rapid motion or in possession of the ball, except in the case provided for in Rule VI.
VIII: The ball may be taken in hand only when caught from the foot, or on the hop. In no case shall it be lifted from the ground.
IX: When a ball goes out of bounds (the same being indicated by a row of posts) it shall be brought back to the point where it crossed the boundary-line and thrown in at right angles with that line.
X: The ball, while in play, may under no circumstances be thrown
A further scratch match between sides selected by Bryant and Wills was played on 21 May and ended in a scoreless draw. Bruce and Bryant pick sides to play under the new rules on Saturday 28 May. The result was one goal apiece when darkness stopped the match. The two captains played another 1-1 draw on the 4th of June and it was reported that "The lately published rules, which appear to give general satisfaction, were as closely adhered to as the limited knowledge possessed of them by some of the players admitted".
On Saturday 11 June the sides were chosen by Thomas Smith and William Hammersley, and a second game was played incorporating players from a Scotch vs Church of England Grammar School game which had also been played on the Melbourne ground. The match ended 0-0, and the following Saturday Hammersley's side beat Bruce's 2-1 on the Richmond Paddock. On 25 June the MFC played another intra-club match with Hammersley's side beating Bruce's by two goals to one. There was talk of a match against St Kilda but the two sides couldn't agree on Rule #7 of the Melbourne club which allowed 'tripping' but not 'hacking'.
On 2 July, Hammersley's side beat Thompsons team 2-0 after a "long and interesting struggle". The committee then met to amend the rules, making tripping, hacking and holding illegal. It stated that the ball must cross the line without touching the posts or an opposition player to be considered a goal, except in the case of a scrimmage. It also made clear that the ball could be 'taken in hand' but not carried 'farther than is necessary for a kick'. Finally the two team captains were appointed 'umpires' in the absence of any other officials.
Much of the year was spent trying to organise a game with the South Yarra side, but the vast differences in the rules played by the two teams caused trouble. The match was finally set for the 9th of July after the amended Melbourne rules were accepted. Change required included an alteration of law VII to strictly outlaw tripping and hacking, and an additional rule XI which awarded a free kick against sides that breached the law. Another amendment allowed players to take the ball in hand but only carry it as far as their needed to go to kick it. The right of captains to appear for free kicks was enshrined in the laws. The system of scoring was revised to confirm that a goal would be scored if the ball was forced across the line, no matter how it was forced.
In a final warmup match before the South Yarra match sides chosen by Wills and Smith clashed on Saturday 2 July. With one of the biggest turnouts yet seen no goals were scored after a titanic struggle, and a week later Melbourne defeated South Yarra by one goal to nil in their first ever competitive match against an opposition side.
An intra-club match was held the next week before the two sides clashed again on 23 July, and Melbourne won two games on the same day after the first game ended in an hour and a second was played. The next Saturday Melbourne played St Kilda on Richmond Paddock because the MCG was unavailable due to rain. After the trial of a game on the MCG proper footballers were kicked off the ground for much of the 1860s due to the damage they caused by marking their spot after marks or setting up place kicks.
A match against South Yarra was organised Saturday 27 August, but when they didn't show Hammersley and Smith picked teams for another scratch match. Hammersley's side had the best of the early going, but it was Team Smith that triumphed. After that game ended another was started, but there was no result by the time a heavy shower ended the match. A match against the 40th Regiment was proposed for Saturday September 3, but when it didn't happen a scratch match was started between Harrison and Thompson's selected side. Thompson's team won with two goals in an hour.
Melbourne finished the first official season of Australian football unbeaten, and without conceding a goal.
|9 July||South Yarra||WIN||3-0|
|30 July||St Kilda||WIN||2-0|
|6 August||Emerald Hill-Prahran||WIN||3-0|
G. Abbott, William Brazenor, Alex Bruce, Jerry Bryant, Thomas Butterworth, James Byrne, Vernon Cameron, Charles Grut, William Hammersley, Henry Harrison, J. Henderson, Newton Jacomb, Charles Kenworthy, Roderick MacKenzie, A. May, Alexander McCrae, George McCrae, McIvor, A. McPherson, Edward Montgomery, W. Moore, Robert Morrison, Teddy Mortimer, R. Murray, J. Ogilvie, Oldham, R. Petrie, J. Russell, J. Sewell, Shepherd, Thomas Smith, James Thompson, Dick Wardill, W. Webb, William Williams, Tom Wills, Sidney Woolley, Thomas Wray
Some sources suggest that even before the first practice match players no longer needed to be MCC members.
The Argus - 27/09/1858
The Argus - 09/05/1859
The Argus - 14/05/1859
The Argus - 16/05/1859
The Argus - 21/05/1859
The Age - 23/05/1859
The Argus - 30/05/1859
The Argus - 06/06/1859
The Argus - 13/06/1859
Bell's Life - 25/06/1859
The Argus - 02/07/1859
The Argus - 02/07/1859
The Argus - 05/07/1859
The Argus - 18/07/1859
The Argus - 25/07/1859
The Argus - 29/08/1859
"Origins of Australian Football: Volume 1" by Mark Pennings