Australian rules football exhibition matches

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Exhibition matches in Australian rules football have been used to promote the game as a demonstration sport outside of its heartlands in Australia.

Australian rules football Contact sport invented in Melbourne

Australian rules football, officially known as Australian football, or simply called Aussie rules, football or footy, is a contact sport played between two teams of eighteen players on an oval-shaped field, often a modified cricket ground. Points are scored by kicking the oval-shaped ball between goal posts or between goal and "behind" posts.

A demonstration sport is a sport which is played to promote it, most commonly during the Olympic Games, but also at other sporting events.


Since its Victorian origin in 1859, the sport's beginnings in other states and territories (then separate colonies including New Zealand) has contributed to such matches being played since the 1880s, while the sports origins in other countries has been sometimes attributed to organised and scratch matches held since World War I.

Victoria (Australia) State in Australia

Victoria is a state in south-eastern Australia. Victoria is Australia's smallest mainland state and its second-most populous state overall, making it the most densely populated state overall. Most of its population lives concentrated in the area surrounding Port Phillip Bay, which includes the metropolitan area of its state capital and largest city, Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city. Victoria is bordered by Bass Strait and Tasmania to the south, New South Wales to the north, the Tasman Sea, to the east, and South Australia to the west.

Exhibition matches played outside Australia

World War I

During World War I, Australian troops organised matches across Europe, in countries with the highest profile matches been played in the United Kingdom since 1916 but also one-off matches in other countries including Belgium and France (1919).

Pioneer Exhibition Game in London

On Saturday 28 October 1916, the former Olympic champion swimmer and the later Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Lieutenant Frank Beaurepaire, organized an Australian Rules football match between two teams of Australian servicemen in aid of the British and French Red Cross. [1]

A lieutenant is the junior most commissioned officer in the armed forces, fire services, police, and other organizations of many nations.

Frank Beaurepaire Australian swimmer, Olympic silver medallist, politician, businessman

Sir Francis "Frank" Joseph Edmund Beaurepaire was an Australian distance freestyle swimmer from the 1900s to the 1920s, who won three silver and three bronze medals, from the 1908 Summer Olympics in London to the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, setting 15 world records.

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement International humanitarian movement

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is an international humanitarian movement with approximately 17 million volunteers, members and staff worldwide which was founded to protect human life and health, to ensure respect for all human beings, and to prevent and alleviate human suffering.

The match was promoted as a "Pioneer Exhibition Game of Australian Football in London". It was held at Queen's Club, West Kensington before an estimated crowd of 3,000, [2] which included the (then) Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), and King Manuel II of Portugal.

Queens Club private sporting club in West Kensington, London, England

The Queen's Club is a private sporting club in West Kensington, London, England. The club hosts the prestigious annual Queen's Club Championships grass court men's lawn tennis tournament. It has 28 outdoor courts and eight indoor. With two courts, it is also the national headquarters of real tennis, hosting the British Open every year. The Queen's Club also has rackets and squash courts; it has now become the headquarters for both these sports due to the Prince's Club closure in 1940.

Prince of Wales British Royal Family Title

Prince of Wales was a title granted to native Welsh princes before the 12th century; the term replaced the use of the word king. One of the last Welsh princes, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, was killed in battle in 1282 by Edward I, King of England, whose son Edward was invested as the first English Prince of Wales in 1301.

Manuel II of Portugal King of Portugal

DomManuel II, "the Patriot" or "the Unfortunate", was the last King of Portugal, ascending the throne after the assassination of his father, King Carlos I, and his elder brother, Luís Filipe, the Prince Royal. Before ascending the throne he held the title of Duke of Beja. His reign ended with the dissolution of the monarchy in the 5 October 1910 revolution, and Manuel lived the rest of his life in exile in Twickenham, Middlesex, England.

    An Australian football match (an Australian Division v. Training Groups) will be played at Queen's Club, West Kensington, tomorrow, at 3 p.m., in aid of the British and French Red Cross Funds. The game, played by 18 players a side, will show how Australians have combined "Soccer" and Rugby.

        The Times, Friday, 27 October 1916. [3]

The members of the competing teams, Australian Training Units and The Third Australian Divisional Team, were all highly skilled footballers, the majority of which had already played senior football in their respective states.

A news film was taken at the match. [4]

In order to celebrate the match Beaurepaire commissioned a set of team photographs that were inserted into a mounting board decorated with a British Union Jack and an Australian Red Ensign, that had "Australian Football in London. Pioneer Exhibition Game. At Queen's Club, West Kensington. Saturday 28th Oct. 1916" at its head, and "Organizer of Match & Donor of Photos to Club Lieut. Frank Beaurepaire" at its foot. [5]

The names that follow are taken from the names of the team members and officials that appear beneath each of the photographs on the mounted set; some of the names have been corrected from VFL, A.I.F. records, etc.

The Australian Training Units Team Australian Training Units Team.jpg
The Australian Training Units Team

World War II

During World War II, exhibition matches were played by servicemen in several countries, especially in South East Asia and also in the United Kingdom. Countries included Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. Each of these matches drew a number of interested local spectators.

1960s – 1990s

After the 1960s, the Victorian Football League, realising that finding new markets were essential to the prosperity of the competition began to belatedly pursue a series of international exhibition matches to raise the profile of the game overseas.

The longest and most persistent of these was Great Britain, which was seen as an opportunity primarily due to the high number of ex-patriate Australians living there, and the availability of cricket grounds.

The most notable series of exhibition matches was staged by the Carlton Football Club in 1972. Club president George Harris organised for Carlton and an All-Stars team of players from other senior teams around Australia to go on a three-week World Tour, which saw matches played in London, Athens and Singapore. [6]

Serious efforts to grow the game were not realised until the 1980s. Games played in this decade began to spawn infant leagues in Japan named the "Aussie Bowl", the United States of America and Canada, which have been represented at the Australian Football International Cup since 2002.

During the 1990s, regular exhibition matches became part of the growth strategy of the renamed Australian Football League, which began to realise that the effects of globalisation would threaten the future of the sport in the face of world sports like soccer. The focus of the AFL in this decade was New Zealand and South Africa.

2000s – present

Exhibition matches have been regularly scheduled for The Oval in London, which has in the past been an event for ex-patriate Australians. The event has been annual as the "AFL Challenge Trophy" since 2002 and although it has not always been annual event, a small amount of interest in the games has grown amongst locals. After a six-year break, the AFL will return to London in 2012 for an exhibition match.

Since sell-out game in Los Angeles, United States in early 2006, club officials of the Sydney Swans have called for regular games (similar to the London matches) including the possibility of a premiership match.

The WAFL announced intentions to play an exhibition match in Mumbai, India in late 2006 between the grand finalists. [7] However this match did not go ahead.

In November 2005, AFL club Melbourne made an announcement that it was investigating playing an exhibition match in 2006 or 2007 in the Chinese metropolis Tianjin, with Beijing or Shanghai possible alternative hosts. [8] The match was delayed by the Melbourne Football Club's CEO.

In February 2006, AFL club Essendon's CEO indicated the possibility of an exhibition match in Japan in 2007 to mark 20 years since the last Aussie Bowl between the Bombers and Hawthorn. [9]

In August 2008, the AFL announced it intended to schedule two games in India with Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi and Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai being considered as well as one game in Miami, Florida USA in early March. [10]

List of official Australian rules football exhibition matches played outside Australia

Exhibition matches
3/11/2012London, UKThe OvalAFL Post-season exhibition – AFL European Challenge [11] Western Bulldogs vs. Port Adelaide10,000 [12]
17/10/2010 Shanghai, China Jiangwan Stadium Exhibition match – "Shanghai Showdown"Melbourne vs. Brisbane Lions [13] 7,100
9/02/2008 Abu Dhabi, United Arab EmiratesGhantoot Polo and Racing Club NAB Cup Collingwood vs Adelaide [14] 6,102 [15]
2/02/2008 Centurion, Gauteng, South Africa SuperSport Park AFL pre-season practice Carlton vs Fremantle 3,500 [16] – 5,222 [17] (reports vary)
21/10/2006London, UKThe OvalAFL post season exhibition Geelong v. Port Adelaide 12,129
15/1/2006Los Angeles, USAIntramural Field, UCLA AFL pre-season practiceKangaroos v. Sydney3,200 (sell-out)
8/10/2005London, UKThe OvalAFL post season exhibitionWest Coast Eagles v. Fremantle18,884
11/10/2003London, UKThe OvalAFL post season exhibitionCollingwood v. Fremantle12,847
12/10/2002London, UKThe OvalAFL post season exhibitionRichmond v. Essendon13,000
17/2/2001 Wellington, New Zealand Westpac Stadium 2001 pre-season cup game – group stage Brisbane Lions v. Adelaide7,500
7/10/2000London, UKThe OvalAFL post season exhibitionMelbourne v. Adelaide4,500
29/01/2000Wellington, New ZealandWestpac StadiumPre-season cup game – group stage Round 1Western Bulldogs v. Hawthorn11,666
9/10/1999London, UKThe OvalAFL post season exhibitionEssendon v. Hawthorn12,000+
10/10/1998London, UKThe OvalAFL post season exhibitionWestern Bulldogs v. St Kilda12,000
1/03/1998Wellington, New Zealand Basin Reserve Melbourne v. Sydney7,820
22/02/1998 Cape Town, South Africa Newlands Cricket Ground Brisbane v. Fremantle10,123
12/10/1997London, UKThe OvalAFL post season exhibitionWest Coast v. Collingwood14,000
16/10/1994London, UKThe OvalAFL post season exhibitionRichmond v. Carlton and Adelaide v West Coast6,000
13/10/1991London, UKThe OvalAFL post season exhibitionWest Coast v. Hawthorn10,000
5/10/1991 Auckland, New ZealandAFL post season exhibitionGeelong v. St Kilda8,500
14/10/1990London, UKThe OvalAFL post season exhibitionCollingwood v. Essendon9,000
12/10/1990 Portland, USA Civic Stadium AFL post season exhibitionMelbourne v. West Coast14,787
22/10/1989London, UKThe OvalVFL post season exhibitionMelbourne v. Essendon12,000
14/10/1989 Miami, USA Joe Robbie Stadium VFL post season exhibitionEssendon v. Hawthorn10,069
12/10/1989 Toronto, Canada Toronto Skydome VFL post season exhibitionGeelong v. Melbourne24,639
16/10/1988Toronto, Ontario, Canada Varsity Stadium VFL post season exhibitionCollingwood v. Hawthorn18,500
9/10/1988London, UKThe OvalVFL post season exhibitionHawthorn v. Carlton10,000
8/10/1988Miami, USAJoe Robbie StadiumVFL post season exhibitionCollingwood v. Geelong7,500
25/10/1987Yokohama, Japan Yokohama Stadium VFL post season exhibitionHawthorn v. Essendon13,000
18/10/1987 Vancouver, Canada B.C. Place VFL post season exhibitionMelbourne v. North Melbourne7,980
11/10/1987London, UKThe OvalVFL post season exhibitionCarlton v. North Melbourne14,000 [18]
9/10/1987Vancouver, British Columbia, CanadaB.C. PlaceVFL post season exhibitionMelbourne v. Sydney32,789 (record to date)
3/11/1986 Yokohama, JapanYokohama StadiumVFL post season exhibitionCarlton v. Hawthorn25,000
12/10/1986London, UKThe OvalVFL post season exhibitionCarlton v. North Melbourne?
29/10/1972London, UKThe Oval Postseason World Tour Carlton v. All-Stars9,000
05/11/1972 Athens, Greece Postseason World Tour Carlton v. All-Stars3,000
12/11/1972 Singapore Postseason World Tour Carlton v. All-Stars8,500
1969 New Delhi WAFL practice East Perth v. Subiaco 3,500
31/10/1967London, UK Crystal Palace National Sports Centre Australian Football World Tour Australia vs Britain (expat)1,000 [19]
26/10/1963San Francisco, USABig Rec StadiumGeelong v. Melbourne3,500
20/10/1963 Honolulu, USAGeelong v. Melbourne1,500

Sources : International Australian Football Council,, Matchday programmes, VFL/AFL

Exhibition matches played outside Victoria

Australian rules football was introduced early in the 1880s to most of the states of Australia through a series of exhibition matches.

Leagues quickly formed in all states, and in many of these states, the code has become the most popular sport.

Although drawing significant crowds and interest early, the states of Queensland and New South Wales elected at official level to adopt the rugby codes in 1908. This was widely recognised as being due to the game's association with the tag "Melbourne Rules" or "Victorian Rules" and the fierce rivalry that Sydney has with Melbourne. With a lack of players, and grounds, support for Australian rules football decreased dramatically.

Support in these states has since grown in recent years, with local clubs established in the national competition in both Queensland and New South Wales during the 1980s. Although the game is followed by the majority of the Australian population and states, there are still many in New South Wales (the most populous state) that associate the game with Melbourne or "the game they play in Victoria". For other states without teams in the national competition, the AFL has tried to maintain participation through regular exhibition games.

Regional AFL exhibition matches

In 2005, to bring the game to regional centres, the AFL began a series of pre-season practice matches before the Wizard Cup called the Wizard Regional Challenge Series.

The 2005 series included such Morwell, Port Lincoln, Joondalup, Lavington, Carrara, Alice Springs, Newcastle and Bendigo with a total attendance of 117,552. Features of the competition included a game between Collingwood vs Sydney in Newcastle in front of 5,002 spectators and Essendon vs Geelong in Bendigo in front of 13,000.

AFL exhibition matches played in New South Wales

Although the Sydney Swans Australian football club are based in Sydney, the AFL holds an annual exhibition match between the Essendon and Sydney Swans at the North Sydney Oval. Regional NAB Challenge matches have been played in Newcastle and Albury.

AFL exhibition matches played in Canberra/ACT

With no team in the national competition, and heavy competition with both rugby league and rugby union, the VFL/AFL has long shown interest in the nation's capital, largest inland city and 8th largest urban area. The city of Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory, formed in the 1920s and due to proximity generally followed the lead of New South Wales to adopt rugby league, which remains the most popular sport in the city. Rugby union also has some followers. Since 2001, the Kangaroos Football Club have been working to build up a local supporter base by playing home games at Manuka Oval. [20] Crowds at Manuka have averaged around 10,000, with a record of 14,891 set in 2004 for the Kangaroos vs Sydney Swans.

AFL exhibition matches played in Northern Territory

With no team in the national competition, and heavy competition with rugby league, the VFL/AFL has maintained a strong following in the Northern Territory through exhibition matches. Like the Kangaroos in Canberra, the Western Bulldogs have recently experimented with home games in Darwin at Marrara Oval. Other exhibition matches have included the Aboriginal All-Stars in pre-season practice matches against various AFL clubs. The games at Marrara have averaged about 10,000 spectators, with a record of 17,500 witnessing the Aboriginal All-Stars vs Carlton match in 2002. Alice Springs has also hosted pre-season matches. In 2004, an AFL pre-season Regional Challenge match between Collingwood Football Club and Port Adelaide Football Club at Traeger Park attracted a sell-out crowd of 10,000.

AFL exhibition matches played in Queensland

Before the advent of the Brisbane Bears, VFL/AFL exhibition matches were occasionally played at the Brisbane Cricket Ground. Exhibition matches have more recently been played in the Gold Coast and Cairns.

See also

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  1. Anon, 27 October 1916.
  2. Anon, 30 October 1916.
  3. Anon, "News in Brief", The Times, Issue 41309, (Friday, 27 October 1916), p.15, column B.
  4. Two stills from the news film appear at Holmesby & Main, (1996), p.49.
  5. A photograph of the mounted set that was sent to the Collingwood Football Club appears at Ross, (1996), p.89; Ross lists the source of the photograph as the Collingwood Football Club on p.370 (which is consistent with the mounted set being prepared, in part, for donation to each player's club). An almost identical pair of photographs, taken by the same photographer, at the same time (the fourth and the third players from the right in the back row also have their hands on the shoulders of the player seated at the right of the middle row), of the same men, are held by the Australian War Memorial (see Archived 28 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine and Archived 28 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine ). Note that, on the evidence of the date on the mounting board (Ross, p.89), and the Times newspaper reports of 27 and 30 October 1916, and that in the text of Holmesby & Main, (1996, p.49), who had access to the news film — all of which place the match on Saturday 28 October 1916 — the date currently (viz., at 25 April 2008) given by the Australian War Memorial for the match (i.e., 2 November 1916) is mistaken.
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