Editorial: Celebrating 125 years of community football

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Michael Sholly – VAFA CEO

This week, we are celebrating the 125-year anniversary of the VAFA. We should all feel a sense of pride, as each of us have contributed to Australia’s oldest, continuous football competition. There have been over 230 clubs (difficult to get an exact figure with all the amalgamations) that have represented the VAFA throughout this journey.

We don’t have actual statistics but they would be phenomenal. I would estimate over 200,000 players and tens of thousands of umpires and volunteers have played a role in our Association. Add to this the extraordinary number of supporters and followers and it is little wonder that so many Melburnians have some connection to our Association. The VAFA has played a significant role in the sporting landscape of Victoria.

After the war, Melbourne’s leading business houses entered teams in the VAFA. All the banks, insurance companies and leading organisations were member clubs of the VAFA. If you were coming down from the country to Melbourne to work in a bank, immediately you would have been taken to the attached VAFA club. I am sure the recruiting between these organisations for the best country youth would have been as ferocious as it is today.

A new influx of community clubs occurred in the late 1980’s when older competitions such as the Federal League and the church competitions gradually merged to form competitions such as the Southern Football League. Many of these clubs took this opportunity to join the VAFA and are still playing in the various sections.

Junior clubs that grew to become senior clubs also found the VAFA to be the best-fit option for them. The alcohol rules and strong disciplined culture found the VAFA an ideal partner as they established their senior club. This includes current clubs like Preston and Point Cook.

Throughout the 125 years it has been the university, church and old school clubs that have provided the majority of the clubs.  Currently, approximately half of the competition has links to a school whilst another 15% is partnered with a university.

There were ten foundation clubs who had attachments to each of the segments mentioned above. Alberton (a club in East Melbourne), Brighton (played on Old Brighton’s Beach oval), Collegians (only foundation club still playing), Edlington (St Kilda based), Footscray District (played on the reserve outside the EJ Whitten Oval), St Jude’s (Anglican Church in Carlton), St Mary’s (Anglican Church in North Melbourne), South St Kilda, Toorak Grosvenor (Played in Albert Park), and the YMCA (played in Middle Park). For the record, Collegians 3.13 defeated Albertson 3.1 to win the first premiership.

At each of the grounds this week, we are presenting a commemorative medallion to each club’s most significant volunteers over the past 25 years.  The VAFA has also struck best on ground medals, voted on by our umpires, and presented at all our senior men’s and women’s matches.

I must commend Jon Anderson on all the work he has done to compile the best VAFA team over the past 50 years and promoting each of our club’s best players in that time. Choosing “best of” teams is not the most pleasant of jobs, and if it does anything, it puts the VAFA’s name in the spotlight and does recognise those players who Jon believes are the best 22. I am sure this has created discussions at most VAFA clubs and there would have been a host of players who deserve the honour.

As we celebrate the 125 years, it is an appropriate time to bring on the next phase of the VAFA journey. When the competition resumes after the bye, there will be a new CEO and a new writer of the editorial. Brett Connell is steeped in VAFA culture being a former staff member, Ormond premiership player and inducted as a Big V Champion. He knows amateur football and will provide the leadership to progress the VAFA.