6 reasons AFL is so popular in Melbourne

Aussie Rules!

While it’s no secret that this popular sport quite literally does rule, this is also another name for the famous game in Australia.

Enter into the Winter months and you will be able to spot a sea of orange & black, blue & white, red & white, red, white & black, and many, many more.

Adorned in beanies and scarves, all ready to it the stadium to see their favourite team play. It’s both a little bit crazy, and 100% Aussie pride, all bursting at the seams to cheer along with their favourites.

But, just why are Aussie Rules so popular in Melbourne?

We take a look at 6 reasons the sport has grown (and continues to grow) in popularity over the years:

1) It was invented there!

In order to take a look at why AFL is so popular in Melbourne, it would be remiss of us not to firstly and foremost mention that the sport was invented here.

In the mid-19th Century, the game came to life in Melbourne, emerging from football that was being played in English schools at the time. With access to so many large, open spaces, the game naturally evolved with the help of those who played it.

As you can imagine, the original games were quite chaotic, with plenty of negotiations over rules that weren’t yet set in stone. Hence, rules were made! In May 1859, Thomas Wentworth Wills and seven members of the Melbourne Cricket Club established the rules and the new sport was created.

Here are some of those initial rules:

  • The player with the ball could only run as far as was needed to kick the ball.
  • A player caught (marked) the ball cleanly from a kick could take a free kick.
  • Throwing the ball was banned.
  • An opponent could not be held if he did not have possession of the ball.

These, of course, evolved over the years with amendments made along the way. By the 1870s it was well established in Melbourne, with the Victorian Football Association forming in May 1877.

The beginning history of AFL begins in Melbourne, creating strong ties to the game, which are still evident today.

2) Melbourne started out strong

AFL began as the VFA, or the Victorian Football Association. Not only was AFL started in Melbourne, but quite naturally a number of strong Victorian Clubs cropped up almost immediately: St Kilda, South Melbourne, Melbourne, North Melbourne, Carlton, Fitzroy and Collingwood.

While other States had their own leagues, Melbourne was by far the strongest. The Victorian League grew and started to attract the best players from the other States, including Western Australia and South Australia, by paying the top dollar for them to come.

Naturally, momentum began the build over the years and Melbourne got stronger and stronger, cementing its roots in the game. It’s no surprise that the sport is still so popular in Melbourne today. It grew from strength to strength in Melbourne in those initial years with allegiances formed to players and teams that simply grew from this starting point.

So, how did the sport eventually spread across the rest of Australia and get taken up by other states? At some point, the VFL recognised that if the sport was going to truly prosper, then it quite naturally had to go national.

Some of the Melbourne teams merged into others, while some moved interstate. But, not all states were on board to begin with. While the remaining Melbourne teams moved into the AFL, South Australia played under the SANFL and Western Australia under the WAFL. They are still around today!

3) The ANZAC Day Clash

If you have never been in Melbourne for the ANZAC Day clash, then you need to put it on your bucket list. It’s an experience like no other. If you truly want to understand the popularity of AFL in Melbourne, then this is the place to see it in action.

The ANZAC Day clash is between rivals Essendon and Collingwood held on ANZAC Day (25 April) at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

The ANZAC Day clash you see today began in the 1990s with Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy. At the time, he would have had zero clue just how successful this idea of his would become. As a player, Kevin had represented Richmond on ANZAC Day in 1977, which was his inspiration.

His vision was to stage the contest every year as a way to honour those who served in World War 1. The very next year, they had a sell-out crowd of almost 95,000 fans to watch a historic and memorable draw being played out. The rest, as they say, is history.

Just this year, the MCG was set to break the record for the largest crowd attendance at a sporting event worldwide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MCG capacity was raised to 85 per cent.

If you head long to this match, then you will realise that for Melburnians, it’s so much more than just a sport.

4) Growing Camaraderie

Given the long and instance history of the game – and the number of Melbourne teams that were initially born when the NFL started, there is a strong camaraderie for the game that is very apparent in Melbourne. It is just part of the reason the sport is so popular there.

The rivalries between teams have been cemented since the early days of the sport.

Yet, despite this rivalry, if you attend any game you’ll discover there’s a mutual respect that all fans hold for each other. They barrack for their own teams while maintaining that respect for other fans on opposing teams. This is so unlike many sports around the world.

Soccer (Football), American Football, Ice Hockey… so many sports around the world are known for their violence in the stands thanks to the poor sportsmanship of the fans. This is enough to tear apart an invested love for a sport.

This AFL culture also extends to all cultural backgrounds and walks of life. It has brought people together, including Aboriginals who have represented Melbourne, including Les Bamblett, Melbourne Footscray, Chance Bateman, Hawthorn, Laurie Bellotti, West Coast and many more over the years.

5) Steeped in tradition

It’s not just the tradition of the sport that has its roots in Melbourne. But there’s also a strong family tradition that continues to be passed down from generation to generation.

With the mutual respect that fans hold for each other, there are no issues bringing along young kids and older kids to the game to join in the fun. It has become a favourite pastime for many families that are embedded in the culture in Melbourne.

It’s normal for families to venture out to games, invite friends or family over to watch it on the TV and to make an event of it.

Come Grand Final time and you see this family tradition in full force, as people get together to share in the game and support their teams. There’s a passion there you won’t see anywhere else – and it’s a shared one that all the generations can take part in.

6) Popular sport

It’s not just watching the game that has won the hearts of Melburnians. It’s also playing the game. And this starts from a young age.

It is introduced to children from a young age with Auskick the key introductory coaching program for primary school-aged children and parents, which is supported by the Australian Sports Commission. It is managed by the parents in a fun and safe environment. It’s laying those grassroots into our younger generation, as they follow in the footsteps of those before them, creating lasting memories together.

This starts from the age of 5 and then it continues. There are ample opportunities for kids to play AFL over the years for numerous clubs across Melbourne. It’s a popular sport that many choose to take up and follow through the years.

With parents and grandparents coming along to the games to cheer them on, it adds to that sense of camaraderie that then flows into the professional games that are enjoyed as a family on the weekends. Even adults continue to play AFL as part of social clubs well into their 20s and 30s.

AFL in Melbourne

It’s easy to see why AFL is just so popular in Melbourne. It’s much, much more than just a sport. It’s part of their identity, both as a State and as individual families. There’s no denying the strong AFL sport culture in Melbourne, which flows through the generations.

The sport has a well-established hold in the Melbourne area that will be around for decades to come. Local clubs form the hub of the community, forging strong ties to both the community and the sport.

While AFL is certainly popular throughout Australia, it’s worth noting this extra tradition that dates back to Melbourne and how it has contributed to the popularity of the sport in this State.

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