Melbourne Cricket Ground - MCG Football - A Brief History
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MCG Football - A Brief History

An early football scene at the MCGThe Melbourne Cricket Ground is the spiritual home of Australian football. The nation’s most popular spectator sport is inalienably linked to the MCG, and both are intrinsic to Melbourne’s identity.

The MCG was a football venue from 1859, the code’s first year, and it has hosted the VFL/AFL grand final, the sport’s most prestigious game, all but five times since 1902.

The Australian Football Hall of Fame has been an attraction at the National Sports Museum at the MCG since 2008.

Football has been played in Melbourne since the 1840s and the old Melbourne Cricket Ground at South Bank hosted a football game in 1850.

However, the current rules of Australian football may be traced to a meeting held on May 17, 1859 at the Parade Hotel, later the MCG Hotel, on Wellington Parade.

There, four members of the Melbourne Football Club – William Hammersley, Thomas Smith, James Thompson and Tom Wills – drafted the 10 laws that form the platform from which the Australian code evolved.

The Melbourne Football Club had no formal connection to the MCC but many players were MCC members and the footballers defeated South Yarra three goals to nil on the MCG over two non-consecutive Saturdays, July 9 and 23, in 1859. This was the first-ever inter-club football match under Melbourne Football Club (later Australian) rules.

Many football games in the 1860s and 1870s were played in the parkland immediately north of the MCG, informally known as the Melbourne Football Ground, and therefore in 1876 the MCC began construction of a grandstand with seating that could be reversed to face the cricket in summer and football in winter.

However, a Melbourne v Carlton football match utilising the “entire cricket-ground circle” was played at the MCG on June 9, 1877 and drew 8-10,000 spectators. This seems to have been the catalyst for Melbourne’s cricket clubs aggressively courting football clubs to play on their ovals and maximise winter revenue.

The MCC led this trend and even introduced Australia to night football by electric light at its ground in 1879.

In the late 1870s and early 1880s the preponderance of MCG matches involved Melbourne but from 1883 Carlton was a co-tenant and other clubs would also lease the ground. A Carlton v South Melbourne match at the MCG on July 14, 1888 attracted a crowd of 30-35,000. The (Melbourne) Sportsman claimed it was the greatest football attendance to that time.

In 1890 the Melbourne Football Club amalgamated with the Melbourne Cricket Club. Following the 1896 season Melbourne was a founding member of the VFL (now AFL) and therefore the MCG also became a league venue.

The first league match at the MCG was between Melbourne and Geelong on May 15, 1897. Prior to the commencement of the 2012 AFL season, the ground had hosted 2491 league games – over 1000 more than any other ground.

The first VFL/AFL grand final at the MCG was in 1902 and since then only five have been played elsewhere (1942-45 when the MCG was a military base, and 1991 when construction of the Great Southern Stand severely limited capacity).

The venue has hosted well over twice as many finals as all other venues combined. The biggest football attendance at the ground, and the record for any code in Australia, was 121,696 for the 1970 grand final between Carlton and Collingwood.

The MCG attracts huge attendances throughout the AFL season. More than three million supporters attended AFL matches at the ground in 1998, 2010 and 2011. The biggest crowd for a home and away game was 99,256 for the 1958 Queen’s Birthday match between Melbourne and Collingwood.

Crowds in excess of 80,000 attend matches regularly. The annual Anzac Day match is one of the highest-drawing events each season and it has become an important part of one of Australia’s most sacred days. The “Dreamtime at the ’G” game is the feature of the AFL’s annual indigenous round.

The MCG hosted interstate carnivals in 1908, 1927 and 1958 and special matches such as the AFL Hall of Fame Tribute Match in 2008. It was in a representative match that Laurie Nash kicked a ground record 18 goals for Victoria against South Australia in 1934.

Many league clubs have called the MCG home. In 1965, in response to a Richmond Football Club initiative, the Tigers shared the MCG with Melbourne, the clubs playing on alternate Saturdays.

In 1984 North Melbourne became the third tenant club. This occurred shortly before the erection of the MCG’s permanent light towers which allowed night football to be played regularly at the stadium from March 29, 1985.

North’s move to the MCG coincided with the VFL’s ground rationalisation policy that encouraged Melbourne clubs to leave their suburban home grounds for large, centralised stadia such as the MCG. It is also AFL policy to fit matches to appropriately sized grounds and so games between non-tenant clubs that are likely to draw large attendances are also played at the MCG.

Currently four AFL clubs – Melbourne, Richmond, Collingwood (since 1999) and Hawthorn (since 2000) – share the MCG as their home ground. Its previous league tenants were University (1911-14), North Melbourne (1984-99) and Essendon (1992-99).

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