The Melbourne Rules : An Esoteric History compiled by Brian Membrey


Two administrative decisions by the Victorian Football Association to try and stimulate additional interest at the start of 1938 were to have far reaching effects on their competition over the next decade, and perhaps, but for the intervention of the Second World War, football in general..

The Permit Agreement with the V.F.L. was scrapped  and the other significant change was the adoption of the “throw-pass”.   

The throw-pass allowed a player to throw the ball in any direction as long as the ball was held with both hands and the hands were between the shoulders and knees as the ball was thrown.  This allowed players to dispose of the ball much quicker than with a normal hand-pass (the rules much more strictly enforced than today), but the use of two-hands eliminated the 30 or 40-yard grid-iron style passes of American football; it was generally recognized that players could not throw the ball any further than they could legitimately punch it..

At the same time the Association decided to rescind the existing out-of-bounds rule and reinstate a throw-in from the boundary umpire - the throw-in was used in Melbourne up until 1925, but the Australia National Football Council then voted to award a free kick against the last team to play the ball before it went out of bounds under any circumstances - a rule which was said to have been unpopular in Victoria, but necessarily adopted by the League at the insistence of other states.

Competitions however adopting the Association's rules could not be affiliated with the A.N.F.C.  and in the case of provincial Victorian leagues, they were forced to leave the A.N.F.C-affiliated Victorian Country Football League.  In Tasmania, the North Western Association (Devenport) adopted the V.F.A. rules in mid-1938 and by 1940 jumped from five teams in 1938 to nine the following year with clubs leaving other competitions to play under the new rules.

In late March, 1939, the president of the Richmond Football Club, “Barney” Herbert after watching several Association matches the previous year announced he would try to persuade the League to introduce the throw-pass “… the sooner they brought in the throw-pass, as played by the Association, the better for football and all concerned”.  

The League had introduced a rule which penalized a player who simply dropped the ball when tackled; the rule was heavily criticized and Herbert saw the throw as a logical alternative, as did the Sporting Globe senior football writer, Hec De Lacy :=

“The code of the Association, with its throw-pass, has ravaged the tranquil conservatism of Australian football like bush fire. So attractive was the football played by the Association last year that the League here, and the other States of the Australian Council, just cannot ignore the throw-pass.  The secretary of one interstate League said to me in November: "This code in five years will either have swept Australia.or it will have been killed."  The code of the throw-pass produces very clever football. The throw has overcome the difficulties, and rid the game of the contentiousness of the holdmg-the-ball, holding-the-man rule”.  The Sporting Globe, 12 April, 1939

The legendary Roy Cazaly, a great friend of De Lacy supported his views:= [1]

"The Association code is streets ahead of the League code as a game and as a spectacle.  It brings out all the best in Australian football-kicking, high-marking, stab kicking, and bright open exchanges played at a splendid pace. "It beats me why the league muddles on with this holding-the-ball rule when the throw would clear up the trouble in a Saturday”. (Sporting Globe, 3 May, 1939)

The increased speed of the game led to much higher levels of scoring, and several new records were set before the V.F.A. went into recession for the Second World War in 1942. The V.F.A. before the 1939 season seriously considered introducing four boundary umpires, a life member of the Permit and Umpires Committee complaining that boundary umpires were "run into the ground" during the matches on Saturday “… under the throw-pass rule it was practically impossible to keep pace with the game”.

The popularity of the rule saw over 48,000 at the M.C.G. for the Brunswick-Williamstown Grand Final of 1939. Hec. De Lacy again waxed eloquent about the experiment…:

“The second half was the most thrilling display of Australian rules football, played through continual rain, that the Victorian public has ever seen.  The thrills that came by comparison with the four League finals roused the people to yelling enthusiasm and they finished the game on their feet cheering the teams and the umpire for the greatest display of football entertainment seen on the Melbourne  ground for years.

“Yet fully 30,000 of these people were League fans who had gone in a sense of curiosity. They remained to cheer.


“The Victorian public schools have accepted the Association’s throw-pass and its train of anti-bullying rules. The future of the code is assured. The Public Schools, the Associated Grammar Schools and other schools have adopted the throw code. The Amateurs are expected to follow suit.

The move towards the throw, despite the prejudice of certain League people is rapid. It is a great pity that interstate enthusiasts could not have been at the M.C.G. to hear and see how people received the exhibition”.  (Sporting Globe, 11 October, 1939).

The report went on to reveal the takings for the V.F.A. Finals in 1938 were £1,662, in 1941; £4,561.

With the fast movement of the ball and the influx of many League stars after the abandonment of the clearance agreement, forwards had a picnic - in 1941, Bob Pratt after transferring from South Melbourne to Coburg kicked 183 goals in a 20-game season to led the goal-kicking (then an Australian recording, surpassing Prahran’s George Hawkins 164 under the new rules in 1939), Laurie Nash, also ex-South and with Camberwell finished with 141, and a little-known ex-Geelong forward/ruckman Jack Lynch (killed during the Second World War) booted 133 with Preston.  Lynch actually led the goal-kicking shortly before the end of the season but missed a game through injury while Pratt kicked 16 goals to overtake him before adding a considerable tally during the final.

Pratt’s tally was astonishing as fellow Coburg half-forward Lance Collins kicked 74 goals, their combined tally of 257 goals representing a average of just under 13 goals per match, but it mattered little when Port Melbourne swamped them in the last quarter of the Grand Final to win by 19 points after trailing by 8 at three-quarter time, Pratt’s record only stood until the next season of competition when the V.F.A. resumed in 1945 and Williamstown’s Ron Todd who controversially transferred from Collingwood in 1940 kicked 188.

(The Sporting Globe at the time provided a best-player trophy for the V.F.A. based on its reporter’s votes - such was Todd’s dominance that Preston’s Sam Snell was awarded second-best on ground in round four after limiting Todd to “only” eight goals,  four of which came in the last quarter)!

See also :   1939 : The V.F.A’s Day of Days

[1] Cazaly was given a three-year term as coach of South Melbourne from 1937, but after two unsuccessful seasons stood down in favour of captain Herbie Matthews, but remained with his old club and became effectively the playing coach of their seconds at 46 years of age, playing in several matches with his only son, Roy junior who never managed a senior game. Cazaly senior was coach of Camberwell in 1941 and with a shortage players due to the war played the last two matches at half-forward at 48 years of age.  Predictably, as primarily a high-leaping ruckman, he had been a vehement critic at the time of the decision to award a free kick in lieu of a boundary throw-in  (Back to text)

1938 : The Throw-Pass