The Melbourne Rules : An Esoteric History compiled by Brian Membrey


1939 : Rules Chaos

Added : May, 2019 : Schoolboy Curtain-Raisers

There was something of a dispute early in 1939 over the throw-pass being used in school matches when two schoolboy teams played before one of the Victorian Football Association’s traditional opening match between neighbours Brunswick v. Coburg according to League rules.

All sports in State schools was controlled by the Victorian State Schools' Amateur Athletic Association, and questions were raised (apparently not for the first time) over League rules being used before Association matches.

The Sporting Globe's Hec. de Lacy made extensive enquiries into the matter, and was told by an official of the V.S.S.A.A.A. that curtain-raiser matches were arranged outside of the provinces of their Association and thus beyond their control, and that schools took no responsibility for any injuries to the boys.

In rostered matches which were played under their auspices, a teacher was always in charge (and usually umpired), and although they had no problem with the throw-pass "the rules of the Australian National Football Association were used for the sake of uniformity".

As this V.S.S.A.A.A. official put the position—

"We are not concerned whether they play curtain-raisers under Association, League or Soccer rules. We have no jurisdiction over the games.  In many instances schools outside the V.S.S.A.A.A. in technical schools (they have their separate championship), and Catholic schools compete in these curtain raisers. We have not the power to say to a boy 'You shall play' or "You shall not play'. School finishes on Friday with the final dismissal. Parents could rightly tell us to mind our own business If we were to insist on this or that as compulsory recreation for the boys on a Saturday."

He concluded by denying that neither the V.F.L. or A.N.F.C. subsidized the V.S.S.A.A.A., claiming the school's sporting organization raised its revenue from gate receipts from sports meetings, with up to £850 collected in some seasons, enough for the Association to have donated £450 towards improvements at the Amateur Sports Ground - later Olympic Park.

He did, however, admit that the League had helped it with a straight-out donation towards the costs of sending schoolboy teams over State borders and that members of the executive had often put in money out of their own pockets to ensure an even spread of sporting opportunities across affluent and less-affluent sections of Melbourne, quoting one case during the Depress where the V.S.S.A.A.A. was committed to sending a girls' team interstate, but had just under eleven shillings in funds, the executive contributing £15 each to ensure the success of the trip.

The Technical Schools adopted the throw pass and the anti-charging rules prior to the 1939 season and declared it a resounding success.

Despite this, one observer in 1945 noted Collingwood Technical School playing its competitive matches on Wednesdays under Association rules and curtain-raisers at Collingwood on Saturdays under the League version, while State schools played the reverse - rostered matches under Association and curtain-raisers at V.F.A. games under League regulations!

"Ridiculous, don't you think"?  was the succinct conclusion to the article, and we couldn’t agree more!

Delegates from the Public Schools watched with interest, and prior to the 1940 season recommended the adoption of the new rules to their respective headmasters, subsequently accepted 5-1, the sole objector Melbourne Grammar School whose coach, Mr. E. C. H. Taylor who was closely associated with the Melbourne Football Club and had appeared as a delegate at League meetings : he went on to author the centennial history of the Melbourne club published in 1958.

Most of the schools were fielding "old boys" teams in the Victorian Amateur Football Association which had already adopted the new rules.

The A.N F.C. was regarded by most critics as a somewhat moribund body consisting of the major leagues from each state – the Amateurs had been denied representation and at a meeting of their own National Council in July, 1938, it would suggested that they would sever all connections to the A.N.F.C.

They declared that they were still undecided on the throw-pass as individual state associations had not discussed it , but it was revealed that they had introduced new rules of their own – the umpire having the power to order off a player after a previous warning (as early as 192), and the teams being allowed to replace any number of injured players up to three-quarter time – and would not delete, them, but considered that this should prevent their representation at the national level.

The Amateurs continued to press for representation with commentators expressing concerns that if the League did not make some concession, there may an irreconcilable split in the game with the Public Schools, Associated Grammar Schools, and Secondary Schools all indicating that they wanted to follow the Association and adopt the throw pass next season.

The throw pass also had a unfortunate side-effect : with the means of legally disposing of the ball, the V.F.A. and Amateurs adopted a "no-drop" rule, while the League allowed a player to simply let go of the ball when tackled.  

This was probably confusing enough for followers of the two senior codes, but unfortunately the varied school competitions found no uniformity in adopting the rule, some allowing the ball to be dropped, others penalizing the same.