The Melbourne Rules : An Esoteric History compiled by Brian Membrey

Footy During the Second World War

Last Updated : September - War Years now “done and dusted”

This sub-section outlines a history of the Melbourne Rules during the turbulent years of the Second World War, historically 1939 to 1945, but to which we have preceded with 1938, perhaps a season that saw some of the most revolutionary changes to “Melbourne Rules’ since its inception way back in 1858 - or may 1859 depending on which version of history you adhere to!

While football in Melbourne fought its own battle during the First World War (ummm! probably the project for the 2018-19 cricket season) with the number of teams reduced at one point to just four teams - and Fitzroy claiming a premiership despite finishing last in a home-and-away season - the Second World War saw a vastly different scenario after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December, 1941.

With the subsequent fall of Singapore, Japanese advances in Malaya, Java and New Guinea, and bombing raids on Darwin and Broome, most of the Australian volunteers where held back “at home” in sharp contrast to the Great War where on average a serviceman was embarked for Egypt or later the Western Front probably 10 to 12 weeks after enlisting.

The Australians from early in 1942 were joined by the U.S. forces, one estimate later in that year suggesting perhaps 60,000 “Yanks” in Melbourne alone, often referred to in both Melbourne and England as “over-paid, over-sexed and over here!”.

Initially, many of the Americans were located at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (aka “Camp Murphy” where the grandstand and other buildings were converted to sleeping accommodation, training areas and medical facilities - with the “G” unavailable, League finals were switched to Carlton’s home at Princes Park for 1942 and 1943, but after massive problems with public transport, somewhat controversially, as the perceived capacity was anything up to 10,000 less than Carlton.

As it emerged, the difference was immaterial as a tram strike went thousands were discouraged from attending anyway and the finals were back at Princes Park the following year.

Many of the players of the 1939 and 1940 seasons that had enlisted and served in the Middle East had been returned to Australia for our local defence, and combined with a rush of volunteers after Pearl Harbor, competitions in which Army, R.A.A.F. and to a lesser extent Navy units competed resulted in teams that proved highly competitive in charity matches with the leading League sides and probably, according to some observers would have been even superior if they had had been able to train together regularly.

On 1943, the military of both nations sought to ease the friction that had built up between the Australian and U.S. troops by introducing three American baseball teams into the local competition and encouraging challenges between gridiron and “Melbourne Rules” players at various charity sports carnivals which ultimately resulted in a unique, but sadly short-lived set of rules for a new form of football, AUSTUS, which combined the two codes.

By 1945, football had returned almost to normal, although many players were still away on service. The Victorian Football association and a number of junior competitions resumed, although providing adequate supplies of uniforms and footballs remained a struggle right through to the end of the 1946 season.

Three League rounds had been played before news came through in May that Germany had surrendered to the Allied forces ; the surrender of Japan came on the Wednesday following the 17th round of League matches.

And lest we forget football friends in other states - South Australia took the unusual step of combining its eight teams into four based on geographical proximity; Western Australia took an even more radical step by reverting to an under-age competition - under-18 in 1942, extended to under-19 in the next two years before the seniors resumed 1945.  Remarkably, Tasmania, the smallest state, had four regional competitions, each of four teams.  “Patriotic Associations” replaced a couple of them, but the traditional South versus North matches continued the rivalry …  NOW READ ON


AUSTUS : an innovative mix of Melbourne Rules and gridiron devised to encourage friendly competition between American serviceman and Australians - nominally allies on overseas battlefields, but rather less so in everyday Melbourne!

Now read on!