Upon returning to Australia, Tom Wills – football captain of Rugby School and a great cricketer – advocated for a winter game of football in 1857 to encourage cricketers to remain fit during the off-season. As a result, a new game was created by Wills, his cousin H.C.A. Harrison, J.B. Thompson and W.J. Hammersley, thus, becoming the founders of Australian football upon the formation of the Melbourne Football Club in 1858.
This new game of football quickly blossomed, with the first recorded football match in the same year between Melbourne Grammar School and Scotch College. The following year saw the formation of the Geelong Football Club, and by 1866, a competition began, following an updated set of rules being put in place.
During the beginnings of footy (as it was first known), they played on large rectangular fields that often used trees as goals and a round ball – compared to today where we see an oval field with set goals and an oval ball to match.
As this was originally played in Victoria, by the 1870s, footy became known as Victorian Rules, with the Victorian Football League established in 1896. The following years saw the League’s first games played between the foundation clubs: Carlton (Blues), South Melbourne (today known as Sydney Swans), Collingwood (Magpies), St Kilda (Saints), Essendon (Bombers), Melbourne (Demons), Fitzroy (Lions) and Geelong (Cats).
The turn of the century saw Richmond (Tigers) and University (Students) joining the League; however, University left after the 1914 season. North Melbourne (Kangaroos), Hawthorn (Hawks) and Footscray (now known as Western Bulldogs) joined the League in 1925, where these 12 clubs continued playing unchanged until 1987. It was here that the competition expanded beyond the state to include West Coast (Eagles) and Brisbane (Bears) teams, quickly followed by Adelaide (Crows), Fremantle (Dockers) and Port Adelaide (Power) in the 90s. Due to the expansion beyond Victoria, the game was renamed as Australian Football League (AFL).
After the 1996 season, the foundation club Fitzroy merged with the Brisbane Bears, forming the Brisbane Lions; whilst two new teams, Gold Coast (Suns) and Greater Western Sydney (Giants), joined in the 2010s, creating the 18-team national competition played today.