Lions make debut at Aussie Rules

When you hear someone talk about 'Footie' in Australia they aren't discussing either code of rugby - it's all about Aussie Rules. [more]

Lions make debut at Aussie Rules

When you hear someone talk about ‘Footie’ in Australia they aren’t discussing either code of rugby – it’s all about Aussie Rules.

It’s the big game, the indigenous sport of Australia and it attracts huge crowds around the country. While the British & Irish Lions were near packing out the Allianz Stadium in Sydney for their game against the HSBC Waratahs with 40,805, there were 46,670 watching Carlton take on Hawthorn at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne in a Round 12 game in the Australian Football League.

That would be the same Carlton team that met the 1888 Lions in the first of 19 matches of then Victorian Rules played by the tourists to make ends meet on their mammoth tour around New Zealand and Australia.

The Lions couldn’t have chosen a tougher debut than to face the then ‘Premiers’ of the sport, Carlton. More than 25,000 fans crammed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground to see the spectacle, but it turned into a bit of a damp squib. Robert Seddon’s side had had a few practice sessions at the game, but didn’t really know what they were doing.

For the record, that first game played by the Lions and Carlton was staged 125 years ago today, 16 June, 1888, and the home side won by 14-3 – or a street! This was the cutting comment of the reporter from The Argus in Melbourne who covered the match: “Their opponents had them at their mercy all through the last half hour, and left a record on the board which disclosed about as thorough a beating as one team every administered to another.”

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If it was not a great start to the neat two month appendage to the rugby tour, they did win their next game, against Bendigo, and ended with six wins and a draw from their 19 games.

While Carlton and Essendon are still established names in the big time AFL, the Sydney Swans were born out of the South Melbourne side the Lions faced and Port Adelaide are still going strong in the top flight.

This is how The Argus previewed the game, announcing the two teams, in their Saturday edition on 16 June, 1888:

The team of English footballers, brought to the colonies by Messrs. Shrewsbury and Lillywhite, play their first match this afternoon on the Melbourne Cricket Ground, having possibly, with some rashness, arranged to open their campaign with the premiers of the colony – the Carlton team. The Englishmen have already in New Zealand and New South Wales proved themselves very worthy opponents under Rugby rules, but are heavily handicapped in having to meet so good a team as Carlton under rules of which they have but an imperfect knowledge. At a practice on the Melbourne ground yesterday several of the team proved themselves to be very fine drop kicks, but they suffer in this respect by comparison with our best teams, man for man. The Rugby game is so unlike ours that to expect its players to at once drop tactics which they resort to almost mechanically is to expect too much altogether. Should the Englishmen attempt today to play the game as Australians play it they can hope for no other result than a severe defeat. Their one chance lies in the direction of playing just as much of the Rugby game under Australian rules as the conditions will permit. At present the team seems to look upon running with the ball as being one of the great requirements of the Australian game, though the followers of football during late years will know that this is very far from being the case. There are few important matches now where runs by players of more than 20 yards cannot be counted on the fingers of one hand. So that in attempting to run, hampered as they are by want of practice in bouncing the ball, the visitors can do little good for themselves. Their instructions will probably be to kick as often and as far us they can, to play the English game of dribbling, in a scrimmage, instead of stooping to pick up the ball as most Victorians do, and lacking the ability to mark themselves, preventing as far as possible their opponents doing so. It is just possible that the novelty of the opposing play may in some degree disconcert the Carlton team. A very great deal will depend upon the central umpire, whose position in a match of this kind is anything but an enviable one. Should he attempt to enforce the rules as rigidly as between two Victorian teams the game must, us a matter of course, be constantly interrupted by the award of free kicks, and thus become confusing to the Englishmen and uninteresting to the on- lookers. On the other hand, too great a relaxation may lead to rough play, and if for this only should be stringently dealt with. To the credit of the Englishmen it must be said that they are anxious to play the strict Australian rules, but what a player may desire to do in entering the field and what he after wards will do in the excitement of the play are not always the same thing. The colours of the English team will be red, white, and blue. Mr Roy has been appointed central umpire, and the permit committee, who think it would be injudicious to relax the rules have given him no instructions apart from those which apply to all matches. The following are the teams:

England v Carlton Teams
England Carlton
C. K. Chapman J Baker
T. L. Scarborough W. Batters
Dr. Smith  A. Berry
W. Bumby W. Bailey
W. Burnet  A. Coulson
T. Banks C. Coulson
Dr. Brookes G. Cook
A. J. Stuart H. Green
A. E. Stoddart A. Gellatley
R. L. Seddon (capt) W.Goer
S. Williams D. Hutchison
A. Paul T. Leydin (capt.)
J. T. Haslam W. Moloney
J. Nolan W. McKechnie
H. C. Speakman T. McInerney
J. Anderton M. McInerney
W. H. Thomas W. Strickland
C. Mathers H. Smith
À. J. Laing M. Whelan
H. Eagles W. White

The twice weekly game workload over the two months of playing Victorian Rules took its toll on the tourists, along with the tedious traing travel that took them from town to town, and it was unsurprising that they failed to win more theh back of an six games. The fact they went into a game against the best team in the country, Carlton, on the back of only four training sessions merely heightened the view that it wasn' t a game for the Lions!

In an interview with a local reporter, Seddon made the following comments about the neew code, or even new sport, his players were having to learn: “At first when our fellows heard or read of the Australian game we certainly did not favour it in the least, as it is quite a different game to ours. Under Victorian rules knocking the ball forward and off side play is allowed, but not so under our rules. Naturally the impulse in seeing that style of play for the first time was to say, "That is wrong". But after the practice we had in Sydney yesterday, our fellows seemed to rather like the game and, in fact, some of the men said they liked it better than Rugby. But for myself, I would rather wait and play in a few matches before I give an authoritative opinion. However, I have not the least doubt that after we have played a few matches we will acquire such a knowledge of the' various tactics that we will be able to give a good account of ourselves, against the best teams in Melbourne."

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