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Home History of the WAFL up to 1990

WAFL History

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The governing body of Australian Rules Football in Western Australia has had a variety of names over the past 130 plus years.It first came into existence in 1885 as the West Australian Football Association (WAFA), and changed to West Australian Football Leaue (WAFL) in 1908, then the West Australian National Football League (WANFL) in 1932. In 1980 the the name was again changed to West Australian Football League (WAFL). In an attempt to revamp the leagues image, in 1997 the League renamed its brand to Weststar Rules. With little success under Weststar Rules the competion reverted back to the WAFL in 2000.  

The Australian Rules code in the Perth/Fremantle district saw its beginnings around 1881 with one club coming into existence which gave itself the name 'Unions'. The formation of a second team giving themselves the apt name of Swans, (no connection with the Swan Districts Football Club) was formed. However the game was still fairly subdued compared to what was happening in Victoria and South Australia under what was then know at 'Victorian Rules'.

It needs to also be understood that Australia was not yet a nation under a Commonwealth and that Australia was made up of a number of colonies that tended to compete against each other in manufacturing and agriculture. This is aptly the reason that what was to become known as Australian Rules after Federation was considered as 'Victorian Rules' because of its origins in Victoria.

It is not clear whether in the early days of football in Perth that both Unions and Swans had competed against each other and it is possible that they might have only played amongst each other in intraclub competition.

Esplanade 19thcentury
Football matches were played on the Esplanade in the
late 1880's as can be seen by the goal posts either
end of the park 

 Even though rugby union was the more dominant sport at the time, there were moves afoot from certain quarters, to promote 'Victorian rules' as a more entertaining game which was seen as providing greater pleasure and action for the players and spectators alike.

With the discovery of gold in the Kalgoorlie region, the influx of population movement from the eastern states who already had 'Victorian rules' influences helped to increase the popularity of the game of football in Perth as well as the Goldfields. 

This influx of migrants from states such as Victoria and South Australia saw the rise of the Goldfield Football League which until 1919 was comparible in status to the Perth competition.

The landscape was soon to change in 1885 with the formation of the West Australian Football Association (WAFA) with three official teams in Fremantle (no connection to the current AFL affiliated Fremantle Dockers), Rovers and Victorians. During that season Rovers went on to win the first WAFA premiership.

Rovers 1885
The Rovers team of 1885

In 1886 a new Fremantle based team called Unions joined the WAFA which increased the competition to four teams.

Fremantle left the WAFA in 1887 and the West Australian Football Club or as they were often referred to as West Australians or Wests joined. During their first two seasons in the WAFA Wests finished last and soon disbanded and soon merged to become the Metropolitan Football Club (now the West Perth Football Club).

A meeting was held between the Victorian and West Australian Football Clubs at the criterion Hotel, Perth, in april 1889 when it was unanimously agreed to amalgamate the two clubs to become the Metropolitan Football Club and that the colours be red and black with the membership fee being 5 shillings a year.

In 1890 as a need to identify themselves with the region they were located in, Unions changed their name to Fremantle.

Crowd 1890's
Typical Football crowd in the 1890's with ladies
dressed in their finest

By 1891 two new teams joined in Centrals and East Perth but would soon be gone over the next two seasons. And in 1892 East Fremantle joined the WAFA.

Fremantle who had dominated the competion until the end of the 19th Century and having won 10 premierships disbanded in 1899 due to financial problems.

Out of the demise of the Fremantle Club was the formation of the South Fremantle Football Club.

Fremantle oval 1896
Fremantle Oval 1896

West Perth 1897
West Perth Football Club 1897

1899 would also see the disbanding of the Rovers which was replaced by the Perth Football Club.

By 1901 the WAFA consisted of six teams and by 1906 the competition saw it increased to an eight team competition with the addition of Midland Junction and North Fremantle to the previous list of West Perth, South Fremantle, East Fremantle, Perth, Subiaco and East Perth. 

East Fremantle 1904
East Fremantle football Club 1904

In 1904 the WAFA played their first State game which was against Victoria with the result being Victoria 14.10 (94) v WA 8.11 (59).

State Side 1904
1904 State side

In 1908 the WAFA changed its name to the West Australian Football League. Also in 1908 Subiaco Oval was first used for football but only as the home for the Subiaco Football Club. It was not until 1936 that Subiaco Oval would become the headquarters for the WAFL and thereafter hold finals and state games.

Prior to 1936, finals were held at a number of venues including the WACA, Perth Oval, Leederville Oval and Midland Junction. 

Subiaco Oval 1908
Subiaco Oval 1908

From 1902 through to 1911 East Fremantle dominated the competition by winning 8 flags over the 10 year period. This period also saw Subiaco emerge with three premierships in 1912, 1913 and 1915.

East and South Fremantle 1910
East Fremantle and South Fremantle clash
at Fremantle Oval, 1910 

Both North Fremantle and Midland Junction would drop out out of the WAFA after 1915 and 1917 respectively and would not reappear after World War 1.

During the early 1900's the Australasian Football Council (AFC) representing all Australian states as well as New Zealand was formed to oversee a united competition and uniform rules.

1908 saw the inauguration of the first Australian Rules National Carnival which was held in Melbourne. Also know as the Jubilee Australasian Football Carnival as a commemoration of 50 years of Australian Rules football. Teams were represented from Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and New Zealand.

300px-Australasian Football Jubilee Carnival (1858-1908)- Souvenir Programme
Souvenir program for the 1908
Australasian football Carnival

West Australia's State colours for the Carnival  consisted of a dark green jersey with a gold swan on the breast, white knickers and dark green hose with white tops.

Western Australia played Victoria in the final with Victoria winning 13.22 (100) to WA 6.8 (44).

The Australasian Football Carnival would be the first and only time that New Zealand would participate. With Australian Rules in New Zealand in decline and the popularity of rugy union, Australian Rules in New Zealand saw a hiatus of the game, and with no delegates representing them,  the Council changed its name to Australian Football Council (AFC). The AFC would remain the governing body of Australian Rules Football until it was disbanded in1995 in favour of the VFL Commission and what is now the AFL Commission.

Further Australian Football Carnivals in the early part of the 20th Century were held in 1911, 1914, 1921 and 1924. One prominant West Australian footballer during this period was 'Nipper' Truscott who became the first to take part in three Carnivals, representing Western Australia. Nipper also had the distintion of being the Captain of the first West Australian team to win te Carnival in 1921 which was held in Perth. Nipper's value to East Fremantle as a player of class was also very significant from 1913 to 1926.

WJ 'Nipper' Truscott

Football in Western Australia saw a golden era in the 1920's. An era where East Perth went on to win five successive premierships and the State side won it's first ever Australian Football Carnival defeating Victoria at Subiaco in 1921.

In 1921 the Sandover Medal was introduced which was donated by Alfred Sandover, a prominant Perth hardware merchant. The award was set up to recognise the fairest and best player during the season with votes being cast by the umpires.

Tom Outridge
Tom Outridge the first
Sandover Medalist

Up until 1930 only one vote was given per match and in the event of a tie the WAFL President was required to cast the deciding vote. Hence in 1921 when  both Cyril Holt (Perth) and Tom Outridge (Subiaco) tied with the same number of votes, the President's deciding vote went to Outridge who become the first Sandover Medalist. Holt would go on to receive a retrospective Medal in 1997.

Haydn Bunton (Senior) became the first duel Sandover Medal winner when he collected medals in 1938 - 1939 and go on to win another medal in 1941. Thus becoming the first WAFL player to win three medals. Bunton had previously won three Brownlow Medals while playing for the Fitzroy Football Club prior to his arrival at Subiaco.

Haydn Bunton senior
Haydn Bunton senior
winner of three
Sandover medals

In 1962 his son Haydn Bunton (Junior) would go on to win the medal while playing for Swan Districts, being the first and only father/son combination to have won the medal.

Another prominant Sandover Medalist was Bill Walker who had won three Sandover Medals in a row between 1965 - 1967 and losing another in a countback in 1970 to Pat Dalton (Perth). A retrospective medal was awarded in 1997 giving Warker a total of four medal which has not been surpassed since.

In 1926 Claremont/Cottesloe joined the WAFL with Swan Districts being admitted in 1934 to bring the number of teams again to eight, a number which was to remain unchanged for 63 years until the introduction of Peel Thunder from the Mandurah region in 1997. In 1935 Claremont dropped 'Cottesloe' off their name to become known simply as the Claremont Football Club.

East Perth (7 flags) and East Fremantle (6 flags) shared the Premiership spoils between 1918 and 1931 with their successes being broken by Subiaco in 1924.

By the 1930's West Perth, who last won a premiership in 1905 took over the top spot with success in winning flags in 1932, 1934 and 1935, with Claremont winning a treble of flags in 1938, 39 and 1940.

With the advent of the Second World War, between 1942 - 1944 the WAFL ran what was to be known as the 'under-age' competion. During this period all eight Clubs competed with Swan Districts dropping out in 1942 due to lack of players. However Swan Districts were back in 1943 where they competed in the Grand Final against eventual Premiers East Fremantle.

Even though it was an 'under-age' competition, premierships won during this period were given an equal status to all other premierships won in previous years with only East Perth not giving  their 1944 Premiership the same recognition. 

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WA Football 1975
WA Footballer 1979


Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 May 2020 06:31  

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