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By Keith Campbell,  special to

This will be the first in an occasional series of brief articles covering the origins of the rules and later the laws of our great game of Australian rules football.  Before we get into the rules and laws it is timely to remind all of the fans of our sport about one person often overlooked in discussions about our own favorite football code. That Footballer and Cricketer person is of course:

Thomas Wentworth Wills (1835 to 1880.)

Tom had a big influence on the creation of the sport. He was the driving force in the critical formative years from 1857 to 1860.  Despite all of the Rugby influences in Melbourne at the time Wills said "No, we will have a game of our own."  The Australian Football League does acknowledge his place in the game in their Hall of Fame inaugurated in 1996.

First up there is a copy below of the first known rule set of our game, which apparently disappeared and was not actually re-discovered until 1980 in the MCG archives. They laid down the basics of our game today, and are kept under glass at the MCG Museum.  Perhaps in the future a framed copy of this set of May 17 1859 will hang in the club rooms of every Australian rules football club worldwide.  These rules are a very important part of the games heritage.

These ten rules were originally known as "The laws of the Melbourne Football Club- As played in Richmond Paddock, 1859." #

1. - The distance between the Goals and the Goal Posts shall be decided upon by the Captains of the sides playing.

2. - The Captains on each side shall toss for choice of goal, the side losing the toss has the kick off from the centre point between the goals.

3. - A goal must be kicked fairly between the posts, without touching either of them, or a portion of the person of any player on either side.

4. - The game shall be played within a space of not more than 200 yards wide, the same to be measured equally on each side of a line drawn through the centres of the two goals, and two posts to be called the "kick off posts" shall be erected at a distance of 20 yards on each side of the Goal posts at both ends, and in a straight line with them.

5. - In case the ball is kicked "behind" Goal, any one of the side behind whose Goal it is kicked may bring it 20 yards in front of any portion of the space" between" the" kick off posts", and shall kick it as nearly as possible in line with the opposite Goal.

6. - Any player catching the ball "directly" from the foot may call "MARK" .He then has a free kick no player from the opposite side being allowed to come "inside" the spot marked.

7. - Tripping and pushing are both allowed -but no hacking-when any player is in rapid motion or in possession of the ball, except in the case provided for in Rule No 6.

8. - The ball may be taken in hand "only" when caught from the foot, or on the hop (bounce). In "no case" shall it be "lifted" from the ground.

9. - When a ball goes out of bounds (The same being indicated by a row of posts) it shall be brought back to the point where it crossed the boundary line, and thrown in at right angles with that line.

10. - The ball, while in play, may under "no circumstances be THROWN".

#The revisions for these rules commenced immediately after the first scratch match in May 1859, but that topic is for another time.

Ed note:  Additional installments in this series will be published periodically.

Article last changed on Monday, October 04, 2021 - 2:02 PM EDT

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