A Deep Dive into the History of AFL


Local Insights

6/19/20234 min read

high-angle photo of round stadium at nighttime
high-angle photo of round stadium at nighttime

Explore the captivating history of AFL, from its 19th-century origins to its current global recognition, and the exciting evolution of the game.

There is something intrinsically captivating about the Australian Rules Football, or as we lovingly call it, the AFL. Steeped in history, this sport has been through a journey of over a century, navigating through turbulent times, shaping and being shaped by the cultural fabric of Australia. It's not just a game; it's a spectacle, a collective sentiment, and a symbol of national pride. So, let's embark on an exciting exploration of the riveting history of AFL.

Birth of the AFL

AFL's origin story begins in the late 19th century, in the bustling heart of Melbourne. Born out of a desire for a unified football code, it went on to become one of Australia's most loved sports.

The Idea behind the Formation

Prior to the formation of the Victorian Football League (VFL), the precursor to the AFL, football in Victoria was quite disorderly, with no unified set of rules. This inconsistency led to a desire for a single, regulated league, paving the way for the formation of the VFL.

Pioneering Years

The VFL was formed following a meeting at the Freemason's Hotel in Melbourne in 1896. This historic meeting, attended by representatives of eight clubs, laid the groundwork for a unified football league that was to revolutionise the sport in Australia.

The Foundation Clubs

The eight clubs that first banded together were Collingwood, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, St Kilda, South Melbourne, Carlton, and Essendon. These clubs, each carrying a unique history and fan base, would become the bedrock of the newly formed league.

AFL's Early 20th Century

The early years of the 20th century were a critical period for the AFL, witnessing the resilience of the sport amidst global upheavals.

Impact of The Great War

When The Great War erupted in 1914, it cast a grim shadow over the VFL. Many players enlisted, and games were often held for fundraising. Despite this, the VFL managed to continue throughout the war, symbolising the undying Aussie spirit.

The Interwar Period

The interwar years were a time of recovery and growth for the VFL. The sport continued to flourish, with attendance figures soaring and many legendary players making their mark.

Impact of World War II

The outbreak of World War II again presented a challenge to the VFL. This time, however, the league decided to continue the competition, providing a much-needed distraction from the grim reality of the war.

Post-War Developments

The end of World War II heralded a new era for the VFL. The sport experienced a surge in popularity, with larger crowds and increased media coverage. This period also saw the construction of larger stadiums and a renewed interest in the development of the game.

Evolution in the AFL Game

The AFL is known for its adaptability and constant evolution, making it a truly dynamic sport.

The Change in Rules

Over the years, the AFL has seen numerous rule changes designed to maintain the fluidity and excitement of the game. From the number of players on the field to the introduction of the centre square, these changes have kept the game fresh and unpredictable.

Introduction of Night Football

One significant evolution was the introduction of night football in the 1950s. This change not only added a new dimension to the game but also made it more accessible to the working population, who could now enjoy matches after work hours.

AFL and Technology

The AFL has not shied away from incorporating technology into the sport. The introduction of goal-line technology and video replays has enhanced the spectator experience and ensured greater accuracy in decision-making.

AFL Expansion

The AFL's expansion story is one of ambition, strategy, and a vision for a national footprint.

Early Signs of Expansion

As early as the 1950s, there were signs of the VFL's ambitions for expansion. Efforts were made to establish a presence in other Australian states, starting with the inclusion of teams from South Australia and Western Australia in the Night Series.

Expansion outside Victoria

From the 1980s, the VFL made significant strides in expanding beyond Victoria. The inclusion of teams from Queensland and New South Wales marked the beginning of a truly national competition.

National Competition

The decision to rebrand as the Australian Football League in 1990 signified its evolution into a national league. Today, the AFL comprises 18 teams from across the country, reflecting the game's broad appeal.

AFL in the 21st Century

The AFL has made significant strides in the 21st century, becoming more inclusive and gaining global recognition.

Increasing Popularity

Today, the AFL is synonymous with Australian sport. The game's thrilling blend of athleticism, strategy, and unpredictability has endeared it to millions, making it one of the most watched sports in Australia.

AFL's Global Recognition

With Aussie expats taking their love for the game abroad, the AFL has gained international recognition. Today, there are AFL leagues and clubs in countries like the US, UK, Canada, and even Papua New Guinea, reflecting the game's global appeal.

Women in AFL

Perhaps one of the most significant developments in recent AFL history is the establishment of the AFL Women's (AFLW) in 2017. This move not only reaffirmed the AFL's commitment to gender equality but also opened new opportunities for women in the sport.


From its formation in the 19th century to its status as a beloved national sport in the 21st, the journey of the AFL is a testament to the enduring appeal of this game. The AFL has continuously evolved, driven by a commitment to inclusivity, innovation, and a deep love for the sport. With its rich history, the AFL is not just a game; it's a shared Australian heritage.


When was the AFL founded?

The AFL, originally known as the VFL, was founded in 1896.

What were the original teams in the AFL?

The original teams were Collingwood, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, St Kilda, South Melbourne, Carlton, and Essendon.

When did the VFL become the AFL?

The VFL officially became the AFL in 1990, marking its expansion into a national competition.

When did night games begin in the AFL?

Night games in the AFL were introduced in the 1950s.

When did the AFL Women's league start?

The AFL Women's league was introduced in 2017.

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