1885 premiership season
PremiersSouth Melbourne
(2nd premiership)
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The 1885 Victorian Football Association season was the 9th season of the Australian rules football competition. The premiership was won by the South Melbourne Football Club. It was the club's second VFA premiership.

Association membership

The senior metropolitan membership of the Association (including Geelong) increased from eight to ten clubs in 1885. The two new clubs were Richmond and University, both of which were newly formed this season.

At this time, five other provincial senior clubs were full Association members represented on the Board of Management: Ballarat, Ballarat Imperial, South Ballarat, Horsham Trades and Horsham Unions. Due to distance, these clubs played too few matches against the rest of the VFA to be considered relevant in the premiership.[1]

1885 VFA premiership

The 1885 premiership was won by the South Melbourne Football Club. In one of the most dominant seasons seen, South Melbourne finished the season undefeated from a total of 25 matches: 14–0–2 against the other VFA senior clubs, and 22–0–3 against all opponents – which included matches against all four South Australian senior clubs.[2][3][4][5] South Melbourne scored almost four times as many goals as it conceded, and scored at least seven goals in half of its matches. Essendon, which lost only two of its 21 matches, finished as runner up, and the defending premiers Geelong finished third.

Club senior records

The below table details the playing records of the ten clubs in all matches during the 1885 season. Two sets of results are given:

The clubs are listed in the order in which they were ranked in the Sportsman newspaper. The VFA had no formal process by which the clubs were ranked, so the below order should be considered indicative only, particularly since the fixturing of matches was not standardised; however, the top three placings were later acknowledged in publications including the Football Record and are considered official.[6]

1885 VFA Results
Senior Results Total Results
1 South Melbourne (P) 16 14 0 2 101 24 25 22 0 3 158 39
2 Essendon 18 12 2 4 84 43 21 15 2 4 108 45
3 Geelong 17 8 4 5 61 51 21 12 4 5 81 60
Carlton 20 10 8 2 61 58 22 12 8 2 73 61
Fitzroy 19 8 8 3 51 51 23 10 9 4 59 58
Williamstown 15 6 7 2 35 45 18 9 7 2 45 49
Hotham 16 6 6 4 49 49 23 13 6 4 97 63
Melbourne 21 5 14 2 35 78 23 6 15 2 44 88
Richmond 17 4 11 2 30 64 17 4 11 2 30 64
University 17 1 14 2 24 68 18 2 14 2 28 69
Key: P = Played, W = Won, L = Lost, D = Drawn, GF = Goals For, GA = Goals Against, (P) = Premiers Source:[7]

Notable events

Disputed match between South Melbourne and Essendon

The match between premiers South Melbourne and Essendon on 15 August at the South Melbourne Cricket Ground was initially drawn, South Melbourne 3.17 vs Essendon 3.10. Essendon protested the result, seeking an extra goal to be credited to its score from one of two opportunities in a wild period of play in the second half.[8]

The first attempt related to a kick out of a scrimmage which was interfered with by a small boy who had crossed the fence and was standing near one of the goal posts. Goal umpire Handley had ruled that the ball had hit the goal post, then hit the boy, resulting in a behind; Essendon presented witnesses who stated the that ball never hit the post, or that it hit the boy before the post. Essendon also noted that its goalsneak Lang, who was behind the scrimmage and could have gathered the ball and ensured a goal was scored without interference, elected not to due to its trajectory towards goal. Each club produced a separate boy to give evidence, each claiming theirs was the one who interfered with play.[8]

The second attempt, immediately afterwards, saw the ball kicked back into play, and gathered by Rout of Essendon, who kicked the ball high towards the goal and was awarded no score. There was conflicting evidence on three matters of this attempt: whether the ball had been legally kicked off by a South Melbourne player or illegally by a spectator; whether Rout's kick had been between the posts or not; and whether or not Essendon appealed for the goal.[8]

The motion to award a fourth goal and the game to Essendon was carried at a special meeting on 28 August by a margin of 14–7, temporarily inflicting South Melbourne's first loss for the season.[8] The opinion of the newspapers was overwhelmingly that Handley had erred; and, the new practice of goal umpires being appointed by the clubs rather than appointed and paid by the association was called into question – Handley was South Melbourne's appointed goal umpire in the match,[9] and did not have a good reputation for his proficiency in the role.[8]

However, there remained a view that the Association's actions were ultra vires, and South Melbourne then retained counsel to demonstrate this. The original decision was made based on Rules 1 and 8 of its constitution, which collectively stated that all disputes could be referred to a special meeting of the Association for resolution.[8] However, the counsels' opinion was that later provisions in the Laws of the Game served to exclude umpiring decisions from the scope of such disputes: specifically, Rule 8, which stated "the goal umpire shall be sole judges of goals"; Rule 11, which supported the indisputability of an umpire's decision by penalising a player who disputes; and Rule 19, which created a specific provision for the Association to settle an umpiring dispute only if the umpire refused to make a decision.[10] A separate special meeting was held on 25 September, and the committee voted to rescind the decision by an 11–6 margin, reinstating the drawn result and South Melbourne's unbeaten season.[11]


  1. ^ Follower (9 October 1886). "The past season". Leader. Melbourne, VIC. p. 20.
  2. ^ "Football". Evening Journal. Adelaide, SA. 15 June 1885. p. 3.
  3. ^ "Football". The South Australian Advertiser. Adelaide, SA. 17 June 1885. p. 7.
  4. ^ "Football". The Express and Telegraph. Adelaide, SA. 19 June 1885. p. 3.
  5. ^ "Intercolonial Football". South Australian Register. Adelaide, SA. 22 June 1885. p. 3.
  6. ^ Caroline Wilson (20 June 2014). "History of the AFL could be turned on its head". The Age. Melbourne, VIC. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  7. ^ Goal Post (30 September 1885). "Review of the Football Season". The Sportsman. Melbourne, VIC. p. 8.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Football dispute". The Herald. Melbourne, VIC. 29 August 1885. p. 2.
  9. ^ Follower (5 September 1885). "The South Melbourne and Essendon imbroglio". The Leader. Melbourne, VIC. p. 21.
  10. ^ "Case for opinion of counsel in re football dispute". The Herald. Melbourne, VIC. 5 September 1885. p. 3.
  11. ^ "Special meeting". The Argus. Melbourne, VIC. 26 September 1885. p. 5.